This post was written by current student, Michelle Hewitt.
It’s my final night at CDSA-ACEH in Regina, and I’m writing this while it’s fresh in my mind. I’ve been to conferences before (I introduce myself as a medically retired school principal) but this is my first conference as a disabled person, and my first conference on Disability Studies – and I feel invigorated! Well, that’s not completely true. I’m exhausted, but when my body as recovered, I’ll definitely be invigorated.
This was such a safe place to be. Safe to be myself, and, although I found myself apologizing for my limitations, it was only through force of habit, not through necessity. In fact, the opposite happened. I found my arguments for being who I am, and doing what I do, strengthened and affirmed. When I would say to various people “I’m sorry but I need to…”, the response was “Don’t worry! This is Disability Studies! If we can’t get that right here, where will we get it right?!?”
Having done all my Disability Studies course work from Ryerson online it was great to get to meet people face to face, and also meet people whose work I had read and had wanted to have a real conversation with them. I was only able to make it to two sessions a day, but hopefully I made it count. In fact, what I meant to say was – I made it to two sessions a day and I made it count!
I didn’t make it to much anything of Day 1, other than a brief visit to a drop in session. But that’s fine. That’s what I learnt at the drop in session. Just do what you can do. And I met Diane Driedger! I was so delighted to meet her face to face and wanted to learn so much from her.
In my first session, I travelled through “Homes for the Handicapped in Thunder Bay” to “Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Me” to “Thalidomide Babies” to “Leprosy Narratives”. The link between them was strong. People dealt with the same issues before us in the most creative ways, but, also, we are still dealing with them. The “Me” was Diane Driedger telling us how Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale both worked from their beds and both worked with reduced stamina – and so does Diane – and so do I. It really was what I needed to hear. And, I also go away with a new understanding of “survival of the fittest” – I am a survivor. I am one of the “fittest”, because working from my bed is simply my adaption.
Next came my session to present. I arrived at the conference pretty worn down, and I knew that speaking for 15 minutes wasn’t going to happen, so I turned to Rachel, the voice in the Proloquo4Text app that speaks for me. I was conscious that there were 3 groups presenting remotely after me, and that I didn’t want to take up anymore time than I could, so, foolishly, I turned up Rachel’s speech speed one notch from slow to “normal” (there’s a discussion we could have!). The session started and there are 4 lecturers from my Ryerson courses – Eliza, Esther, Tobin and Chelsea! It’s a good job Rachel doesn’t have nerves – but perhaps she does! Having not tested her at the faster speed, for some reason she decided to miss the first word of every sentence! Rachel is now being hip and chill! “Met my MLA. Talked things through.” I was mortified. I’ll get back to the topic of my presentation later.
My apologies to the next presenter – Lindsey Miller – because I spent most of her presentation recovering from mine. I refocused for Michael Miller, and was particularly interested in his points about the call to order, in classrooms, and what it means to transgress. The former principal in me wanted to talk about the emphases in classrooms on control, and how certain bodies are shown from an early age that they do not belong because they cannot conform to the expectations.
The fourth presentation brought me back to my topic – age appropriate care, as Katie Aubrecht discussed the research that she is involved in in just this topic, with a particular focus on Nova Scotia. I found myself wanting to shout out as it went on – THIS!!! THIS IS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT!!! Although Katie was in Nova Scotia presenting remotely, I googled her, and we are in contact already. This is the power of us meeting like this, even remotely. It strengthens us, it brings common threads together and it sparks new connections.
And that was it. Day 2 was done for me.
I hit Day 3 with a plan. As much as I wanted to see Esther get her award, and hear her speak, I knew that 1:30pm just wasn’t going to be a possibility. Instead, I did the first session of the day (9 to 10:30) and the last (3:30pm to 5pm) and in between, I slept like a log!
The first presentation was from Raya. Of the 12 presentations I heard, this is the one that is going to keep me awake at night. Raya presented on the Judge Rotenberg Education Centre, a nightmarish place set in leafy Canton, Massachusetts, that we could all wish was dystopian but is very real. Please google it, be shocked, and protest its existence in any way you can. Jane followed, and opened up the challenges in Universal Design, when it is seen as the “destination” (my word not hers) rather than the “welcome”.
After my long sleep, my alarm woke me to go to 3 presentations based on research practices – Fiona and Chelsea talking about the place of silence and its interpretation in field research, Thuy talking about her research in Vietnam with disabled girls and women, and Cynthia talking about her PhD research into supports for blind students in further education which, in turn, included the challenges that academia placed on her as a blind researcher. All 3 were completely fascinating and an excellent end to the conference for me.
I’m completing this blog post a couple of days later from home. I didn’t want to change what I had written in that final night, because it captures the excitement I felt. For those of you who haven’t attended Congress, it brings together many associations from many different areas within the Social Sciences and Humanities. I met with former students of mine who were there with other organizations, and even though they are much more seasoned at this than I am, we all had this same feeling of excitement and possibility. Next morning I woke physically exhausted but mentally exuberant. So much to read, so much to learn, so many avenues opened. Since I got home, physically, I’ve done little, but mentally, I’m ready!
Congress 2019 is in Vancouver and I hope to see many of you there!