This paper provides an interesting analysis of the development of programs in disability studies over recent times. It is important to point out at the outset of my comments, however, that Disability Studies in Australia has largely developed out of educational and allied health disciplines and so the definition of Disability Studies given in Appendix 1 labels this approach as being part of the history rather than current state of the world, and the current awards in which I teach at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels would appear to be considered "hybrids" in terms of the analysis being conducted in this paper. When I read Appendix 2 and 3, though, I found these very consistent with the underlying principles of all courses currently conducted at Flinders University. So, the first question that arose for me was "does having a practical as well as theoretical focus mean that the exploration of disability issues is less valid?" The term hybrid suggests this to me, but maybe that represents my origins as a practitioner more than a comment on the conceptual bases of the paper.

I was very surprised by the exclusion from the analysis of the RMIT courses in Melbourne but when I visited their website I realized that this was probably because these were interpreted as being allied health programs. Again, I wondered about interpretations that having a practical emphasis meant that there would be no consideration of the underlying principles explored within topics offered in each award. For example, I know that RMIT courses focus on inclusion, accessibility, challenges deficit based models, consider disability as part of the continuum of human experience, and examine the environmental and social barriers to participation (as in page 2 of the review). I was not sure about the issue of geographical specificity and diversity. I assumed this related to the fact that disability is interpreted differently depending on the cultural and historical context and I think the RMIT course addresses this, as does the degree at Flinders. As an observation, the courses at Flinders University and at RMIT are generally considered to be "sister" courses by academics and professionals in the field in Australia; one was left out and one was included in this paper and this does suggest that the number of disability courses being considered may be under represented.

I thought that I would comment on the statement at the bottom of page 11 that the programs at Flinders University were located in the School of Medicine. This move, when it occurred in 2001, was not a comfortable one for those of us who had spent careers railing against medical and deficit based models. It came about due to personal and political issues within the university rather than as part of a process of planned change. In fact, if there had not been a move to the health area, disability studies would have disappeared from Flinders University as has happened in a number of other universities in Australia. Paradoxically, this move has led to increased interest in Disability Studies from a range of allied health areas and the development of majors and minors in disability studies from students doing undergraduate degrees in Social Sciences, Health Sciences, and Arts.

Overall, I found the paper interesting in identifying the growth of Disability Studies offerings in English speaking countries. I did get the sense, though, that there is still much comparison of apples with oranges and a lack of attention to some of the underlying fundamentals of courses that have an applied focus. In the current Bachelor of Disability and Community Rehabilitation at Flinders University, for example, there are substantial core requirements that address the sociology of disability and the role of the individual, family, and community in assisting to identify positive roles and a positive perspective for people with disabilities. However, since there is a need for positive and effective practitioners who are able to support and help empower people with disabilities there is also a clear need to provide information on disabilities, positive practical experience in working with people with disabilities, as well as educational and empowering strategies that are a necessary part of the mix if attempting to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities in the community.

My perspective is that this paper provides a valuable contribution to our understanding of the development of the area of Disability Studies at the University level and contributes positively to our understanding of how this may be further developed. One of the areas of development that the paper highlights for me, though, is that of breaking down barriers between perceptions about the value of theory versus practice. While practical day-to-day applications of theory related to people with disabilities is ignored in the development of the interdisciplinary area of Disability Studies, positive outcomes for people with disabilities and improved community inclusion will be impeded.

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Copyright (c) 2009 Brian Matthews



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