Disability Studies is an emergent scholarly program that is directly engaged in expanding societal understandings of diversity. Disability Studies scholars view disability as a social construct. In doing so, Disability Studies scholars often challenge the traditional medical view of disability as an individual deficit by uncovering the ways through which society creates social, legal, and political barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from participating in society on an equal basis with others. This critical approach to disability has been instrumental in understanding inequality in society and identifying remedies, including civil rights legislation and human rights instruments that address the barriers that people with disabilities face around the world.

The Disability Studies Program sees its role as providing a community for scholars from across campus at the UW to come together to engage in interdisciplinary inquiry about disability as diversity and to support one another’s research and teaching in disability as a social construction. As the next generation of Disability Studies scholars, graduate students are critical to the Disability Studies Program’s mission of building a scholarly community for Disability Studies at the UW.

The link to the application form for the DIS ST Certificate Program is at the bottom of this page.


To earn a certificate, students must complete a minimum of 15 hours of course credit and a culminating experience (i.e. capstone). The course sequence will include a “foundations” course, a DSP approved elective course, and two quarters of the Disability Studies Writing Seminar. The capstone will be the development of a substantive writing project (i.e. draft journal article, conference paper, major research proposal, etc.) and its presentation for critique. Specifically, students must complete:

  1. One of two DSP “foundation courses” for 5 course credits.
    • Foundations of Disability Studies (DIS ST 501), a course that addresses disability history in the U.S. (disability rights movement, disability justice movement & activism), Disability Studies theory, conceptual models & frameworks, and Disability Studies research methodologies & ethics.
    • Disability in Cross-Cultural Perspectives (DIS ST 535/ JSIS 578), a course that critically examines the underlying assumptions of disability studies theory through an intersectional lens that incorporates disability studies work from Asia, South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and indigenous communities to challenge notions of independence, rights, and political consciousness common in Western disability studies literature.
  2. Any other DSP-approved graduate course as an elective for 5 course credits total.
    • A list of DIS ST Program-approved courses taught each year will be posted. If a course is not on the approved list, but a student believes it has significant Disability Studies content, the student may petition for approval. The following courses have been taken by graduate students currently working with DSP and they have indicated that the course has significant Disability Studies content:
  • LAW H 530 Disability Law & Policy (3-4 credits)
  • SOC W 576 Contexts of Disability & Anti-Ableist Practice (3 credits)
  • EDSPE 501 Foundations in Special Education (3 credits)
  • EDSPE 520 Seminar in Applied Special Education, when offered as the topic "Intersectional Injustice" (3 credits)
  • EDCI: 507 Methods for Teaching Culturally & Linguistically Diverse Exceptional Learners (3 credits)
  • DIS ST 535 Graduate Seminar in Disability Studies (1-5 credits)
  • DIS ST 502  / HSTCMP 502 Topics in Disability History (5 credits)
  • PHIL 409 Philosophy of Disability (open to graduate students) (5 credits)
  • DIS ST / BH 421 History of Eugenics (open to graduate students) (5 credits)

Special topics courses may be approved on a case-by-case basis. Generally, independent study courses cannot be substituted for this requirement. On rare occasions, and when a formal course is not available in the student’s area of interest, students may petition to have an independent study course count for this requirement.

  1. A minimum of two quarters of the Graduate Disability Studies Writing Seminar (DIS ST 503; 2 course credits).
    • The practicum will be taught as a writing workshop, which will meet once per month throughout the academic year and include both graduate students and Disability Studies faculty. Students will receive one credit hour per quarter. The two quarters do not need to be consecutive, but can be completed over multiple years.
  2. Culminating experience (DIS ST 600-Independent Study; 3 course credits).
    • Develop a substantive written work (paper, article draft, conference paper, research proposals or other approved project under the supervision of a Disability Studies Core or Affiliated faculty member).
    • Present the substantive written work during the Disability Studies Writing Practicum (DIS ST 503), a Disability Studies brown bag session, or another public UW venue open to attendance by members of the Disability Studies Program.
    • To register for DIS ST 600 Independent Study, please fill out this intake form.

