Disability Studies - Advanced Guide

Introduction to Disability Studies

Disability Studies examines the meaning, nature, and consequences of both physical and mental disability. Research in this field spans many traditional disciplines and interdisciplinary fields using methods and theories from areas such as anthropology, economics, law, medicine, history, sociology, social work, public policy, and arts and humanities. 

Within the wider scope of Disability Studies exists Critical Disability Studies. This interdisciplinary field centers the lived experience of people with disabilities. Through critically engaging with constructs of disability and ability the field critiques how socio/cultural institutions, norms, and practices disadvantage disabled people while privileging abled people.  

Critical Disability Studies also examines how disability intersects with multiple identities (ex. gender, race, class, sexuality) to create a unique and deeply complex individual experience.  As Disability in American Life: An Encyclopedia of Concepts, Policies, and Controversies puts it, "critical disability studies is concerned with disability but also more broadly with issues connected to disability that affect all people, such as bodily experiences, identity, care, difference, power, and globalization."

Critical Disability Studies is closely connected with disability justice work and builds upon the work of disability activists.

Search terms and strategies

General search terms

Whether you are searching in library databases, the library catalog, Google Scholar, or just plain Google, creating a good search query will help you to find relevant information. General terms work well when starting your research.  As an interdisciplinary field, combining two or more search terms (e. g. "disability" and "essentialism"), is especially useful for refining searches.

Please note that some terms used to describe disability concepts and related areas, especially historical and older resources, may be offensive and outdated. 

  • Critical disability studies
  • Essentialism
  • Social model of disability
  • Medical model of disability
  • Care ethics
  • Eugenics
  • Blindness
  • Disability access
  • Deaf culture
  • Disability rights movement
  • Determinism
  • Ableism
  • Universal design
  • Mad studies
  • Crip culture
  • Accessibility
  • Disability justice
  • Independent living movement
  • Self advocacy movement

Subject Headings

Subject headings can be particularly helpful when search library catalogs, archives, and digital collections. You can pair a subject heading search with additional topics, events, and concepts like education, law, history, cultures, social issues, theories, methods, and manifestations of disability.

Each item on the bulleted list below links to the UMN Libraries Search by subject heading.

Disability awareness

Disability studies

Disability culture

People with disabilities in literature

Sociology of disability

Americans with disabilities act

Barrier-free design

Disability rights

People with disabilities

Disabled persons

Disability and the global south

Intellectual disability -- Social aspects

Creating a search query

For most databases and even Google you can combine search terms to write a search query that databases understand. A good search query will give you a good selection of highly relevant results. Below are a few examples.

  • Use quotation marks to search words as a phrase, ex. "disability studies"
  • Use the word AND to link together concepts, ex. "disability studies" AND ableism
  • Use the word OR to search for synonyms, ex. "disability studies" OR "mad studies"
Last Updated: Nov 23, 2022 8:50 AM