This post is written by Kevin Jackson. Graduate of the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson and now graduate of the Masters of Arts in Critical Disability Studies program at York University.
As a recent graduate of York University’s Critical Disability Studies (CDiS) master’s degree program (part-time), I wondered about how I should sum up all of my experiences in such a short space. Well, the first point that needs to be expressed is that I am a DST graduate (2014), and this is specifically written for Ryerson DST future/present graduates. As this piece will demonstrate, being a Ryerson DST grad gives CDiS MA students a tremendous advantage in the CDiS MA program.
My story would have to begin on orientation day. I was terrified. We all met in our dedicated Vari Hall classroom where I met my fellow MA/PhD students. We introduced ourselves and discussed the program. Thankfully Dr. nancy halifax was familiar with me from an edited collection to which we were both contributing. She was friendly and openly acknowledged my work. I felt this was a good way to start my MA! However, as I was delighted to discover, this was just the beginning of many outstanding experiences I would have in CDiS program.
The next thing to tackle were the actual classes. I recall the first few weeks of the mandatory disability studies overview class/tutorial with Dr. Geoffrey Reaume. I was overjoyed to learn that I was not only familiar with the themes, but that I had already read many of the assigned readings back in my DST undergrad! Although I did all of the readings again, I made sure to make notes that would allow me to make a few comments per class, which as anyone who knows can testify is a challenge for me. But with such small classes, great professors, and already being familiar with the themes/readings, I found class participation to be very manageable. In fact, I found my overall grades actually rose higher than my undergrad! Let me repeat that for DST students who might be worried about their capability to do the MA coursework: Yes, I actually received better grades in my MA than my BA. This was due to several factors—including the fact that I was academically supported (great profs), was dedicated to my academics (did all of the readings, research, and assignments), and that I was free to do my coursework. This last point cannot be overstated. One needs to consider their personal situation to determine if their job, social life, and even family can manage the amount of work that an MA requires. Certainly, doing the MA part-time could reduce the workload, but there are disadvantages to this as well. In all cases, there is a generous amount of work that you will be required to do to continue in the program (no less than a B for any course).
While CDiS is very good with accommodating disability and Madness, taking time off from the program is problematic. York University (but not CDiS itself) has a policy know as “continuous registration,” where once a student is enrolled, they cannot take time off from the program without financial penalty. That is to say, even if you have an accommodation (or even a MD’s letter) and you require time off, you will be charged for taking time off from the program. This red tape and bureaucracy were the most negative part of my grad school experience, but professors mitigate this issue by giving assignment extensions whenever possible.
I have tried to make this piece as helpful as possible to potential CDiS MA applicants; however, my experience will not be everyone’s experience. Being in the CDiS grad school has taught me that hard work, flexibility, and self reliance is so important, and the rewards far outweigh the negatives. I have met some of the most wonderful Mad and disabled people while doing my MA with CDiS, and these close relationships have stayed with me. My graduating class ceremony on October 19th, 2016 was a milestone in my academic, activist, and personal life. This experience has changed me, and I feel my own research has somehow changed Disability Studies and Mad Studies, hopefully for the better. You too can complete an MA in CDiS. As a Ryerson DST graduate, you already have a head start in the program (Kathryn Church has well prepared us for this). I myself can attest to the fear of beginning graduate school (MA), but if I can do it, you can do it—and make your own mark upon the world you are helping to create.
This post was written by current student Robin Kellner.
Almost daily, my clients and I are stopped by curiouspasser-by’s who have numerous questions and who feel entitled to our personal information.
I understand that we stand out. It’s not common to see two people side by side, one telling the other about every visual and auditory stimulus in the mall, doctor’s office, or restaurant. But that is how some people who are deafblind live their lives, with someone travelling beside them providing access to everything there is to see and hear in the environment around them.
Most commonly, I am asked if my client is my parent.
A few weeks ago, my client was getting her banking done when the teller stops to ask “Are you her daughter?” When I passed the question along to my client, she snapped “No! She’s an intervenor.”
We both sighed as we left the bank, “It’s annoying. I’m not old enough to be your mother.” It’s true, not even by a long shot.
Curiosity is human nature, but I often wonder, if disability were to be removed from the situation, would people still feel inclined to ask such questions? I would never pull up a chair at a café and ask the two people sitting at the table how they know each other. By Torontonian standards, that would be socially inappropriate – not to mention that I do not give a crap how they know each other.
