• University of New South Wales

Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability

Learn how disability is part of who we are as human beings, and how a good life is possible for everyone.

7,730 enrolled on this course

Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability
  • Duration6 weeks
  • Weekly study5 hours
  • CertificatesAvailable

20% of the global population has a disability, which means most of us will have an experience of disability in our lives, whether it be personally, through our family and friends, or in our workplaces and communities. But what is disability? It’s often assumed that people with disabilities can’t have a good life. But what is a good life?

In this course, and its sister course Working with Disability, we’ll reflect on how disability is part of who we are as human beings. These courses will give you and your fellow learners the opportunity to think through and work with some of the big issues facing societies, governments and disabled people.

View or download the course trailer video with audio description

Think through disability

We know that the way we think about and understand things shapes the way we act. In this course we’ll explore the ways disability is understood and challenge you to think about what it means to have a good life.

To begin, you will reflect on what a good life means for you and hear from other people with and without disabilities about their views on what a good life means for them. As you move through the topics, you will engage in thinking about and discussing contemporary disability issues such as disability politics, history and disability across the life course. At the end of the course we will challenge you to consider how a good life might be enabled for all.

Learn in a variety of ways

In this free online course, you can choose your pathway through the materials. Resources and strategies to support your learning include:

  • written, audio and visual resources (transcripts and audio descriptions/files provided)
  • stories from people with disabilities
  • interviews with leading disability studies experts
  • Talking Points to help guide online comments
  • a glossary of terms
  • a Learner Guide, Mel, who will show you how she has worked through the course material
  • an opportunity to take your learning further through activities to extend and expand your knowledge.

We encourage you to work through the course week-by-week in order to participate fully in the class discussions. However, once you enrol, materials will continue to be available to you after the course officially ends, so that you have the option to work at your own pace.

We also hope to hear from you. As we strive to improve the course and enable ease of access for all, we have multiple opportunities for you to provide feedback about the accessibility of the materials and the effectiveness of the course design.

Gain vital skills and knowledge

By the end of this course you will be able to:

  • identify how understandings of people with disabilities have changed over time
  • critically reflect on changing understandings of disability
  • identify core concepts in the social understanding of disability
  • appreciate the intersections between individual, social, political and cultural aspects of disability
  • understand what a good life might mean for a diversity of people, including people with disabilities.
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What topics will you cover?

  • The difference between disability and impairment
  • The social and medical models of disability
  • The classification, labelling and counting of disability
  • The history of disability in the Global North
  • Disability across the life course
  • The intersection between disability and other identities or social categories
  • Western and non-western philosophical traditions that inform ideas of a good life

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Identify and explain how understandings of disability have changed over time
  • Evaluate the importance of listening to the ideas and life experiences of people with disabilities
  • Evaluate the usefulness of the social model as a framework for understanding disability inclusion
  • Explain the importance of examining disability across the life course
  • Explain and critically analyse how disability intersects with other dimensions of human diversity
  • Identify and explain what a good life might mean for a diversity of people, including people with disabilities

Who is the course for?

This course is suitable for both beginners and experts wanting to raise their awareness of disability and disability-related issues within a global context. It is appropriate for people with disabilities and their family members, friends and allies; professionals in the care and community service sectors; medical and allied health professionals; educators; built environment professionals; advocates and policy makers; scholars; and lifelong learners.

Thinking through Disability is an appropriate foundational course for those interested in the course Working with Disability, which looks at disability and its relationship to human rights, access, advocacy and care.

Who will you learn with?

I'm a Lecturer at UNSW, Australia. I'm interested in the relationship between disability, social policy and social change. I think it's really important that universities share knowledge clearly.

I am an academic at UNSW Australia with more than twenty years experience in disability studies and in working for social change in the ways we understand and respond to disability.

I am a professor of disability policy and practice at the Social Policy Research Centre UNSW.I have undertaken research for twenty years with people with disabilities in Australia and internationally

Karen Soldatic is an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow (2016 – 2019) at the Institute of Culture and Society, Western Sydney University.

With a background in architecture and interiors - and in higher education - I work mostly on community-based projects to make improvements to the built environment; particularly around disability

Who developed the course?

UNSW Sydney

Established in 1949 with a unique focus on the scientific, technological and professional disciplines, UNSW is a leading Australian university committed to making a difference

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate and transcript

You can buy a Certificate of Achievement for this course — a personalised certificate and transcript in both digital and printed formats, to prove what you’ve learnt. A Statement of Participation is also available for this course.

Certificate of Achievement + transcript


Statement of Participation


Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: