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Critical Disability Studies

Critical Disability Studies

All Programs

LocationEmail AddressProgram Website
Room #313, Stong

The MA and PhD degrees of the Graduate Program in Critical Disability Studies offer a comprehensive curriculum covering diverse scholarly perspectives. The program structure and environment encourages advanced research, new scholarship and provides opportunities to contribute to the field. Both programs enable a multidisciplinary group of students to explore disability in relation to social policy, social justice, human rights issues, and social, historical and cultural movements in Canada and internationally.

In particular, the programs provide graduate students with the ability to:

  • critically understand existing policies and practices relating to disability, as well as Canadian and international laws and instruments governing human rights and protections for people with disabilities;
  • present theories of human rights as a basis for understanding existing legal, economic and social rationales for inclusion in relation to systemic barriers and oppression;
  • situate key debates in disability studies in both historical and contemporary contexts, including understanding how issues relating to disability are interpreted and advanced in both an academic setting and in public and private policy and programming;
  • recognize the importance of racialization, poverty, gender, sexuality and class issues as they intersect with disability;
  • foster critical studies of activism and activist histories;
  • influence public policy at federal, provincial and local levels and contribute to movements for social justice and human rights;
  • contribute to an evidence-based body of knowledge on people with disabilities at the international, national and local level in the health, education, social policy and legal sectors; and,
  • apply qualitative and quantitative research skills to policy research and longitudinal studies.

The PhD program is geared towards students who wish to further develop their critical understanding of disability both as an independent issue and as an issue that raises fundamental questions relating to the meaning of equality, legal distinctions of classes of people, issues of difference as a social, historical and cultural category, applied human rights, the social and legal construction of inequality, and the implications of inclusion as opposed to add-on programs and services.

The MA program can be completed either on a part-time or full-time basis. The PhD program can be completed on a full-time basis.

Please consult the online application materials at Prospective applicants may contact the Graduate Program Office for Critical Disability Studies, 313 Stong College,

Admission Requirements

The program is open to graduates of recognized universities. Applicants must possess a completed honours bachelors degree (generally a four year degree) with a minimum B+ average or equivalent in the humanities, social science or a related applied program (no specific undergraduate major is required).

The program will undertake a case-by-case determination of considering admission of “non-standard” applicants whose average is below the minimum standard of B+. This will be considered when an applicant states that they have been subject to discrimination related to their disability affecting their grades while completing their undergraduate degree.

Applicants must provide:

  • a recent research paper or report to indicate ability in writing and conducting research;
  • a statement of interest showing evidence of commitment to advanced work in studies in disability. The statement should include a discussion of the applicant’s background, interests, skills and career goals, with a proposed program of study;
  • a c.v. and recommendation forms; and,
  • for students whose first language is not English, a minimum Test of English as a Foreign Language score of 600 (paper based) or 250 (computer based) or a York English Language Test score of 1 is required.

Applicants are assessed on the basis of academic achievement and potential and/or demonstrated capacity or potential for advanced work in an applied area. The submitted research paper or report and the statement of interest will provide a basis for evaluating that potential.

The program is open to qualified students who want to obtain advanced scholarly training in the interdisciplinary study of Critical Disability Studies and who have demonstrated academic excellence in a related field of study. To be considered for admission, candidates must:

  • have completed a master’s degree with a minimum A- average or equivalent; equivalence is demonstrated by five or more years of voluntary or paid work experience in a senior position in government, administrative position in an NGO, teaching or administrative position in a university, college or high school, within the area of social justice, human rights and disability;
  • provide a statement of interest demonstrating commitment to advanced work in disability studies. The statement should include a discussion of the applicant’s background, interests, skills and career goals, along with a proposed program of study and specific research interests;
  • demonstrate ability in writing and research by submitting a recent research paper or report that the applicant has written for a course or in an employment context; and,
  • provide a c.v. and recommendation forms preferably from university faculty members. Equivalencies (letters from non-university faculty) are considered for applicants who have been out of school for more than five years.

For students whose first language is not English, a minimum Test of English as a Foreign Language score of 600 (paper based) or 250 (computer based) or York English Language Test score of Band 1 is required.