It may not sound horrible to be approached with questions, but could you imagine if it happened almost every day? Such inquiries rarely turn into thoughtful conversations promote awareness of deafblindness – they are flat out insulting.
The interview does not often end with me being asked if I am my client’s offspring. Again and again, we hear “Can she see?” or “What’s wrong with him?”
These quandaries are also always directed at me implying that the person views my client as invisible and unable to answer a question.
I am not advocating for a society of people who never talk to one another and ask each other questions, but I encourage people to think about their questions before asking them. Speak to the person you are curious about directly, regardless of their mode of communication, language, vision, or hearing, and ask yourself: Why am I asking the question? Without the presence of visible disability, would I still feel the need to ask the question at all?
On a recent shift at the dentist, the receptionist asked if my client was my father. When I relayed the answer along to my client – who took the time to explain the role of an intervenor – the response was: “so like your daughter.”
We were speechless – but offered polite chuckles as we walked out using sighted guide. Having never been in that situation with this particular person, once we got outside, I asked him how he felt about the question. His response gave me a new perspective to the scenario – he said that he should have asked the receptionist if the dentist was her mother.
It occurred to me that such questions are not only disrespectful to the person with the embodied difference; they are also patronizing to the intervenor and diminish our roles as professionals.
The receptionist at the dental office is a skilled professional who plays an essential role in managing the office and ensuring the quality of the patients’ experience. Intervenors are trained professionals who provide visual and auditory information to people who are deafblind, and are trained in various modes of communication, orientation and mobility, and much more. Sure, it could happen that a dentist could hire their child to work in their office, and a family member could be put in the position of intervenor if there is a need. But would you ever feel the need to ask the receptionist at a dental office how they are related to their employer? I would guess the answer to that question is likely no.
Why then, do people feel it is their right to ask me how I am related to the person beside me who is holding my arm, a white cane, or the harness of a guide dog? Is it because they are perceived to have a disability?
In reality, I could be their daughter, cousin, or I could even be their lover – but is it really any of your business?
This post was written by student Sharon Clegg-Lintner and Micki McIntrye.
“Well, Micki. What do you think??”
“That would be all right with me I guess. If it means a couple of extra dollars a month for me to spend, that would be okay.”
And that’s how it all started; the second half of taking a stand and pursuing a closure for all the lost opportunities in life and one that makes her feel more credible and dignified as a human being. Not that she ever discussed those twenty years of pain, abuse and hardship while living in four of Ontario’s Provincial Institutions.
Micki, whose birth name is Marlene McIntyre, had to re-live all those painful memories three years ago as we spent nearly seven hours with me and her Adult Protective Service Worker completing the most intimate details of her years of mental, physical and emotional abuse. She spoke of other horrors that had occurred to people she knew and lived with, surprised at herself for even remembering some of their names.
“You didn’t speak of those things when staff were around and you couldn’t help even if you wanted to. I did a couple of times and got smacked and locked in a room for it. Some people died, Sharon, and we didn’t know where their bodies went.”
I’m sitting here with Micki right now so she can be part of this submission, because that’s how it’s always been between her and I since we met. We share. I was redneck nineteen year old who got a summer job at the Ontario Hospital for Women in Cobourg. (Later known as D’Arcy Place) That was 1972. And we’ve been friends ever since. There are too many stories to elaborate on since then, but the most important aspect of our relationship was how hers, and others, humbled me into choosing my career path. She became family and the both of us struggled through many obstacles so she could obtain her freedom. I took on Community and Social Services in the late 70’s to get her released into the community of Barrie and she has lived a life to establish herself as a citizen there, not without consequences by any means, but as someone who always had a heart of gold, of which she gave while others took. But I was always there as her “protector”, providing choices and alternatives.
