CUNY SPS Celebrates Disability Pride Month With Spotlight On Faculty Keynote Address

Photo of Dr. Andrew Marcum, academic director of the CUNY SPS disability studies programs

The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) is proud to celebrate Disability Pride Month this July. This annual observance, which marks the anniversary of the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), offers the opportunity to recognize the history, achievements, experiences, and struggles of the disability community.

In honor of Disability Pride Month, we are pleased to showcase the keynote address delivered by Dr. Andrew Marcum, academic director of the CUNY SPS Disability Studies programs, at the 15th annual CUNY Accessibility Conference this May. This year’s conference was titled “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Creating a Culture of Accessibility and Inclusion.” In the excerpt below, Dr. Marcum expounded upon this theme with a look at the ways that disability studies and technology may help improve accessibility, equity, and inclusion.


People with disabilities have long advocated for virtual and remote options that facilitate not just greater access, but also meaningful collaboration and full participation in school, work, and public and social life. The Disability Studies program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies had its beginnings 20 years ago this fall with just one in-person Disability Studies course. Today we house a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in Disability Studies, a Master of Science in Disability Services in Higher Education, and two advanced certificate programs, all of which can be completed entirely online and asynchronously.

Coincidentally, this year also marks 20 years since I began teaching college courses. I know I speak for many of us when I acknowledge that we are reaching the end of yet another difficult, albeit rewarding in many ways, academic year. The challenges and traumas of the past four years have taken a toll. Many of us have noticed that our students feel overwhelmed and alienated. Some of them are becoming discouraged and struggling to finish their degrees. As educators, we find ourselves grappling with rapid and potentially radical technological developments in artificial intelligence (AI) that would seem to threaten to completely upend traditional educational practices and pedagogies.

This is indeed a time of both promise and peril for students and educators with disabilities and for those in the communities we live in, serve, and support. As attorney, advocate, and Disability Studies scholar Lydia X. Z. Brown and many others have noted, AI technologies that are trained on data embedded with dominant ableist, racist, and sexist assumptions will entrench and reinforce those same ablest and racial and gendered biases.

Meanwhile, multiply-disabled Virginia Tech bioethicist Ashley Shew reminds us that these technologies take shape within a culture “that holds a belief in the power of technology that considers the elimination of disability a good thing—something that we should strive for—while ascribing agency and power to technology in big tech companies and denying it completely to people with disabilities themselves, who wind up cast as the grateful recipients of technologies designed to help us and make us ‘more normal’.”

But at the same time, people with disabilities are making our own futures and we are shaping and reshaping, as we always have, our own relationship to technology. As some of the people who depend on technology the most for access and inclusion, those of us with disabilities are acutely aware of technology’s failures and limitations. We know that technology and design, however beneficial, can never substitute for equity and social justice for people with disabilities. To paraphrase Brooklyn native and international disability and women's rights pioneer Judy Heumann, “How can I be equal if I have to be grateful for an accessible bathroom?”

Inclusive innovations in technology and design must be informed by anti-ableist and inclusive innovations in culture, society and dominant thinking. …The differences in the ways of thinking and being in the world, of existing as a human being with dignity and worth, are supported by technology design, and institutional and social norms, rather than devalued, dismissed, or even ruthlessly eliminated by these forces.

I believe that our disability studies programs and the School of Professional Studies are well positioned to help lead us toward a culture of accessibility and inclusion not only here in New York City, but well beyond. With the technical support and expertise from the SPS Office of Faculty Development and Instructional Technology, and the upcoming transition to the Brightspace learning management system, we are better positioned than ever before to fully embrace and to advance the principles of universal design and learning (UDL) and open pedagogy.

…More and more, there is a recognition that human-centered design and practices of UDL and open pedagogy can help to embrace disability as a strength and not a weakness, as an asset and not a deficit. These practices have the potential to allow new ways of learning, knowledge sharing, and knowledge production that can help us to meet some of the challenges teachers and students face in the classroom, while also providing students and educators with the tools and insights that we need to build a more inclusive world outside the classroom.


Visit here for more information on Disability Pride Month at CUNY SPS.

About the CUNY SPS Disability Studies Programs

Disability Studies is an emerging academic field that explores disability from multiple perspectives, including the social sciences, humanities, science, and the law. The CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers groundbreaking, fully accredited programs within Disability Studies. The School’s offerings include a BA, Advanced Certificate, and MA in Disability Studies, and an Advanced Certificate and MS in Disability Services in Higher Education.

About the CUNY School of Professional Studies

As New York's leading online school since 2006, the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS) offers the most online bachelor's and master's degree options at the City University of New York and serves as the University's first undergraduate all-transfer college. With 26 degrees and numerous other non-degree and grant-funded workplace learning programs, CUNY SPS meets the needs of adults who wish to finish a bachelor's degree, progress from an associate's degree, earn a master's degree or certificate in a specialized field, and advance in the workplace or change careers. Consistently ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for its online offerings, CUNY SPS has emerged as a nationwide leader in online education. The School's renowned and affordable online programs ensure that busy working adults may fulfill their educational goals on their own time and schedule.

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