About NYU’s “Incubator” for Disability Research and Activism with MCC’s Mara Mills

The field of disability studies looks at the historical, social, and legal circumstances that shape the experience of disability. It also recognizes that disability is not a matter of discrete impairments — but rather an opportunity for coalition or identification.

For the past decade, a group of NYU faculty — led by Mara Mills, associate professor of media, culture, and communication, and Faye Ginsburg, professor of anthropology — have been working to bring attention and action to disability issues. Their work laid the foundation for the new NYU Center for Disability Studies, which launches this fall. Starting this month, the NYU Center for Disability Studies will be housed at 20 Cooper Square, providing a new space for programming and collaborations.

We spoke with Mills, an expert on the intersection of disability and media, about the new center:

What is the mission of the NYU Center for Disability Studies?
We see our Center as an incubator for disability activism and critical disability studies research on the NYU campus and beyond. We coordinate a cross-school minor in disability studies and work closely with the undergraduate Disability Student Union. With the Provostial Working Group on Disability, Inclusion, and Accessibility, we address specific infrastructural barriers on campus. Recently, the working group has improved the signage at Bobst and introduced model classrooms in GCASL that are accessible for both faculty and students. We also run a wide range of public events with emerging and established scholars, activists, artists, designers, and filmmakers. We collaborate with a broader network of disability studies initiatives in New York City, including faculty groups at Columbia, CUNY, and Fordham.

What kind of programming and activities can we look out for in the coming months?
We’re bringing several outside scholars and activists to campus this fall, such as DJ Savarese, the first nonspeaking autistic student at Oberlin College and star of the 2017 film DEEJ, and Lydia X.Z. Brown, editor of the recent anthology All the Weight of our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism. We also host a monthly colloquium that showcases NYU research in the field of disability studies. Anyone interested can join our listserv for details about upcoming events.

Many of your exciting collaborations have focused on the intersection of disability and the arts. Can you describe one of these projects and what NYU brings to the table?
With the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, we co-sponsored a 2011 artist residency and graduate student summer school on the topic of Arts Inclusion: Disability, Design, Curation. Many of the student participants have become important figures in the field. Hentyle Yapp has recently been hired as an assistant professor in the Tisch Department of Art and Public Policy. Another participant, Kevin Gotkin, now co-directs the Disability Arts NYC Taskforce (DANT), one of the Center’s community partners. We look forward to expanding our collaborations with the many other outstanding local disability arts programs, like Reelabilities Film Festival and Whitney Museum Access Programs.