Based on her academic experience as a person with a physical disability, Shahd Alshammari, a young Kuwaiti academic, has devised a curriculum of disability studies that she teaches to her students on her own initiative.
Alshammari, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 18, is an assistant professor of English literature and women’s studies at the Gulf University of Science and Technology, in Kuwait.
The voices of people with disabilities are too often absent among scholars and researchers, Alshammari told Al-Fanar Media in an interview via Zoom.
“Change starts from the classroom,” she said, “and for this I seek to use my experiences and my job as an academic to advocate for the rights of these groups, and the appropriate way to deal with them.”
Alshammari’s concept of her role as an academic goes beyond teaching and writing research articles. To her, it implies a commitment to a moral and scientific responsibility toward marginalised people and improving their conditions.
“My ambition is to invest in students with physical or mental disabilities to improve their living conditions and to provide them with greater opportunities to enrol in higher-education institutions,” she said.
Discovering Disability Studies
Alshammari’s interest in disability studies dates back to the years when she was studying for a doctorate at the University of Kent, in the United Kingdom.
“During that period, I discovered the existence of a specialisation in disability studies within the women’s studies curriculum,” she said. The specialty examines the experiences of people with disabilities in areas like education and hiring. It aims to reduce discrimination against them and raise awareness of disability issues among non-disabled people.