She eventually met and decided to live with her partner, Bob, and that was nearly over thirty-five years ago. She is quite emphatic to this day that she won’t share Bob with me! “You’re my sister, and he can’t come to our house to stay when I come home!” Even when Micki got really ill two years ago and I learned that her one leg had gotten so badly infected, she was hospitalized, she told me she didn’t want to worry me and that she had tried her best to do things on her own. That cost her the amputation of her leg, a decision she made by herself after we had tried for four months to save it. South Lake Regional Hospital in Newmarket sure got to know the both of us during those months, after they originally wanted to discharge her back to her apartment that was consumed with bed bugs! It wasn’t long before the medical professionals discovered that we were a team not to be pushed around because of policies!! We’ve come even a longer way since then. I was able to secure a place at a retirement home the next year for both of them and took on officials in Barrie. It hasn’t been a smooth road since then making sure she was getting the correct medical attention and prevention for her other leg. We learned of the first collective Class Action Lawsuit against the Province of Ontario and I made sure her name was on the list. The law firm of Koskie Minsky in Toronto were absolutely wonderful! Micki and I had to originally travel to Toronto for depositions, affidavits, motions and intimidating consultations with Ministry people. But Micki charmed them all! Her wit, humour and sincerity won them over. Plus, she absolutely looked forward to staying in the big hotels!
Micki received a substantial financial gift as a result of the first lawsuit. We were able to obtain a brand new electric wheelchair for her and as of last October, she and Bob have relocated to a geared-to-rent disabled unit apartment in Barrie. They had the most wonderful Christmas last year, with a proper Christmas tree, decorations and gifts. Although there have been some serious medical concerns with the both of them this last year, they are much happier.
Our final chapter enlisted by Koskie Minsky this past year, was Micki taking on the responsibility of being named as applicant for a second class action lawsuit, again against the Province of Ontario, for any and all survivors of the smaller provincial institutions before they were closed. We spearheaded this motion because Micki wanted to ensure that EVERYONE who was still alive and had gone through horrific experiences were also entitled to a better life. The day she had to appear in court this past April, she manoeuvred her wheelchair up next to the lawyer’s benches and got to speak to the Judge and let him know how grateful she felt and other survivors in the courtroom clapped when she did so.
Micki’s life long wishes were to see Alice Cooper, which we have done twice now at Casino Rama and she wants to go to Santa’s Village this summer, which we are planning. Micki comes home here to my farm more often now, and it is our hope that with continuing medical assistance, we can get her one leg stable enough to warrant a prosthesis, because that’s Micki — she never wants to give up on any possibilities in her life and don’t anyone tell her she can’t do something!
Playgrounds provide opportunities for children to play in a diverse, safe environment along with allowing them to grow to create and pretend while interacting with their peers. Playgrounds are meant to provide children an exciting, diverse environment to play. Authors; Yantz, Young, & Mckeever (2010) maintain “by providing children the opportunity to play together is an important step in redressing discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion, inclusive play spaces help to promote and create an inclusive community” (pg.76). The purpose and goal of my community project are to create an accessible play environment that meets the needs both of the children disabilities who attend the school and everyone within the community. My paper focused my narrative, of my journeys as I worked on two projects one being changing the existing playground in making it accessible to everyone within the community. The second project is participating and working with school committees and stakeholders in designing and creating an accessible outdoor play space in the school’s courtyard. My motivation: As an Educational Assistant I am required to supervise the students I support outside during their morning, lunch and afternoon recesses. However during this time, I often see the students isolated playing on their devices because there is no equipment or other students to play and or socialize with. The students sit in their wheelchairs alone watching the other children play soccer on a field that is not accessible or safe for them to maneuver their wheelchairs, children building castles, holes, imagining that they are going to China or in the sandbox that has borders that allow able-bodied children in and children in wheelchairs out. I see children playing on the playscapes that has slides and or fireman poles, but no ramps for children in wheelchairs and opportunities to explore, imagine or play.
Children with disabilities are often marginalized and excluded on school playgrounds often because their abilities are unappreciated. I believe one of the effective ways to encourage such a change is to provide opportunities for them to self-advocate and be included in the decision-making process by providing the tools and resources necessary to express their wants and needs.
