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Integrating Disability Studies Into An Engineering Service-Learning Curriculum
Disability Studies and Engineering for Development share the common goal of improving disabled people’s access to their communities, but these perspectives are rarely integrated. Engineering for Development (E4D) is a multidisciplinary field emphasizing collaboration to create sustainable solutions to global challenges, particularly those affecting under-served populations. In contrast to most engineering fields, the social model of disability, which is prominent in the field of Disability Studies (DS), argues that disability is created by an inaccessible society rather than impairments of individuals’ bodies or minds. While increased accessibility is a vital civil rights issue, the social model argues, disabled people do not need to be “fixed.” A newly designed E4D service-learning course at Mercer University incorporates key principles of DS to facilitate students’ understanding of appropriate technologies and respect for disabled technology users’ perspectives and autonomy. This paper focuses on three areas of course development and classroom applications: 1) Instructor approaches to presenting lectures and facilitating discussions on accessibility, mobility, and assistive technology through a DS lens; 2) Assessments of students’ ability to synthesize DS topics and engineering design principles; and 3) Short- and medium-term impacts of exposure to DS topics on students’ attitudes towards the relationship between disability and engineering.