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Disabilities Studies Specialization

The Disability Studies doctoral specialization at Utah State University prepares graduates to be highly effective university faculty in disability studies programs.  Graduates contribute to a deeper understanding of the complexities of disabilities in the context of changing demographics and society.

This specialization offers students a unique combination of:

  • extensive collaboration with interdisciplinary faculty
  • direct experience in research, teaching, and writing
  • broad sociopolitical perspective of disabilities
  • a social constructionist approach to disability studies


Program Contacts
Name:  Dr. Keith Christensen
Phone: 435-797-0507
Email: Keith's Email


Students in this specialization have the opportunity to work with faculty and students from multiple disciplines and programs focused on broad societal issues.  Students may engage in research tailored to their own preferences with faculty support and mentoring.

Current projects include research on the impact of funding streams on services and supports available to individuals with disabilities; understanding the human, fiscal, and societal barriers and facilitators to community participation; and engaging in participatory research activities with individuals with disabilities.

Contact Information

For further information on the Disabilities Studies Specilization, please contact Dr. Judith M. Holt or Dr. Keith Christiansen.

Required coursework is a blend of broad multidisciplinary courses and focused specialization courses.  Core coursework, common to all areas of disability disciplines, includes multidisciplinary courses that bring together diverse perspectives on disabilities, effective services, and research methodology.  Specialization courses provide deep coverage of current developments in disabilities studies.  


Core Coursework

Course Title / Description Credits (17/19)
EDUC 6570 Introduction to Education and Psychological Research
Introduction to research methods including identifying research questions, conducting research literature reviews, and design and implementation of research projects. (Students should enroll in the section of this course that is designated for full-time doctoral students.)
EDUC 6600 Measurement, Design, & Analysis
This course integrates concepts in measurement, research design, and statistical analysis for research in psychology and education. (STAT 5200 is an acceptable substitution.)
REH/SPED 7820 Seminar: Special Topics
In-depth study of special topics in special education and rehabilitation. Seminars examine historical aspects, relevant research, and theoretical positions on selected topics.
1 (3)
SPED 7400 Multicultural Issues in Disability
This seminar will focus on the juxtaposition of disability and ethnic/cultural/linguistic diversity. Three broad areas will be presented. The first area will focus on the ethnic/cultural/linguistic demography of disability. The second area will focus on the prejudice, discrimination, and handicapism and the ways in which these forces impact upon an individual who has a disability and who is a member of an ethnic/cultural/linguistic minority group. The third area will focus on practice applications, translating the concept of the first two areas into practical suggestions for professional practice.
SPED 7920 Doctoral Orientation Seminar
Orients new students to the doctoral program including career planning, program planning, fundamental concepts of scientific research and literature review, and knowledge of the available facilities and faculty members.
SPED 7940 Journal Reading Group
Under faculty direction, students read and discuss published research. Students learn to critique empirical and theoretical papers as well as current research findings in important areas of Disability Disciplines.
SPED 7820 Evidence-Based Practice
This seminar explores evidence-based practice as a framework for providing the most effective possilbe services to persons with disabilities by linking research and practice. Students will learn processes for posing appropriate clinical questions, systematically and critically reviewing research, and developing formal practice quidelines.
USU 6900 Research Integrity
The purpose of this class is to provide an underpinning of ethical conduct for students entering the research enterprise at USU. The course is designed for graduate students based on regulatory requirements from federal funding agencies. Subjects covered are ethical treatment of human participants in research, conflicts of interest, ethical care and use of animals in research, collaborative science, data ownership, management and sharing, mentor/trainee relationships, authorship and publication practices, research misconduct and peer review.

Disabilities Studies Coursework

Course Title / Description Credits (16)
SPED 7940 Journal Reading Group
Under faculty direction, students read and discuss published research. Students learn to critique empirical and theoretical papers as well as current research findings in important areas of Disability Disciplines.
SPED 7500 Interdisciplinary Workshop
Workshop on current interdisciplinary issues and topics in special education and related fields.
SPED 7710 Advanced Single-Subject Research Methods and Design
Explores advanced concepts and procedures in within-subject research methods. Builds on knowledge and skills acquired in SPED 7700 regarding scientific questions, measures, research designs, data analysis, and inference. Students analyze research and design, conduct, and report a scientific study.
SPED 7720 Advanced Behavior Analysis in Education
Discussion of advanced topics in applied behavior analysis including: functional analysis, function-based interventions, behavioral acquisition procedures, and strategies for promoting generalization and maintenance of behavior. Specific discussion of how applied behavior analytic principles can be used in educational contexts.
Various Electives in Disabilities Studies
Students will take an additional 6 credits in seminars on topics of relevance to their programs. These seminars will be chosen from among the following: EDUC 6770, EDUC 6780, SPED 7700, and SPED 7710.


Preliminary Exams

Preliminary exams are conducted after approximately one year of full time study (or the equivalent) and provide a focus for students to attain foundational skills in research design and critique, and disciplinary knowledge. This three part exams is completed across a three day period. Components of the exam are:

  • Disciplinary knowledge.  Specific questions focus on key foundational knowledge of disabilities studies.
  • Design of Research. The student outlines the design of a research project on a given topic relevant to disabilities studies.
  • Critique of Research. The student critiques a manuscript reporting research relevant to disabilities studies.

Professional Products and Internships

A set of professional products and internships provide opportunities for mentored experience in critical professional skills.


The dissertation is the capstone experience of the doctoral program. The student plans, carries out, analyzes, and interprets substantial original research that contributes to the advancement of their field of study.

Faculty coming soon...