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Design Meets Disability Studies: Bridging the Divide between Theory and Practice

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

Design and Making

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


Sarah Summers Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Dr. Sarah Summers earned her PhD in Rhetoric and Composition from Penn State University and joined the RHIT faculty in 2014. Her work focused on writing in the disciplines, particularly at the advanced undergraduate and graduate levels. She teaches courses in writing and engineering communication, including technical and professional communication, intercultural communication, digital writing, and grant writing.

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Renee D. Rogge Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

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Renee Rogge is the Samuel F. Hulbert Chair of Biomedical Engineering and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. She has been teaching at Rose-Hulman since 2004, and her research interests lie in the areas of assessment of engineering design and orthopaedic biomechanics.

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As an academic field, Disability Studies solidified in the 1990s alongside a social model of disability that rejected biological definitions of “normal” bodies and medical perspectives that identified disabilities as problems to be fixed. As a result, the study of disability fractured, often highlighting conflicts between academic and professional interests (DePoy & Gilson, 2014). This paper, a collaboration between an English professor and a Biomedical Engineering professor, describes a newly designed Disability Studies course for STEM students intended to bridge the chasm between theories and research in Disability Studies and research and praxis in engineering and design.

Previous scholarship has addressed the importance of redesigning STEM curricula to correct the underrepresentation of students with disabilities (Burgstahler & Wang, 2104; Slaton, 2013). Our paper expands on this work by providing classroom applications that bring a disability studies perspective to engineering tasks for all students, including needs assessments, concept sketches, and prototyping for an original design. These tasks are complemented by activities that encourage students to bring both their STEM perspective and their growing understanding of Disability Studies to cultural analyses, researched writing, and accessible presentations.

Our paper will focus on three areas of course development and classroom applications that will be applicable to instructors in both Liberal Arts and STEM fields: 1.) Strategies for and challenges of integrating a rich design experience within an already ambitious Disability Studies curriculum; 2.) Instructor approaches to breaking down perceived divisions between STEM and the Liberal Arts through the lens of disability; and 3.) Assessments that account for both students’ technical ability as well as their application of course theories and concepts.

Because creating a hands-on environment for students is central to our approach to engaging them in Disability Studies as developing scholars and potential professionals, our proposed session will also take a hands-on approach. In Design Meets Disability (2011), Graham Pullin argues that when designing for disability, “the dominant culture is one of solving problems. A richer balance between problem solving and more playful exploration could open up valuable new directions” (p. xv). After briefly addressing the design of our course, using the categories outlined above, we will guide attendees through a hands-on, “playful” design activity that will enact the potential connections between Liberal Arts and STEM perspectives on disability.

Summers, S., & Rogge, R. D. (2017, June), Design Meets Disability Studies: Bridging the Divide between Theory and Practice Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28116

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