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Disability Studies Guide: Research Tips

This website will help you find the best library databases, search tools, and reference sources for Disability Studies.

Why Is Critical Disability Studies Research Challenging?

The interdisciplinary nature of disability studies

  • Disability Studies is interdisciplinary.
  • You will need to learn to distinguish between medical, scientific, historical, and sociological treatments of disability, and find sources that fit in with your research framework. This can take some experience.

Terminology may be offensive and inaccurate

  • Current and historical research may use outdated terminology.
  • Research, especially books, may be cataloged using outdated and/or biased terminology.
  • Some terminology may be considered politically incorrect, hurtful or even triggering.
  • Although you may want to avoid outdated terminology in your own research, you might need to use them as search terms if you want to be comprehensive, especially when searching historical materials and primary sources.

Historical Lack of Cataloging

  • Until relatively recently, disability studies material may not have been identified with relevant subject headings and tags.
  • Historically, some subject headings and tags did not exist.

Keywords for Search

Finding keywords for disability studies can be challenging:

  • Critical theory may use its own critical vocabulary and jargon
  • Some terms related to disability may be used as metaphors in other contexts
  • Older work may use dated terminology
  • Older work may not have been cataloged as disability studies at all

Some keywords to try

  • abledness, ableism,ableist, able-bodied, able-bodiedness
  • access, accessible, accessibility
  • ageism, ageist, aging
  • Deaf, deafness, deaf studies (some Deaf people consider themselves to be a linguistic/cultural minority, not disabled)
  • dis/ability, disability, disabilities, "disability studies", "disability rights", disabled
  • disease, dis-ease
  • enable, enabling
  • inclusion, inclusiveness, inclusivity
  • normalcy, normals, normative
  • sick, sickness
  • universal design

Rhetorical constructions in disability studies
If you're looking for specific readings or theorizations of a topic, try combining your keyword with frequently paired terms like:

  • advocate, advocacy
  • biology, biological, bioethics
  • body, bodies
  • critical
  • difference
  • "disability studies"
  • discrimination
  • "identity politics"
  • medical, medicalization
  • microaggression
  • narrative, narratives
  • politics, political
  • representation, representations
  • rhetoric, rhetorical, "visual rhetoric"
  • signify, signifying
  • visible, visibility, invisible, invisibility, visual

Research Tips

  • Include synonyms and variations of keywords to find more results.
  • To include variants of a keyword in your search, use a wildcard (*). Example: disabilit* will find results for both disability and disabilities.
  • You may need to include dated terminology in order to recover primary sources, older research, current biased research, and research reclaiming or critiquing dated terms (e.g., cripple, madness).
  • Repeat your search with new keywords you come across as you research.

Protest for Accessible Transit

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