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Department of Disability Studies

The Department of Disability Studies aims to become the lead centre for teaching, professional skills development and research on disability related issues in Sri Lanka. At the DDS all teaching and research programs are underpinned by a disability studies paradigm. The DDS builds capacity through a graduate and undergraduate curriculum that combines the scholarly and the experiential. This high quality and accessible program targets a variety of disciplines, extending beyond but including the traditional health and human services professions.

Disability as an Evolving Concept

The disability studies paradigm, whilst recognizing differences in the understanding and approach to disablement across disciplines, regards disability as an evolving concept related to the interaction between impairment and attitudinal as well as environmental barriers. This formulation of disability is based on the Preamble of the UN Convention on the Rights of Person with Disabilities. The DDS provides the opportunity for advanced study of theory, research, policy, and practice relevant to the lives of individuals and groups with disabilities. Located within the larger discourse of human diversity, disability is analyzed as an economic, social, cultural, political, and individual phenomenon.

The History of the DDS

The Disability Studies Unit was established in 1995 under a collaborative agreement between the University of Kelaniya and the University of Uppsala, Sweden. It was set up with the cooperation of the World Health Organization, Radda Bamen (Save the Children) Sweden and the Swedish Handicap Institute. Its broad objective was to promote Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR) through education, research and information dissemination both internationally and in Sri Lanka. Since this time the purview and work of the DSU has expanded dramatically beyond the narrow focus on CRB toward speech and language therapy, working with children with disability and more recently more sociologically orientated disability studies programs.

The Disability Studies Paradigm as Foundational

Disability Studies applies social, cultural, historical, health science and philosophical perspectives to the study of disability in society. The DDS's programs are designed to help students understand and work to overcome the barriers to full participation of people with disabilities in the community and society. Consistent with the University of Kelaniya tradition, this centre stands at the forefront of change and new ways of thinking about and accommodating people with disabilities.

  • Disability Studies uses the perspectives and experiences of people with disabilities as the foundation for all research and training. Studies at DDS, University of Kelaniya attempt to give a voice to people with disabilities, including those with cognitive or intellectual disabilities. If people are not easily able to communicate their perspectives, this is treated as a challenge to be solved, and not grounds for dismissing their points of view.
  • Disability Studies adopts a cross-disability perspective. Disability Studies seeks to examine the commonalties in the experiences of the diverse group of people who have been defined as disabled.
  • Disability Studies views disability as a social construct and people with disabilities as a minority group. The DDS focuses on social and cultural aspects of disability.
  • Disability Studies is interdisciplinary. Studies in this area draw on a variety of disciplines in order to understand the social, cultural, and political situation of people with disabilities.
  • Disability Studies recognizes the important role that family members and friends play in the lives of many people with disabilities. Scholarship in this area includes inquires into the views and experiences of family members and friends of people with intellectual and /or communication disabilities in particular.
  • Teaching programmes at the DDS are designed to provide students with the skills, methods, and perspectives to play a variety of leadership roles in direct service provision, disability research, policy, advocacy and professional specialisations.