April Coughlin was one of the CUNY SPS alumni featured in the New York Times article, Disability Studies – A New Normal, on November 1, 2013. We recently caught up with April and asked her why disability studies is an important field for everyone to explore. Here’s what she told us:
As we all know, Disability Studies is an important and emerging field in higher education, and it’s great to see that the New York Times is recognizing this as well. I have had a disability for 28 years and up until three years ago I didn’t even know Disability Studies existed. At the time, I was teaching high school in NYC and thinking about going back for another Masters degree. I perused through the CUNY website and came across Disability Studies at the School of Professional Studies. It sounded really interesting and I saw that the deadline hadn’t passed for the application period, so I immediately filled it out and sent it in. I had no idea that this program would not only inform ways of thinking about my own experiences with disability, but also disability in the classroom and would eventually lead me to pursue a PhD.
Disability Studies has undoubtedly transformed my teaching practices, both as a high school teacher and college instructor.
During the summer I work with the New York City Teaching Fellows who are teaching special education in NYC public schools. I teach a “Perspectives on Disabilities” course that requires my students to question, challenge, examine and shape their understandings of disability in our schools and society. To see the process that my students go through in how they think about and frame disability from the first day of class to the last is really quite impressive. I truly believe that all educators (special and general educators), administrators and staff, heck, the WHOLE WORLD should have exposure to this type of course!
As a high school teacher, disability entered the curriculum and conversations in my classroom on a daily basis, mostly because of the stories and personal experiences that I shared with my students. Even through this, I could see evidence that my students began to look at the world a little differently. Whether it was through the language they used, the access issues in the school building they pointed out, or the broken subway elevators on our field trips that they experienced with me, they were learning about disability – sometimes without even realizing it.
Disability is everywhere. In fact, as technology advances and people live longer, acquiring a disability becomes even more likely. I am grateful for the program at CUNY SPS because it provided me with the opportunity to explore a field of study that is not only extremely relevant to my everyday lived experience, but also enriches my teaching practices and the knowledge that I share with my students.
Finally, I would like to give a quick shout out to all of my former CUNY SPS Disability Studies classmates and professors. Meeting all of you and sharing classes each night that year made the program not only interesting and exciting, but also incredibly memorable.
April Coughlin received her Master’s Degree in Disability Studies from the CUNY School of Professional Studies.