Fields in the Program

Within the broader scope of critical disability studies, faculty members offer research and teaching strengths in the following fields:

  1. Human Rights and Social Justice. This field covers the key philosophical, historical and legal concepts surrounding the development and implementation of ideas and policies pertaining to human rights and social justice. It includes a broad understanding of international and national human rights standards as well as cross-cultural interpretations of what is meant by social justice and legal rights obligations. The meaning of human rights and social justice are considered within the context of their applicability to people with disabilities. This field also examines diversity pertaining to cross-cultural, class, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age and poverty issues as they relate to disability. There is a focus on the ways in which diversity issues in the context of broad socioeconomic factors impact experiences of people with disabilities and how equity struggles within a diverse society inter-connect with one another.
  1. Critical Theory. This field covers key critical concepts and texts both within disability studies as well as articulated by poststructuralism, Marxism, racial formation theory, queer theory, and feminist theories, among others, which have significantly influenced disability studies.
  1. Social Policy. This field examines social policy development affecting disability and equity issues within a Canadian and international context in regard to their impact on national, regional and local policies affecting people with disabilities. The impact of grass roots organizing and activism are also included as an important area of study, looking at how disability advocacy has influenced the development of social policies at different times and places both historically and in contemporary society.

Degree Requirements


Candidates for the Master of Arts (Critical Disability Studies) degree must fulfill the following requirements.

Three course equivalents at the graduate level, including a major research paper as follows:

  1. Core courses
    a) Critical Disability Studies 5100 6.0: Disability Studies: An Overview;
    b) Critical Disability Studies 5110 3.0: Methodology; and,
  1. Three Elective courses

Students in the MA must complete a major research paper that tests students against the educational objectives of being able to form a researchable question. The research paper address the question through an appropriate theoretical framework, review and synthesis of the literature, analysis of primary and secondary data sources and formation of a set of conclusions. It trains students in the formulation and writing of a specific research project, and gives them the experience of working independently under faculty supervision. Students develop a research topic given their interests in specific areas and are supervised by faculty members with related experience.

The major research paper is evaluated by the student’s major research paper supervisor and advisor through written and oral presentations at which the student’s ability to answer questions related to the major research paper is assessed. The major research paper is evaluated on the extent to which the student proposes researchable question, and their ability to address it through an appropriate theoretical framework, review and synthesis of the literature, analysis of primary or secondary data sources and formation of a set of conclusions. The length of the paper is 50 pages with an upper limit of no more than 65 pages, excluding references.

The MA program can be completed on a full- or part-time basis. Entry is fall term.

The expected degree completion time for full-time master’s students is 3 terms. For those students who complete degree requirements earlier than 3 terms, they must register and pay fees for a minimum of the equivalent of 3 terms of full-time study. All requirements for a master’s degree must be fulfilled within 12 terms (4 years) of registration as a full-time or part-time master’s student in accordance with Faculty of Graduate Studies’ registration policies.


The PhD program is a full-time program of advanced graduate study. It is expected that most students will complete the program in four years. However, students can change their status to be registered on a part-time basis unless otherwise approved for accommodation purposes.

All PhD candidates are required to develop a plan of study providing an integrated, coherent rationale for their studies as they relate to coursework, the comprehensive examination and the dissertation. The plan of study must demonstrate the use of critical theory in disability studies as well as an interdisciplinary approach that charts new areas in scholarship in this field. Upon admission, each student is assigned an advisor, based on student’s field of interest as indicated in statement of interest and advisor’s area of expertise, with whom the student meets to decide on the plan of study. The plan must be approved by both the student’s advisor and the Graduate Program Director during the first term of study. By the end of the second term, the student must submit a finalized plan of study, which is a refinement of the first. Upon completion of their first year of study, students are required to choose a supervisor.

The PhD program has three major components: coursework, a comprehensive examination, and the dissertation.

Core Courses
Students are required to take one full core course, over two terms in the first year of study:
Critical Disability Studies 6100 6.0: Doctoral Seminar in Critical Disability Theory and Research.