I held a learning circle including the children I support to provide them a means to express what they felt about the school playground. The students expressed they felt isolated, frustrated, mad, unvalued and sad. Expressed the basketball nets were too high and were afraid of getting hit in the head by a ball. They wanted to play in the sand with their peers, however because the sandbox is sunken in the ground, has high borders, and not entirely accessible, the students with physical disabilities are unable to gain access to the sandbox. In other instances, students were unsure of what to do when they wanted to play soccer because they felt they couldn’t ask their friends to stay with them to play. They didn’t want to prevent their peers from doing things they were able to do such as playing in the sandbox, practicing gymnastics on the grass or playing on the playscape. It also assisted in deciding what equipment the children felt was missing from the playground. The students shared that the most accessible equipment such as an elevated sand table and adjustable basketball net to accommodate their wheelchairs would be beneficial. The students expressed they felt comfortable playing with other students in the Intensive Support Program because they didn’t feel they would be judged. They didn’t want to leave other students alone without anyone to play with and because sometimes other students didn’t understand them or have the patience to wait for them to respond whether it is throwing the ball or responding to a question. I have also found that because of differing maturity levels from that of their grade peers they do not have much in common. For instance; one student is 14 years old, and her favourite television shows are not age or maturity appropriate for younger children. The other children watch television shows that contain content that some other students do not understand or watch. Having an opportunity to engage in a circle dialogue with the students, allowed me to hear the accounts first- the hand of the students’ experiences firsthand. It also allowed the students to express their feelings and suggestions regarding what they want and need to be changed, so they feel more comfortable and inclusive with their peers. How those changes and express can be included in the design stage of the Courtyard Revitalization Project is vital and allowed the student an opportunity for them to feel comfortable in a situation and which other students may have felt the same way.
I did not include children in the photographs that illustrate barriers children with disabilities face on the playgrounds. I wanted the main focus to be on the barrier not on the child.
I was able to gain funding from the parent council and the principal to purchase an elevated sand table, as well as an adjustable basketball goal. It has been very exciting for both the students and I; the elevated sand table is in the process of being installed. The children love playing with the adjustable basketball goal. The students with the class I support are beginning to enjoy the school playground and are beginning to feel included within the of the school community. Currently, I am still an active member of the in the school Playground Revitalization Project steering committee. The revitalization project is going well. We have created our designs and are in the process of working with the board in finalizing our design and develop strategies on how to gain extra funding. Although this began as my DST 99 final project, I am in the long haul!!
This was written by graduating student, Kelly Smith.
First I would like to congratulate all of the award winners that are here today. It is a true representation of the hard work and commitment that each of you.r have put into your studies and your work. I would also like to thank the donors for their generous contributions without which we would not be able to recognize the work that students are doing. Thank you!
I would also like to say thank you to the award committee for presenting me with the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award. When Kathryn contacted me to let me know that I had won the award for excellence in my thesis I was truly surprised and deeply honoured. I almost felt like it wasn’t really fair since I had such a great time working on my thesis. Not that it wasn’t a lot of work, which it was, and it was certainly stressful at times but I really enjoyed the process as a whole.
I was also very honoured to have been asked to give the Student Response speech today. It has meant a lot to me. Thank you again.
A little about me:
I was first accepted into the Disability Studies program here at Ryerson in 2002. I had been scheduled to start in the fall but lost my job during the summer months and had to withdraw from the program at that time. While my living circumstances changed, I always knew that I wanted to complete the Disability Studies program. So, fast forward to July 2013 and I finally, after many years, got the chance to start the program!
When I started DST 501 with Kirsty Liddiard, I came into the class feeling as if I had a pretty good foundation to start from. My experience in the field of Disability had started at age 12 when I began working with a running coach at Variety Village. At a young age I was exposed to an environment where I could ask questions and experienced so much diversity that it just became a natural part of life for me. I started working at summer camps with Variety Village when I was 16yrs old and at that time I was also training with a coach who was a paraplegic and the other athletes that he coached were all wheelchair racers. I continued working recreation programs for kid with disabilities through Toronto Parks and Rec (as it was called back then) in evening and summer programs for many years. I graduated from the DSW program at Centennial College in 1995 and up until the time that I stepped back into the classroom for DST 501, I worked many different jobs within the Disability field…from working in group homes and supportive living environments, teaching life skills at Bloorview MacMillan Centre (again dating myself), providing behaviour management training to people with acquired brain injuries, managing an Employment program for people with disabilities, as well working as a Sign Language Facilitator with the Toronto District School Board. With my background and experience I wondered just what new things this program would or could teach me.
Well, it taught me a lot and there’s still so much for me to learn. I remember having my world shattered to some extent in that first class, having things that I had learned and believed in thrown on its ear. One example is the use of “people first” language. For as long as I can remember it was something that I had always done and taught others to do as well, so to learn in that first class that it was not always supported….well, it really shook things up and made me second guess all that I thought that I knew.
I was one of those people who took a long time to really assimilate what I was learning in my classes. Logically I knew the answers to the questions and how to respond to my instructors but it took me a long time to be able to really understand, internalize and to formulate my own thoughts and understandings that were in line with the program, so if you’re a new student or even have been in the program for sometime and haven’t reached that point yet, don’t worry, keep working and critically questioning the information that you learn and it will come.
