Dedicated to advancing knowledge by, about, and for people with disabilities.

UW DSI members Ellen Samuels, Jill Casid, and Sami Schalk are featured in a year-long collaboration with the Ford Foundation called Indisposable: Structures of Support after the Americans with Disabilities Act. Curated by Jessica Cooley (PhD Candidate, Art History, UW) and Ann Fox (Professor of English, Davidson), the first chapter of the exhibit features new work by Alex Dolores Salerno, a discussion between them and Kevin Quiles Bonilla, a poetry reading by Ellen Samuels, and will be hosted by Ryan J. Haddad. Check out the website for more information on future events with other artists and writers.

A recording of the event will be housed on the exhibition website for those who cannot make it to watch. The event will be captioned in Spanish and English, audio translated in Spanish, and signed in ASL; there is also a place to let us know about your access needs on the registration form itself.

Position Statements

As scholars of disability and, in many cases, members of the disability community ourselves, we are committed to support for life over property. We come together in solidarity to condemn, in no uncertain terms, the violent threats and intimidation of our brave and brilliant colleague Dr. Sami Schalk, whose book Bodyminds Reimagined: Disability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction (Duke University Press, 2018) is essential reading. We condemn the threats made against our beloved colleague and her home department Gender and Women’s Studies, in which a number of us also teach. We support Dr. Schalk’s admirable service on the board of Freedom, Inc. and her activist participation, activism that directly connects with her current book project on disability politics in Black activism. And we ally ourselves in affirming that all Black lives matter.

Moreover, as scholars of intersectional disability studies, we know that disability and race are inextricable, and that racism and ableism are deeply intertwined. As a recent article in The Guardian explains, “people of color in the US are more likely to be disabled, have a mental illness or have a chronic medical condition, due to a number of factors, including environmental racism and poor access to healthcare.” It is estimated that up to half of the people killed by the police have disabilities or are experiencing a health crisis, and disabled people of color are especially vulnerable to police violence. In 2015, Tony Robinson was murdered by the Madison police while in the midst of a mental health crisis. Philip Coleman, Quintonio Legrier, Adam Trammell, Marcus-David Peters, Carlos Ingram Lopez, and Charleena Lyles were also killed by police when they needed care, and there are countless others.

We are also mindful that we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic that threatens people of color, Indigenous people, and disabled people most acutely. Writes Mary Louise Pratt:

Is it uncanny or overdetermined that the two epic events that have upheaved the U.S. and the world—the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder—are both about suffocation? Of the 115,000 (a known undercount) killed by coronavirus in the United States, nearly all died of suffocation as their lungs failed, or of the devastating effects of being placed on breathing machines. Like Eric Garner and so many others, George Floyd also suffocated because a police officer blocked his airway long enough to kill him. Classic lynchings used to strangle by hanging; the contemporary version involves chokeholds. They are one and the same, public spectacles using blocked airways as an instrument of racial terror.

The Disability Studies Initiative affirms its solidarity with the Black community and we admire the protestors who are expressing their rightful objection to police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy in Madison and around the world. We join them in calling for justice for the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd, and join them in demanding real change in our policies and institutions. There is no disability justice without racial justice.

The UW Disability Studies Initiative

About the UW Disability Studies Initiative

The UW Disability Studies Initiative is a transdisciplinary program dedicated to advancing knowledge by, about, and for people with disabilities. Disability studies explores models and theories that examine social, political, cultural, and economic factors that define disability and help determine personal and collective responses to difference.

Disability studies scholars at UW concentrate on the culture, experiences, history, and contributions of people with disabilities across time and geography. Drawing upon the humanities, arts, social sciences, medicine, policy, and practice, we seek to better understand how disabilities are experienced in our world. UW Disability Studies embraces difference and diversity as strengths and considers disability in interaction with gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and socio-economic status.

UW Disability Studies directly embodies the Wisconsin Idea by actively encouraging participation by disabled students and faculty and by partnering with disability communities across the state to transform public understandings of disability. UW Disability Studies is committed to physical and intellectual access and the principles of universal design.

Book cover for Monstrous Kinds, with a sketch of a two-headed woman
University of Michigan Press, 2019

Elizabeth Bearden wins the 2017 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities

Elizabeth B. Bearden has been awarded the 2017 Tobin Siebers Prize for Disability Studies in the Humanities by the University of Michigan Press for her book manuscript Monstrous Kinds: Body, Space, and Narrative in Renaissance Representations of Disability. 

Dr. Bearden is a Professor of English at UW–Madison. She earned her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from New York University in 2006. Her first book, published in 2012 by the University of Toronto Press, is The Emblematics of the Self: Ekphrasis and Identity in Renaissance Imitations of Greek Romance.

This project examines disability in the Renaissance in conduct books and treatises, travel writing, and wonder books. The cross-section of texts is comparative, putting canonical European authors such as Castiglione into dialogue with transatlantic and Anglo-Ottoman literary exchange. Its methodology takes a formal and philosophical approach to pre-modern formulations of monstrous bodies, spaces, and narratives, which continue to shape our understandings of disability today. Her book is forthcoming in 2019.