In addition, students are required to complete any three half-courses from among the program’s electives. Although approval from the Program Director is required, students are encouraged to take courses from other graduate programs to fulfill their elective requirements. No specialization is required, as students obtain general competencies from engagement in all three fields. It is expected that students complete their elective requirements over the first three terms of study.
Note: If, prior to admission, students have not taken a graduate level methodology course, Critical Disability Studies 5110 3.0: Methodology is required in addition to the three electives for a total of four electives.
Note: Critical Disability Studies 5120 3.0: Law is primarily offered to master’s students; however it is accessible to PhD students who have not previously taken a law course. If prior to admission, students have not taken a Law course relating to issues of disability, Critical Disability Studies 5120 3.0: Law is required in addition to two electives for a total of three electives

The comprehensive examination is a pedagogical exercise that requires candidates to engage in written and oral focused academic inquiry on a topic or problem of interest that extends the bounds of coursework and moves toward the conceptual work of the dissertation.

The comprehensive requirement is composed of two parts: written and oral. The written comprehensive requirement takes the form or its equivalent of two 25 page essays unless otherwise negotiated between the student and their supervisor. Each of the comprehensives is supervised by a faculty member appointed to the Critical Disability Studies Graduate Program. Each component - written and oral - will have an equal weighting, and a single integrated outcome will be provided (i.e., pass or fail). All comprehensive requirements will ordinarily be completed by the end of term seven. Students are encouraged to begin planning and preparing for their first comprehensivewell before CDS program deadlines. Excluding exceptional circumstances, scheduling information will usually be provided to students and participating faculty at least 20 business days in advance of the written and oral exam.

Upon successful completion of the written portion there is an oral exam; its purpose is to demonstrate competence and to allow for questions, reflections & clarifications as needed. The oral comprehensive examination committee includes two supervisors who are responsible for evaluating the student. The oral comprehensive will be scheduled when the supervisors consider the written components to have passed and the student has exhibited competence in the minor and major fields.  

The oral exam is a 90 minutes closed exam scheduled when the faculty supervisors have approved the written component. Prior to scheduling the oral exam the student will send copies of their approved papers to the Graduate Program Director, and both field supervisors. 

The oral exam has as its focus the written components. In the exam the student presents a 10-15 minute overview of their comprehensive papers after which there are two rounds of questions. The oral examination evaluation is based upon the students demonstration of competence, awareness of current debates, gaps, and research in their major and minor fields.

The oral exam will be chaired by the Graduate Program Director or representative (non-voting)

The comprehensive requirement is assessed by the supervisors using one of the following categories:

  • pass 
  • fail

If there is a split vote the Graduate Program Director or designate will confer with faculty supervisors and cast the deciding vote. Should the student fail they will be given one opportunity to retake the oral exam within three months; areas for improvement will be clearly laid out by the committee. A second failure will result in removal from the program.

After successful completion of the comprehensive examination, students begin preparation of the dissertation. The dissertation, with a concentration in one of the fields, but with broad application of all three, makes an original contribution to scholarship in the field of Critical Disability Studies. The dissertation process has four stages:

  • the establishment of a supervisory committee, comprised of three faculty members, at least two of whom must be members of the Critical Disability Studies graduate program. A third member may be appointed to the graduate program;
  • the preparation of a dissertation proposal, which must be approved by the Graduate Program Director, the supervisory committee and the Faculty of Graduate Studies;
  • the writing of a dissertation acceptable to the supervisory committee and formally approved as examinable by the members of that committee; and,
  • the successful completion of an oral examination, centred on the dissertation and matters related to it, and presided over by an examining committee recommended by the Graduate Program Director for approval and appointment by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

The PhD program can be completed on a full-time basis. Entry is fall term.

This is a 12 term (4 year) program. Faculty of Graduate Studies’ regulations require all students to register for a minimum of 6 terms (2 years), and to complete all requirements within 18 terms (6 years). Terms in which a student registers for Elective Leave, Exceptional Circumstances Leave, Family Care Leave, or No Course Available are not included in these time limits. Continuous registration at York University must be maintained.