As a recent graduate I have some advice to offer to new students.
The first is that it is really important to keep yourself organized and disciplined with the classes…and I say this as someone who was at times taking 3 courses and working full time. I don’t really recommend that though! Treat your online courses like a job. Schedule the days that you will complete your readings, go online and post your responses and complete assignments into your week. It’s much easier to develop a schedule that can be flexible, rather than leaving everything to the last minute or not having a plan at all. I actually used to take the TTC to work instead of driving to give myself 45min in the morning and 45mins in the evening each day to complete my reading….and I might have fallen asleep at times but….I did try!
Secondly, I highly recommend taking some courses from other departments when possible for your electives. There are a few reasons that I say this. One reason is that people are made up of many different parts, and for those of you who have gotten this far, it’s what we refer to as intersectionality. People are never just read by one part of themselves, such as their age, culture, sex, economic status or disability but instead are read at different times by their different intersections together. Taking courses from other departments help us to learn about different aspects of people. For example, I took Sociology of Food and Eating and in it I learned how a person’s socioeconomic status can affect their access to foods not only through cost but also through the area that they live in which might be a food desert and food swamp. This is something that I had never thought of before and would certainly impact many of the people that I work with. I found that there was some unexpected cross-over in what would seem like unlikely places as well. For example, in Geography of Recreation and Leisure I saw how the “rupture” had taken place and influenced research in Geography just after I had learned about how it had affected the field of Disability studies in DST 88.
Some classes can also offer insight into how society works. For example, in Pop Culture I learned about the power that the media plays in social construct and used ideas from this class as well as Eliza’s class as a jumping off point for my thesis.
Another reason is that in taking these courses we become, as Paulo Freire suggests, co-creators in our education. We have the chance to share the information that we learn in our core courses with other student’ and instructors from different departments. As we learn from them, they are learning from us at the same time but it also gives us the opportunity to learn how to share our learnings with others who don’t have a Disability Studies background. I found that after taking a few classes, and many of you may have experienced the same things, that I would want to come home and share this new way of thinking that I was learning with my friends, family or co-workers, only to be surprised that they didn’t agree, didn’t understand or at times even become defensive about what I was saying. I had some good conversations about this with my mum while working on my thesis and I found that it this because in our program we use specific word and phrasing and are taught to critically think about things in different ways than we did when we first came into the program. So while we can hold conversations with those who have taken or who teach the classes, we sometimes struggle with how to put our new perspectives into different words. I think that taking a range of classes from various departments can help us to learn how to have these conversations and say the same the things that we need to but to do it in ways that invite conversation and understanding. This is an important skill to have when going back to our communities and workplaces with new ideas and philosophies that we learn over the course of our program.
Finally, I would just like to say that the instructors and other staff in our program are truly amazing. They come from diverse backgrounds and are great resources and a wealth of information and are willing to help whenever they can. We are truly lucky to have them in our department! On behalf of the graduating class, I would like to thank them for the help, support and commitment to us throughout our time in the program. Without you, we would not be able to reach the heights that we have.
To end, I would like to say to all students: throughout the rest of your time in the program I urge you to ask questions, critically examine with passion, create your vision and take action!
This post was written by graduating student Amanda Ackerman.
Hello. My name is Amanda. For my DST 99 paper I chose to go out of my comfort zone and research a topic that has not had much attention, but one that looks at a specific service that is offered to all people both in their homes and in their work places.
The focus to my research was to inquire about accessibility in the alarm industry. This research was completed through a qualitative ethnographic study. It was based on field work including interviews, a questionnaire, literature review and object analysis. My literature review included topics such as the social model, universal design, adaptive technology, home automation and the alarm industry.
I based my research on the following question: Does the alarm industry have alternative adapted equipment and or devices to provide equal security through alarms to all people in society?
I wanted to learn more about the inside workings of the alarm industry. Like who benefits from alarms, how to go about getting one, what is offered and who it is offered to? Does the alarm industry provide inclusion for all people or are there groups of people missing within the industry? Is the alarm industry designing devices and equipment based on universal design? In this paper while looking through a social model lens, I explore these burning questions and issues to determine if the alarm industry has built its services to provide equitable services to all people in society.
