School of Education project to raise disability awareness
School of Education project to raise disability awarenessSeptember 29, 2001Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
Although many students in middle school and high school know about the life of Helen Keller, her struggles and triumphs are only one representation of people with disabilities who have had a profound impact on American history.
Steven Taylor, professor of cultural foundations of education and director of the School of Education’s Center on Human Policy, hopes to raise the level of awareness of Americans with disabilities who have shaped history. Taylor leads a coalition that recently received a $600,000 “Projects of National Significance” grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create innovative ways to include disability perspectives and content into middle- and high- school curricula.
“For a long time in America, when it came to people with disabilities, it was ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind,'” Taylor says. “With this grant, we hope that both students with disabilities and those who don’t have disabilities will gain understanding of the value and impact that people with disabilities have had on our history.”
The work from the grant will be conducted by three groups that Taylor believes are ideally suited to develop the project: the Center on Human Policy; faculty from the School of Education, including those from the school’s nationally recognized and highly ranked teacher preparation program in inclusive and special education, and Straight Ahead Pictures (SAP).
The Center on Human Policy, founded in 1971 by the late Burton Blatt, has been a national leader in promoting the participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of American life, and the center is experienced in administering federally funded dissemination and training projects. Joining Taylor in coordinating the project will be Douglas Biklen, professor of special education and cultural foundations of education. Michael Schwartz and Jagdish Chander, doctoral students in disability studies, will also work on the project.
Other faculty members who will be involved in the project include assistant professors Paula Kluth and Tracy Knight (inclusive education), assistant professor John Tillotson (science education), Diana Straut (social studies) and associate professor Kathleen Hinchman (reading and language arts). These faculty members will design guides to help special and inclusive education teachers integrate disability history into social studies, science and language arts curricula.
“SU was one of the first two universities to create a disability studies program, and we continue to have a national reputation for leadership in the field that is bolstered by our outstanding faculty and students,” Taylor says. “The group of faculty that will be working on this project will look to develop practical curriculum materials that will be easy to utilize in any class. We want to make disability history part of the daily class curriculum, not a separate class or sideshow.”
Straight Ahead Pictures, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit media production and education company, produced the heralded National Public Radio documentary series “Beyond Affliction: The Disability History Project.” The company also established the Disability History Museum, a virtual museum on the Internet. For the project, SAP will adapt two interrelated online museum exhibitionsodisability leaders and assistive technologyofor teachers to use in the classroom.
Robert Bogdan, professor and director of the Department of Social Science in the Maxwell School and a longtime consultant to SAP, facilitated the collaboration between Taylor, Biklen and SAP.
According to Laurie Block, executive director of the virtual Disability History Museum, the grant will have a profound impact on the museum. “This is a turning point,” she says. “We have planned, focus-grouped and developed great partners and strategies for bringing disability history content into mainstream classrooms. This support from the Department of Education allows us to go live with exhibitions and curriculum. Now our vision can become a dynamic, live virtual place.”
The Web site will open to the public next year. A limited demonstration version of the Disability History Museum is available online at www.disabilitymuseum.org.
Taylor believes the importance of fostering disability studies today is similar to the importance of fostering women’s studies or minority studies.
“By current estimates, 45 to 50 million people in the United States have a disability of some kind, which is one out of every six people,” Taylor says. “The amazing thing is that most of those people have no idea of the impact people with disabilities have had on our history. Every group that has been subjected to discrimination in the past has been empowered by a knowledge of their history and accomplishments.”