A Collaborative Disability Studies-based Undergraduate Art Project at Two Universities


  • John Derby University of Kansas
  • Valerie Karr University of Massachusetts Boston




ableism, art, art education, disability studies, pedagogy of transformation


In this manuscript, we discuss research findings from a collaborative visual arts curricular unit on ableism, which we implemented in non-Disability Studies undergraduate courses at two universities during the 2012-2013 academic year. Our project builds on previous research in which we (Derby, 2015, in press; Karr & Weida, 2013) began adding Disability Studies arts pedagogy to our undergraduate coursework. For this project, we developed a shared unit, which we implemented in a general freshman seminar course, an introductory art teaching methods course, and an upper level art education course on applied technology. Utilizing a pedagogy of transformation, we engaged students with shared resources, including lectures, readings, and videos on Disability Studies and ableism; the project culminated with each student producing and exhibiting both an artwork and an artist's statement. After reviewing the literature and describing the project and research methods, we provide a nuanced discussion of the data, especially the artwork. The data indicate that our students, who were previously unexposed to ableism, conceptualized ableism at least on an elementary level, with many students demonstrating advanced conceptualization of ableism in one or more of three categories. Our findings suggest that integrating Disability Studies into non-Disability Studies curricula on a small scale can be useful, but that results are limited by the complexities of disability. The success of the project indicates that incorporating Disability Studies into standard curricula through a pedagogy of transformation can reach typical college students who are unfamiliar with Disability Studies concepts.