I unpacked this through interviewing people who have disabilities, family members of people who have a disability and individuals who work with people who have a disability to gain access of first hand knowledge, experiences and stories surrounding the alarm industry and the services it provides. I also spoke with individuals in the alarm industry, taking concerns to them and seeing when and if the alarm industry is able to provide more inclusive equipment. Upon my completion, I found that the alarm industry provides equipment to some groups of people with disabilities but not all.
There were many different responses I received from individuals I spoke with. For example some barriers include the in/ability to arm or disarm their alarm either from the alarm panel or from the key fob. Some respondents highlighted difficulty communicating through the use of the alarm panel as it is not effective for all people and the in/ability to control the smoke detector when it has a false alarm. Although there is some adapted equipment that the alarm industry can provide, it is not sufficient enough to provide full inclusion. For example, someone who has fine motor difficulty and cannot push the button on the panel or use key fob has the option of a touch screen. However, the touch screen is very sensitive and requires one to be accurate, which can be difficult for someone with fine motor difficulty. Although there are iPhones and tablets, not all security systems are equipped to work with them. I learned that the alarm industry does provide safety and security for most people, but basis their services on the average person in society. There is a lot of adapted equipment available but designed for the older population. They do provide some adapted equipment but with a great deal of limitations. Through my contacts in the alarm industry, I feel that continuing to identify and collaborate with the professionals, there is a way to enable a more inclusive service. One that doesn’t separate “us” and “them”.
This post was written by graduating student Kelly Smith.
The idea for my DST99 project came from my mum. On days that I would have dinner with my mum we would chat about our day and watch some T.V. Over time I started noticing some of the shows that she was watching. Little People, Big World, The Little Couple, My 600lb Life to name a few, and I want to be clear that these are not the only shows that my mum watches but these were the shows that would engage my attention critically whenever I saw them.
Around this time, I took several classes that also made me look critically at these shows and I started feeling like TLC (the channel) had their very own Modern Day Freak Show.
I know many people watch these shows which makes me wonder 2 things: why people watch this shows and what it is that they get out of it? As the scope of this question was far too large I decided to use the question “How do these shows clarify disability”?
To start I chose to focus on 3 shows mainly: Little People, Big World, The Little Couple, and My 600lb life. I used the term “little people” as this is the term that the people on the shows that I watched used to refer to themselves and their families. I am used the term “fat” when speaking about the people on the show My 600 lb Life and Skin Tight because that is the term used in the Fat Acceptance Movement.
Some of the most interesting parts of my research came from the informal conversations that I had with my mum. When I first explained what my project was going to be about, I remember my mum saying, “you know, until you mentioned it I never thought about the people as having a disability before.” That surprised me as I had thought that would be the point for people to watch to see.
What I discovered through this exchange was, that although shows like Little People, Big World do show the people on the shows in very normative ways, in doing so there is a danger that people will no longer see the systemic issues which people with disabilities do face, and while we definitely want to see people with disabilities in roles that they aren’t typically seen in on television, when we only show representations which are hegemonic and perpetuate neo-liberalist ideology, that says that anyone can rise from nothing to achieve great wealth through hard work and determination.
Instead we should be showing different lived experiences to dismantle this idea of “normal” and create a place where difference is valued and where people are shown with all of their intersections.
Another interesting conversation we had was around the show Skin Tight. One week my mum told me that there was a new show called Skin Tight that was about people who had lost large amounts of weight and as a result wanted to have surgery to remove the excess skin. I asked why she didn’t like watching that show and she told me that it was because when she watched it she felt like she was watching something that she shouldn’t be. We had further conversations like this and didn’t come up with a definitive answer but thought it was interesting that when someone weighed 600lbs they almost become objectified and un-human as we see them naked and by somehow losing the weight their humanity is returned to them so we aren’t comfortable seeing them in their “less than perfect” state.
I also found that the framing of these two types of shows were vastly different. On the one hand, the shows about little people were very positive, disability was mainly only shown incidentally. The same family was followed each week so viewers get to learn a little more about the individuals.
In my 600 lb life, however, embodied difference was the only topic of each show, there was a new person featured each week, and the entire show was very medically focused. Each week the show started with a new person shown naked with their private areas only covered with folds of their skin….for some reason that I cannot really understand except to allow the viewer to see all of their fatness.
The framing theory would say that media frames people who are fat in such a way because they are seen as being culpable for their stigma (Backstrom, 2012). Because it is acquired, fatness is seen as being within the control of an individual. Programs such as this one perpetuates and legitimizes already held beliefs to reinforce social reality for many people.
