William Paterson University Launches Bachelor’s Degree in Disability Studies; Program is First in New Jersey

An innovative  new bachelor’s degree—the first in New Jersey—will be launched by William Paterson University in Wayne next fall to meet the growing demand across all industries for professionals who understand the needs of those with disabilities.

The multidisciplinary program—also among the first 20 undergraduate degree programs in the country—proactively explores the nature and meaning of disability as a social construct instead of a medical deficit, and will examine laws, policies, culture and history as a way to de-stigmatize disease, illness, and impairment across all areas of society.

According to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every five adults in the U.S. has a disability, with the rate of disability on the rise due to an aging population and increases in chronic health conditions.

“As the number of individuals with disabilities increases, there is a growing demand for graduates who are well-prepared to work directly with individuals with disabilities across the lifespan within an academic framework that will help to remove the physical, legal, and attitudinal barriers that have continued to marginalize individuals with disabilities from fully participating in society,” says Amy Ginsberg, dean of William Paterson University’s College of Education, which will house the new program.  “We are excited to be the first university in New Jersey to offer such an important new degree.”

The program draws from multiple disciplines in order for students to view issues of disability through their own experiences and potential career interests. The program, which builds on the University’s very popular minor that launched in 2017, includes required courses in anthropology, philosophy, psychology, and public health, and electives from those disciplines as well as disability studies, kinesiology, and sociology. Students will study topics such as lifespan development, the philosophy of justice, and ethical issues in disability studies.

In addition to preparing graduates for careers in direct support of individuals with disabilities, such as in education and human services, the disability studies degree will prepare students for careers or graduate studies in interrelated fields such as law, public health, public policy, government, business, law enforcement, mental health counseling, and social work.

Courses will be offered in multiple formats including fully online, hybrid, and in-person in order to accommodate the needs of many different students and faculty.

A required civic and community engagement course embedded in the program will help students explore the concept of social justice through active participation in community organizations that serve individuals with disabilities. The program will also include a study abroad option through the University’s international exchange agreement with Windesheim University in the Netherlands, which is currently also developing a diversity program.