Paige Lasota is one of those rare individuals who knew since high school what she wanted to pursue as a career. Her experience as an aide in special education classrooms deeply resonated with her. “I just knew that was my calling and what I needed to do in life,” she says.
During her senior year of high school, Lasota took the first steps in fulfilling that calling. She became a certified direct support professional, caring for and supporting people with disabilities.
For Lasota, her academic and professional goal was always disability studies, and she never second-guessed her choice. As a first-year student at the University of Minnesota, Lasota knew that while the U of M offered more than 140 majors, disability studies was not one of them. But during fall semester of her sophomore year, a friend told her she could design her own major through the Inter-College Program (ICP) at the College of Continuing and Professional Studies (CCAPS).
Lasota went to an information session about the ICP major and learned that she could pull from courses offered across the University to create a degree that would serve her best. It was the perfect solution. Lasota met with her advisor, Karen Moon, and began the work of designing a major.
“My degree was so individualized and the experience of designing it was so one-on-one,” Lasota says. “I felt really cared for.”
Lasota took a variety of courses, including special education, psychology, gender and women’s sexuality studies, family social sciences, and more. She appreciated how the ICP major allowed her to gain a holistic view of disability, and soon she realized that she wanted to share what she was learning with as many people as possible.
“Many people assume there’s something wrong with having a disability, but I don’t see it that way,” she says. “Disability isn’t something to be cured.”
In the spring of 2020, she began to participate in the creation of an official disability studies major and minor at the U of M. For her part in developing the major, Lasota compiled a list of disability courses and disability-related and adjacent courses at the U, and a list of potential faculty and collaborators.
“I studied the courses to analyze what ideologies of disability the content was perpetrating—disability-positive is essential,” she says. “I also examined the possibility of transforming existing courses that touched on disability into full-on disability courses.”
Thanks to her dedication, the U of M is exploring a disability studies major.
As for Lasota, she recently completed her degree and today works as an educator and advocate at Mad Hatter Wellness, teaching wellness and sexuality education to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She couldn’t have dreamed up a more ideal role for herself.
“It’s been amazing,” says Lasota. “The job I have perfectly encompasses all of my passions, and I get to apply everything I’ve learned in my degree. I spend my time doing what matters most to me: empowering and advocating for the people I teach and provide resources for.”