One last insight that I would like to share is around the Para-social Contact Theory. This hypothesis relates to the idea that through repeated ‘interaction’, people may feel that they come to know the individuals on the shows that they watch, much in the same way that we may feel that we know the ‘Kardashians’ or the President of the United States although we have never personally met them. Schiappa et al (2005) believes that this contact can lead to reducing prejudice, especially if the audience have not had much interaction with the minority group members
I was surprised that in the end I do feel that there is some value to these types of reality shows but that we must be cautious. I feel that we must be cognisant and show a range of stories so that people can join their voices together and be heard because disability does not occur in isolation and instead is always read with all of its intersections such as race, age, gender and sexual orientation.
Representations should be different. They do not need to be normalized, but they do need be authentic in their telling and it should be those who own the stories that tell them in the way that they want them to be told.
I wanted to open up a discourse on the representation of special need students in South Korean schools. As a foreign language teacher, I noticed in the professional trainings and interactions with my colleagues, little was mentioned to me about working in our English classrooms with special needs. The absence of any discussion about special needs students made me wonder why.
Specifically, the English Program in Korea (E.P.I.K) affiliated with Korea Ministry of Education hires native English speakers to develop English speaking abilities and the cultural exchange between Korea and abroad. However, there is no mention of integrating students with special needs into the English classroom under the teaching guidelines section on their website.
Furthermore, as I continued to build connections with other English teachers, I heard the common theme of special education being an ambiguous, obscure subject. In particular, we were not all on the same page in our expectations for inclusive teaching practice, creating modified lesson plans, and using accommodations.
I had to find out more.
(“It is a form of qualitative research that involves the gathering of narratives—written, oral, visual—focusing on the meanings that people ascribe to their experiences, seeking to provide “insight that (befits) the complexity of human lives” (JOSSELSON, 2006, p.4).)
One sunny day in France, I sent out surveys to seven foreign language teachers in South Korea. I wanted to gather some experiences and frame this information in a narrative inquiry paradigm.
Three Men and Four Women aged 23-45, were interviewed about their knowledge of special education in their workplace setting in schools. These experiences from teachers are from diversified backgrounds who have been teaching in Korea from a span of one year to eight years. Most importantly, all teachers that participated in this survey are working within various cohorts of classrooms: private and public, and rural and urban settings across South Korea.
Let’s hear what they had to say.
What About Special Needs Students?
I was wondering about your opinion as a school teacher in South Korea. In your school, what learning structures are put in place for students with special needs: including behavioural, learning, or physical challenges? How are these children being integrated into English classes academically and socially?
Are they equally participating in the classroom?
Do teachers or parents show shame or pity in discussing children with special needs?
Any other thoughts?
Meet the Teachers
Keith – 8 years working as a foreign language teacher across South Korea, currently in a private academy in metropolitan city, Seoul
“I have seen and also been told how kids with special needs are treated in the classroom. They are usually included in the classroom with kids their age, but they do not always get the attention or help they deserve.
I feel that teachers in the classroom are not given the tools to assist these special students to succeed and flourish. Classroom teachers have deadlines to meet and cannot provide what these students need. Therefore, they become sort of babysitters for these students and sometimes have other students looking after them when they (teachers) are occupied.
In my years of teaching in Korea, I have had these types of students in my classrooms and have heard horror stories about how they lived at home and see their behaviour at school. But, I feel that when they come to school it is kind of a safe haven for them and makes them feel like a normal child when they mix with other kids. It probably takes them away from what negativity they encounter at home (physical, and/or verbal, neglect, malnourished, and so forth).”
“In regards, to children with special needs they are not challenged at all in my English classroom to learn. They are actually ignored and I am encouraged to ignore them by my Korean co-teacher. I was told to focus on the ‘normal’ children because they are seen as more capable of learning. The are also bullied in the classroom and the Korean co-teacher ignores the bullying.
I’ve never personally interacted with a parent of a student with a disability, but my Korean co-teacher showed pity, not shame. As time progressed I showed these students more attention and began to change my lessons and teach them separately when I got the chance; as well as, pairing them with a stronger student in the classroom who can translate or help them personally as the lessons progressed. I also gave them different work tailored to their learning needs to better enhance their learning as well as their understanding of English.
There’s my experience in a nutshell!”
