A Life Changing Course: Disabilities Studies

Engineering schools are notorious for their demanding curriculum and rigorous coursework; memorizing countless formulas and reactions are second nature to the typical engineering student. Although this material is a necessity for the workplace, textbooks can only provide a limited scope of information—learning by doing is indelible. 

Allan Goldstein, an instructor of Technology, Culture and Society, has introduced this atypical approach to learning in his course in Disabilities Studies. Through a partnership with the United Cerebral Palsy of New York City, students who enroll in the course engage with consultants to comprehend the factors of living with a disability. “People with disabilities are the largest minority in the world. They are a huge political force. Most important, they are people first, and they rightly insist and deserve to not be seen as their disability”, says Goldstein.

To keep students engrossed in the course, they are teamed up with consultants who themselves have disabilities. Goldstein says, “My students work closely with a person who has a disability by creating a person-centered project -- a video or photo essay or PowerPoint. These projects may serve the consultant as a digital curriculum vitae or simply a method to show one’s hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.”

Goldstein adds, “Connection and respect are immediately developed between the people with disabilities and those without disabilities.” He continues: “I believe in the power of being human—many participating NYU-Poly students never had a relationship with a person with disabilities; this course changes lives.”

Not only does this course affect the lives of the students, but it also affects the lives of the consultants. Goldstein says, “People from United Cerebral Palsy of New York City are learning responsibility and gaining self-esteem; they are fulfilling their dreams of being out in the world, which means they're on the path to meaningful employment and establishing friendships with people without disabilities and broadening life experiences.”

Humanity is a prominent theme in this course. Goldstein notes, “We live in an inclusive world where everyone is different. People with disabilities have desires just like everyone else.” He continues, “People are afraid of difference, but people with disabilities are not different—they are just living differently.”

This is a course that expands horizons for all participants. Goldstein has deemed his course a “life project." Students develop communication skills by learning patience, understanding, empathy, and compassion. As a result, Goldstein says, “Students learn to appreciate what they have and to not take anything for granted.”