Grading, Assessment and Minimum Standards

The Foundations in Disability Studies and the approved elective course in Disability Studies must be graded courses. The instructor of record will grade the courses according to criteria laid out in the syllabus. The student must achieve a 2.7 grade in each of the two courses taken for the certificate and maintain a 3.0 GPA in their graduate studies. The Disability Studies Graduate Writing Seminar will be a credit/no credit course. The culminating experience will be an analytic paper presented in the Disability Studies Writing Practicum (DIS ST 503), a Disability Studies brown bag session, or another public UW venue open to attendance by members of the Disability Studies Program.. The revised analytic paper will then be provided to and be reviewed by the Curriculum Committee and the Graduate Program Coordinator. To fulfill the requirement, the paper must be assessed as being aligned with the learning outcomes for the Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies program and demonstrate original and substantive research.

Student Learning Outcomes

The learning goals of the Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies include:

  1. Articulate the concept of disability as a social construction.
    • Understanding the major frameworks (models) for analyzing disability.
    • Understanding the history of disabled people and society's perceptions of disability in local, national, and global contexts.
    • Identifying how society's concept of normalcy shapes representations and perceptions of disability.
  2. Engage in interdisciplinary inquiry about disability as diversity.
    • Acquiring analytic tools for evaluating representations of people with disabilities in literature, art, film, and other cultural texts.
    • Applying social science approaches to understanding processes of disability marginalization and empowerment.
    • Engaging in critical inquiry into how disability intersects with other social movements and markers of diversity such as gender, race, age, class, and nationality.
    • Developing familiarity with personal narratives and cultural contributions of disabled people.
    • Understanding how to apply Disability Studies topics and concepts to coursework across disciplines.
  3. Demonstrate understanding of disability rights, laws, and policies.
    •  Identifying and describing the major US and international disability civil rights laws and human rights instruments.
    • Understanding the processes of policy development and policy analysis from a disability perspective.
    • Becoming adept at comparative approaches to law and culture.
    • Developing informed positions on rights and policy issues and how these impact disabled people.
  4. Prepare for community and professional engagement.
    •  Identifying social and physical barriers for people with disabilities.
    • Developing awareness of grassroots and civil society disability organizations locally or through study abroad.
    • Gaining exposure to areas of practice and study where applied knowledge about disability and ableism is needed. 
    • Gaining an understanding of how historical ways of representing and treating disabled people have impacted current policies and practices.

Admission Standards

Students must:

  • Be registered in a UW graduate degree program.
  • Demonstrate an interest in Disability Studies as expressed through their personal statement.
  • Have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher in a UW graduate program.
  • Have a faculty reference that can speak to their interest in Disability Studies.

Admission Process

Students should complete the admissions application below. The application requires the following:

  • Personal information (name, email, student ID, degree program, and current GPA)
  • Personal statement regarding the student’s interest in Disability Studies. This statement will include a description of a) how the program courses will complement and supplement course work in the home unit and b) how the applicant’s research and professional interests/agenda relates to and intersects with the Disability Studies field. This statement should be limited to 1 page.
  • Upload the student’s unofficial transcript in PDF format, which should indicate that the applicants’ cumulative UW GPA is 3.0 or higher.
  • Faculty reference information (name and contact) of a DSP core or affiliate faculty member who can serve as a reference to assess the applicant’s performance in a program course and/or the extent to which the student’s interests are compatible with the research emphases and vision of the Disability Studies Program.

Applications will be processed on an ongoing basis, which will allow students to enter the certificate program at any time.



Completion Process

Once you have completed all of the requirements for the Graduate Certificate, please submit the form below. 

SUBMIT Graduate Certificate Completion Checklist (link)




The Disability Studies Graduate Certificate Email: