U of W to offer Manitoba’s first disability studies undergrad degree program

New program will focus on the social aspects of disability

There is a lot of interest and student demand for Manitoba’s first Interdisciplinary Bachelor’s in Disability Studies degree program. Elke Werchonowicz

After 10 years of planning, the University of Winnipeg is introducing Manitoba’s first Interdisciplinary Bachelor’s in Disability Studies degree program. The program, which is expected to begin accepting students in the fall term of 2010, will be a joint venture with Red River College (RRC).

The new program will consist of two years at RRC and one to three years at U of W, depending on the type of degree a student pursues. The program will also give students the option of taking a B.A. or a B.Sc. stream in disability studies.

Michelle Owen, chair of the disability studies advisory group at the U of W, said Manitoba needs such a program.

“There is a lot of interest and student demand,” she said, adding that members of Winnipeg’s disability community have been very involved advocating for the program.

Although disability studies is a recognized academic discipline, there are currently only two undergraduate degree programs in disability studies in Canada. More commonly, disability studies is offered as a college diploma program or a graduate degree program.

RRC currently has a two-year Disability and Community Support diploma program and a one-year certificate program. The University of Manitoba offers a Master’s program.

Owen explained that the new program will take a social approach to disability, rather than a biomedical approach, and will focus on issues of ethics, law, accessibility and advocacy.

David Fitzpatrick, dean of arts at the U of W, said that since the university already offers a number of undergraduate courses related to disability, it seemed logical to develop a degree program.

“This is just a natural evolution of consolidating what we already have into a meaningful program,” he said.

Fitzpatrick said that in addition to diversifying degree options at the U of W, he hopes the program will diversify the student body and increase the representation of students with disabilities on campus.

“There is a need to try to promote more people with disabilities to come to university and this may make a way for them to do that,” he said.

Scott Best, a third-year communications student at the U of W and member of the Disability Student Advisory Group, thinks the program will give students a greater understanding of persons with disabilities.

“It would enhance our lives by giving all people more of an awareness of some of the issues that people with disabilities face and show some of the ways that we are just like everyone else,” he said.

Owen said that students who complete the degree program will have several opportunities for employment, ranging from jobs with community organizations to government positions and even research.

“Winnipeg is a hub of disability research and activism in Canada,” she said. “There would be a whole spectrum of jobs.”

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