Transformational Disabilities Studies Course featured on the Big Screen

screening and panel

There are probably not many instructors who can say that their courses are so innovative and inspiring that they’ve been the subject of a documentary film. Senior Lecturer Allan B. Goldstein has that distinction. His Disabilities Studies class is the subject of The Ability Exchange, by director Bing Wang.

The course, as Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan stressed when the film was shown at Tandon last week, exemplifies the school’s focus on using engineering know-how for the betterment of society. “This is an important film to watch,” he asserted in his introduction, “because it illustrates what’s going on in this portion of the human experience.”

Goldstein’s course brings together aspiring engineers and consultants living with disabilities who team up to create digital projects, and in the process demonstrate the importance of human-centered design and thoughtfully conceived assistive technology.

Wang, an NYU alum, captured several evocative slices of life: Lolita’s love of a particular brand of potato chips and her determination to operate the vending machine independently; Ernest’s take on what it was like to grow up poor, black, and disabled in the 1940s; everyone’s frustrations with para-transit services.

The showing was followed by a panel discussion featuring Goldstein, Wang, Professor Luke DuBois (who is widely credited with introducing the Tandon community to the importance of Disabilities Studies), and Commissioner Victor Calise of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, who moderated.

Goldstein pointed out during the discussion that there was an enormous need for engineers and other STEM professionals in the disabilities field, thus making those who’ve taken his course exceptionally employable, but bigger issues than that were involved. “My students are learning that there are many variations on the theme of being human,” he said. “That makes them not only better, more employable engineers, but better citizens.”

According to DuBois, there is no better place than NYU for molding the type of skilled-engineer/ empathetic-citizen hybrid who will be creating the next generation of assistive technology. “Engineers take an oath to make things better,” he said, referring to an official pledge that reads in part, “My skill and knowledge shall be given without reservation for the public good.” “And we’re here at the greatest university, in the greatest city in the world. We should be able to fix all this.”