Global Perspectives on Disability at the University of Oregon

Susan Sygall lectures in front of a classroom of university students.
Mobility International USA once again brought a disability rights perspective to students at the University of Oregon.

In Spring term of 2020, both graduate and undergraduate students enrolled in Global Perspectives on Disability, the interdisciplinary course led by MIUSA, offered through the International Studies department. Students were introduced to the history and development of disability rights movements across the world, key international laws and policies used to advance disability rights, and the importance of utilizing a human rights perspective.

Students enrolled in this course represented a wide variety of interests and areas of study, and were encouraged to consider disability inclusion no matter what career field they plan to enter. Students came from backgrounds such as family and human services, planning, public policy and management, international studies, special education, and nonprofit management.

Taught entirely remotely using Zoom, the course featured guest speakers from around the world and combined videos and lectures with interactive discussions. The format allowed students the opportunity to see important concepts in action and consider perspectives from diverse voices. Some of the guest speakers included disabled women activists from Haiti, the Philippines, El Salvador and Cameroon, as well as international development professionals and disability rights law and policy experts from Humanity and Inclusion (HI) and Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).

Students commented on the impact the course will have on their future career aspirations:

“In my work, I plan on using the stories and anecdotal evidence from this class to ensure that any policy work I do includes disabled women and any international policy I work on has thoroughly examined how certain issues impact marginalized identities, including disabled women and their support systems.” – Planning, Public Policy and Management undergraduate student

“This class has allowed me to better understand the importance of a diverse perspective of disability, and most importantly the concept ‘Nothing about us, without us’. The inclusion of voices of people with disability and their voices in research is such a foundational and fundamental perspective that I wondered - why haven’t I been exposed to this approach in my previous educational experiences?” – Special Education graduate student
 
“This class has significantly expanded my perspective of disability, and has given me insight to the realities of people with disabilities all over the world and throughout history. I think that people from all areas of work and study would benefit from taking this class. For me it emphasized how many different aspects of the world either encourage or inhibit accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities. I think that we should all be more aware of the current barriers to accessibility, and work together to break them down in pursuit of a fully inclusive world.” – Family and Human Services Student

“This class highlighted for me the importance of empowering women with disabilities. Intersectionality is discussed in many of my classes and conversations, but I honestly had never considered the intersectionality of being a woman and being disabled before taking this class. I am passionate about working to empower and connect with both women and people with disabilities, and moving forward in my career and life overall, I hope to find ways to empower women with disabilities.” – Family and Human Services undergraduate student

“My future goal includes a lifelong career as a manager focusing on nonprofit financial sustainability. I had a successful career working as an accountant in different nonprofits over the last 16 years. I am ashamed to tell you, but I had never included expenses for disabled people into general program budgets, such costs were always segregated into specialized program budgets. This approach was entirely wrong! And I apologize for that. Thank you for such a great life changing course! I would have never had this experience if I did not take the class. Now I am aware that we should have overall total budgets including expenses for covering special needs issues.” – Nonprofit Management graduate student

MIUSA will continue to expand opportunities for university students to learn about disability issues through this course, which is being taught annually, so that future leaders and decision makers will understand that disability inclusion is a human rights issue.

MIUSA would like to extend gratitude to the University of Oregon’s Division of Equity and Inclusion for sponsoring this course and supporting the University of Oregon in being a leader in disability inclusion.