What is the Centre for Disability Studies (CDS)?

The Centre for Disability Studies (CDS) is an interdisciplinary network of researchers from across the Social Sciences, Humanities and STEM subjects, united by their commitment to carrying out research and teaching  that helps achieve equality and social justice for disabled people, globally.

The CDS is well-known for its work in the area of the sociology of disability, disability politics and policy, disability law and human rights, inclusive design (transport systems and assistive technologies) and Deaf Studies.

In addition to being a world-leader in its research field, the CDS is a centre-of-excellence in teaching. Colleagues teach modules in Disability Studies across several undergraduate programmes. At the postgraduate level, the CDS runs a well-known Masters in Disability Studies, which over the years has been taken by many important disability activists, policy-influencers and academics from around the world. CDS colleagues supervise PhDs in Disability Studies and welcome applicants interested in undertaking interdisciplinary work in this area.

The CDS is led by Professor Anna Lawson from the School of Law (Joint Director) and Professor Angharad Beckett from the School of Sociology and Social Policy (Joint Director). This collaboration underlines the interdisciplinary character of the Centre.


A Disability Research Unit (DRU) was originally established at Leeds in 1990 within the School of Sociology and Social Policy as a research unit for the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP) – subsequently the United Kingdom Disabled People’s Council (UKDPC). Initial research activity focused on institutional discrimination and on building a case for anti-discriminatory legislation in Britain.

The DRU was formally established within the University in 1994, under the direction of Colin Barnes (now Emeritus Professor of Disability Studies). The Unit expanded, attracting PhD students and researchers involved with a wide variety of disability-related research projects. Much of this early work was concerned with British policy issues, with the role of disabled people’s organisations in policy and service development, and with developing a greater theoretical and methodological understanding of the social model of disability.

We have always viewed research and education as linked activities, and members of the DRU were at the forefront in developing disability studies as an academic discipline via an undergraduate option course and a dedicated Masters/Post-Graduate Diploma route (more information about these courses is available here.)

Through the 1990s the DRU became widely regarded as an international leader in the field of disability studies, drawing increasing interest and exchange from around the world. The development of the disability-research internet discussion group (the largest of its kind in the world) and the subsequent establishment of the online Disability Archive UK (a subject-based e-repository of research, scholarship and activism) were also key factors.

By 2000, the DRU’s tenth anniversary, disability studies had become firmly established as an interdisciplinary field of study within universities and research centres around the world. It now draws increasing numbers of students and researchers from a variety of backgrounds. Recognising these developments, staff and students at the DRU launched a more broadly based interdisciplinary Centre for Disability Studies within the University – and so CDS was born.

Our approach to research and education is grounded in social model approaches, which recognise that disability is above all a form of institutional discrimination and social exclusion, rather than a product of physical difference between individuals. CDS remains at the forefront in promoting this approach amongst the international research community.

We seek to adopt ‘committed’ participatory methods in our work. This is achieved where possible by sharing control over the production and dissemination of research – with individual research participants and with democratic organisations controlled by disabled people. Our taught courses draw directly on the experiences and issues raised by the disabled people’s movement and many of our staff and post-graduate students have been disabled people.

We actively welcome international collaboration and have established many personal and professional links with related research groups and institutions around the world. We regularly welcome international visitors to Leeds, who come to discuss their own research, to study, to exchange ideas and to present their work in a vibrant international and academic research environment.