History of disability sciences – Disability sciences in Japan and the world-

The origins of disability sciences

Disability and people with disabilities first became the subjects of modern scientific study at the end of the 19th century, in the fields of psychology, psychiatry and social services. These sciences treated disability as a form of physiological or psychological abnormality or deviation, or as individual difference based on a standard of ‘normalcy’, and explored ways to reduce the impact of disability through education; or studied disability in association with social issues. Around World War I, rehabilitation methods were established to cope with injured soldiers and people suffering from industrial accidents. Thus, the disability sciences began as part of psychology or medical sciences, etc., and developed slowly.

The origins and development of disability sciences in Japan

The scientific interest in disability in Japan developed in earnest after World War II, with its primary focus on school education. The first major milestone was achieved when the Department of Special Education (the forerunner of the College of Disability Sciences) of the School of Education was established, in 1951, at the Tokyo University of Education. This was the first university department in Japan to specialize in children with disabilities. Since then, psychological and educational studies have developed in Japan, centering on education, as well as general studies on children with disabilities. The name ‘Special Education Sciences’ was changed to ‘Disability Sciences’ in 1973, when the university department was transferred to the University of Tsukuba. Disability Sciences evolved from the narrow study of education of school-aged children with disabilities to the broader study of life-long comprehensive support, including education, welfare, rehabilitation, etc., for a wide variety of people, ranging from infants to the elderly. This was the second major milestone in the development of disability sciences in Japan.
Today, the College of Disability Sciences at the University of Tsukuba deals with all kinds of disabilities by incorporating the work of a wide variety of scientific fields, including psychology, education science, medical sciences, physiology, social welfare science, and recently, sociology. This composite field of disability sciences is unique to Japan, with no real counterpart in any other developed country, and has established and advanced a unique scientific methodology of its own. As such, it is expected to make a continuing contribution to society through its scientific approach to disability and people with disabilities.