Dennis Lang, our friend, colleague, mentor, and the heart of the University of Washington Disability Studies Program died on Saturday, June 23 in Seattle, Washington. We are deeply saddened by this unexpected loss.
Eighteen years ago, Dennis knocked on a door at the UW and gently asked why we were not doing more to educate society on disability discrimination and the experience of people with disability. In his kind and persistent way, he kept asking the question of anyone who would listen. The main message was that it was our responsibility as a public institution of higher education to include disability studies in the curricula. He was untiring in his effort to “make something happen” and could be found in meetings throughout campus or connecting people wherever he found possibilities. His almost two decades of volunteer work included teaching the first disability studies undergraduate courses on campus, serving as the first volunteer Disability Studies Program Director, participating on numerous doctoral committees, and fostering the careers of students and colleagues whose work was “disability studies” based. He advocated for the Disability Studies Minor and the Major in Disability Studies through Individualized Studies as well as funding for instructors to teach classes. Dennis modeled the importance of both scholarship and activism in creating increased opportunities for individuals with disabilities in the university and the wider community. It was exhausting and frustrating work and he never gave up.
In addition to being the catalyst for the development of our program, he will be missed for his humanity. Dennis was a caring, thoughtful, and generous man. When he met people struggling or needing help, he reached out – to listen and try to problem solve. He cared deeply for the students in our university and they recognized that by establishing the Dennis Lang Student Award in his honor and in appreciation of his mentorship.
We commit to continue the vision Dennis had for the Disability Studies Program, a program focused on educating students and thereby the larger society on justice and equal rights for all bodies and minds. A program that asks all academic disciplines to incorporate disability perspectives in their understanding of the world. There would be no Disability Studies Program at the University of Washington without the dedication of Dennis Lang and he will be greatly missed by students, staff, and faculty. We thank his family for sharing him with us during his retirement years. His efforts have changed this university in many ways that will have a lasting impact.
A private family memorial will be held at a future date. His family suggests donations in his honor be made to the Dennis Lang Student Award.
Contributions to the Dennis Lang Student Award in Disability Studies can be made through our website:
You can read more about the award and Dennis’s career here: