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Hope Library Guides

IDS 172 Disability in Modern Societies (Disability Studies): DS research tips

Fall 2023

Why is Disability Studies research challenging?

The interdisciplinary nature of disability studies

  • Disability Studies is interdisciplinary.
  • You will need to learn to distinguish between medical, scientific, historical, and sociological treatments of disability, and find sources that fit in with your research framework. This can take some experience.

Terminology may be offensive and inaccurate

  • Current and historical research may use outdated terminology.
  • Research, especially books, may be cataloged using outdated and/or biased terminology.
  • Some terminology may be considered politically incorrect, hurtful or even triggering.
  • Although you may want to avoid outdated terminology in your own research, you might need to use them as search terms if you want to be comprehensive, especially when searching historical materials and primary sources.

Historical Lack of Cataloging

  • Until relatively recently, disability studies material may not have been identified with relevant subject headings and tags.
  • Historically, some subject headings and tags did not exist.

Keywords and Subjects for Searching

Finding keywords for disability studies can be challenging:

  • Critical theory may use its own critical vocabulary and jargon
  • Some terms related to disability may be used as metaphors in other contexts
  • Older work may use dated terminology
  • Older work may not have been cataloged as disability studies at all

Some keywords to try

  • abledness, ableism,ableist, able-bodied, able-bodiedness
  • access, accessible, accessibility
  • ageism, ageist, aging
  • Deaf, deafness, deaf studies (some Deaf people consider themselves to be a linguistic/cultural minority, not disabled)
  • dis/ability, disability, disabilities, "disability studies", "disability rights", disabled
  • disease, dis-ease
  • enable, enabling
  • inclusion, inclusiveness, inclusivity
  • normalcy, normals, normative
  • sick, sickness
  • universal design

Browse subject headings

Library of Congress subject headings can be useful tools for identifying books on a particular topic. We recommend these for browsing Disability Studies topics:

  • People with disabilities
  • Mentally ill
  • Mental illness
  • Blind
  • People with mental disabilities
  • Older people
  • Human body -- social aspects
  • Aging
  • Deaf
  • Sociology of disability
  • Disability studies
  • American Sign Language
  • Disabilities
  • People with disabilities in ... [e.g., art, literature, civil service, etc.]

Rhetorical constructions in disability studies
If you're looking for specific readings or theorizations of a topic, try combining your keyword with frequently paired terms like:

  • advocate, advocacy
  • biology, biological, bioethics
  • body, bodies
  • critical
  • difference
  • "disability studies"
  • discrimination
  • "identity politics"
  • medical, medicalization
  • microaggression
  • narrative, narratives
  • politics, political
  • representation, representations
  • rhetoric, rhetorical, "visual rhetoric"
  • signify, signifying
  • visible, visibility, invisible, invisibility, visual

Developing Your Search Strategy

Planning out your search strategy in advance will save you time finding relevant articles in the library databases. To search most effectively, break your research topic into it's main concepts. Exp

  • ableism,
  • public policy,
  • people with mobility-related disabilities.

Do background research and brainstorming to discover other terms the literature may use for these concepts.

  • Brainstorm synonyms for each concept;
  • Scan books, encyclopedia articles, & class materials for related words;
  • Explore thesauri within the databases for subject terms related to your concept.


Concept Brainstorming

Academic Search Complete Thesaurus

MeSH Headings


ableist OR discrimination OR prejudice OR bias OR marginalization ableism OR "discrimination against people with disabilities" "discrimination psychology"[MeSH Terms] 
public policy government OR law OR legal Law "Public Policy"[MeSH Terms]

people with mobility-related disabilities

wheelchair OR crutches OR elderly OR Parkinson's Movement disorders "Mobility Limitation"[MeSH Terms]



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