“I am sorry but I don’t have any input. I have never come across any students with special needs.”
“I have special needs in all three of my schools. In middle and high school, they are treated wonderfully. They have a teacher who is trained for special needs and their own fully decked out rooms. They do most of classes with the other students and then have review classes. Even things like cooking and basic finance, general life skill classes too.
I see that the other students are really nice to them in class, no one is rude or talking down to them. But, who knows what happens outside of class though but to me everyone gets along. Teachers are all really nice to them although the special needs students are super quiet in class, not sure if it is because they or shy or what? Even when I put in extra effort to encourage them to participate they are usually very low level or shy about their skills.
There was one student in my middle school who had a hard time speaking Korean which was affecting all of her classes obviously since teachers could barely understand her. The school paid for a speech specialist for a few months and her speaking ability in Korean and English is ten times better now. It must have been expensive to have a specialist come in for one student but they took great care of her and she is much happier and well behaved now.
In my elementary school there is no special needs teacher. My elementary school only has about 50 students and maybe 2 or 3 special needs kids so they are just in class like everyone else. This means they are way behind and the teachers just don’t have enough time to teach the class and give the time to the students to keep up. The teachers are usually frustrated with the students because they get bored and have behaviour problems.
Overall, I am really happy with the middle and high school treatment and set up. But kind of disappointed with the elementary support. I know the school is on a small budget and likely can’t afford a teacher and room for 2 or 3 students. I would like to see what it is like at a larger elementary school with more funds.”
“Well, I don’t know much, but I do know that we have a special needs teacher specifically who works with them in a pull out setting. My classes are levelled and the bottom 25% don’t take classes with me, which I think most of them fall into this category.
A couple special needs students have been recently integrated into my classes. I don’t see them often, but there was one particular student who has a bunch of pencils and just plays with them all throughout class.
So, I asked the teacher about it. He told me to engage with him and to try and get him to do whole group responses. And encouraged me to push him and “not leave him alone.” And then the next week he addressed the faculty saying this same thing. I thought that was really good and pretty progressive for Korea. Except, to not expect accommodations.”
“I think students with special needs or behavioural challenges aren’t properly acknowledged. They were usually in low level English classes and not given the adequate attention to get ahead. I feel if my co-teacher facilitated more care to them they could advance, but instead she ignores their issues. I feel that there is only so much that I can do. I call on them for answers, play games, and doing more active activities. After a while the games become to rowdy so my co-teacher got upset and cancelled them. We then returned to rudimentary work.
I don’t feel that my co-teacher shamed or pity them. She just didn’t motivate them or care to teach. I heard that she is quitting so we will see if improvements come. I never interacted with parents so I cannot comment on that.
“I think it depends on the school and especially with the teachers. Like for Danseong working with one teacher, she neglects and ignores on of the special needs students. Upon asking her why she replied: ‘He’s not capable of learning English and doesn’t have the knowledge.’
I was literally SHOCKED because back home in Canada we are taught that every student is equal and should be treated the same. So, because it is her classroom, I don’t want to cause any trouble so I just let things be. Sometimes, I do try to work with the students one on one. But it’s hard enough when he has a learning disability, let alone trying to communicate with him in another language he has no idea.
But then in my second school……. I see my co-teacher treating two students with learning disabilities just the same as students, giving extra time from the teacher. For example, when students are asked to read a word, I would whisper in the student’s ear and he/she would read it out loud versus other students we would push them to figure it out themselves.
Also, for the school festivals, there is one student in a wheelchair and the school included that student in the play, even though it was only for 2 minutes. But it was nice to see the smile on that student’s face being apart of the show.
I don’t really interact with the parents as much, but I think the education system here can do so much better incorporating students with disabilities. I just think that there’s not enough funds delegated into special education.
There You Have It
A few perspectives on the current state of teaching English in Korea, and some of the realities of providing English education to students of all abilities. It should be noted to bear in mind the language barrier between the English and Korean teachers in the schools. It was difficult to communicate and find out further information within our schools directly.
If you have any other thoughts or further information, please comment below.
Thanks for reading.
You can find me, Amanda Teacher, making new friends with neighbourhood cats and dogs, getting lost in foreign countries, swimming in crystal blue waters, or sampling new coffee roasts. As a disability studies alumni, I strive for disability rights in whatever part of the world and work situation I find myself in.
Currently, happily existing in France enjoying baguettes, learning French and finding beauty in everyday things around me.