2018-2019 Student Alumni Advisory Committee

This post is an introduction to the members of the School of Disability Studies Student Alumni Advisory Committee. You can find the latest meeting minutes on this site. To learn more about the committee contact Kim Collins at kimberlee.collins@ryerson.ca

Kim Collins is the student engagement facilitator for the School of Disability Studies. She is an alumna of the program class of 2015.

Members at Large:

My name is Laura Mele, I am a member of SAAC. I have been part of SAAC for two years. I am my third year of Disability studies. This is amazing program and there are some amazing people I have met and try different activity. I am from a small town located in Southwestern Ontario, and I enjoy bring new idea to the team!! I hope to met more of you at different events! If you have an question please feel free to contact me!

Driven by passion to promote access to education for all, Marsha Ryan entered the program to explore how Disability Studies can enhance her knowledge and skills. On her academic path, Marsha immersed into a vast pool of theoretic and practical tools to further advocate for access.  After her graduation, Marsha continues implementing educational strategies that would meet the needs of so many. She is proud to be a Disability Studies alumna and part of the SAAC, as this is a way to bring change.

Carling Barry was in the Disability Studies Program from 2007-2016. She currently goes to Niagara University for her Masters in Developmental Disabilities. She volunteers at Parent Network of WNY as well as Inclusive Theater of Western New York. She really enjoys volunteering at these places as she is learning about USA organizations, how they differ from Canada or are similar, the laws and programs etc. She also volunteers in Toronto, Canada with L’Arche Toronto through Sol Express Theatre program. In her spare time she likes to read, write, go to concerts, theatre, listen to music and hang out with friends. Carling is excited for this new chapter of her life and finding a new job in the Niagara Falls/Buffalo USA.

My name is Andrew Letchuk and I am currently a student in the Disability Studies program at Ryerson University. In the beginning of the Fall 2018 semester, I decided to join The DST program’s Student Alumni Advisory Committee because I believe that this would be a wonderful opportunity for me to get actively involved in discussing about important disability related topics and taking the time to meet new people along the way. I am really grateful to be accepted into this amazing group with other wonderful members and I am very proud to call myself an official member of the SAAC at Ryerson University!

My name is Simran Bassi. I am currently taking my second course in the Disabilities Studies degree program. I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge and being able to understand students’ needs so I can support them. I’m excited to be part of the SAAC committee so I can make a change in the social service system by working with students to challenge their weaknesses, promoting diversity and inclusion by being a good leader. I also look forward to sharing my experiences to the board and continuing my work as an advocate for young students.

My name is Trevor Smith and I am a member at large of the SAAC. I have been studying with the disability Studies program since the summer of 2016 and have worked with great people and learned a lot about myself, Ryerson and the Toronto Community. I joined the SAAC in 2017 and since then have been the recipient of the Emma Hardy International Disability Award. I am currently enrolled in DST 99 and have started my thesis and I am entering my final year in the Disability Studies program at Ryerson University.


Personal Reflection on “Workshop on Doing Institutional Ethnography in/with Community Organizations”

This post was written by DST graduate Habiba Rahman.

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I am very thankful to Dr. Kathryn Church, Associate Professor and Director, School of Disability Studies, Ryerson University, for offering me the opportunity to participate in “Workshop on Doing Institutional Ethnography in/with Community Organizations.” This was a workshop for international sociologists and local researcher/activists. I was honored and privileged to get the opportunity to participate as well as have discussions with knowledgeable  scholars. When I reached the workshop held on Ryerson campus I was warmly welcomed by Kathryn. She hugged me, and directed to sit beside two other participants with who I had effective and energetic discussions on pros and cons of institutional ethnography as a research methodology. During lunch break, we also had vigorous discussions on wide range of issues related to the topic of workshop. For instance, we exchanged thoughts and views on capitalism, colonialism, global politics and marginalization of minorities, systemic barriers and Canadian immigration policy, and so on.

It was a memorable experience to listen the lively and spontaneous presentation by Julie Bomberry, Susan Warner, and Amye Warner on their institutional ethnography research work entitled “Building Change on and off Reserve: Six Nations of the Grand River Territory”. The way the presenters delivered their speech by taking turns, and through mutual interactions, was a great learning experience for me to understand how conversational ease can be added in a formal setting.

As a first generation immigrant from South Asia I have limited knowledge about Indigenous people. This workshop was eye-opening for me as the presenters started their introduction with a brief history of the Haudenosaunee and the Six Nations of the Grand River. An essential part of their research was linked to Ganohkwásra Family Assault Support Services. One of the presenters explained that “Ganǫhkwásra`” is a phrase in the Cayuga language meaning “Love Among Us”. The name is in keeping with the organization’s goal of establishing peace in families torn with violence by facilitating community support and hope.

What I found most interesting was the presenters’ sharing of experiences, knowledge, and views about institutional ethnography that they used in developing their project. Before attending this workshop, I had very limited understanding about institutional ethnography. I was introduced with this methodology in the course DST88 Research Methodology, but as I choose Narrative Inquiry as a research approach to do my independent research project (as part of DST99). Thus, I did not dig into the core concepts of institutional ethnography. Therefore, in the workshop, when the presenters talked about this methodology, particularly highlighting the challenges they encountered in accessing municipal, provincial, and federal organizations to collect data, was illuminating to understand institutional ethnography works as a research methodology. The key learning or take away for me was researchers’ repeated emphasis on “building relationships” as one of the core characteristics of institutional ethnography. I also understood that this research methodology does not test a pre-existent hypothesis; rather it looks for the problematic in the lived experiences of people in everyday world, and thus by exploring a problem from the bottom, it investigates through the use of interviews the systemic barriers ingrained in the institutional and organization processes.

It was really a memorable moment for me to have a chance to talk with Julie Bomberry during lunch break. At that time, Julie explained to me how I can apply my knowledge of narrative inquiry while doing any research project through an institutional ethnography lens.

Overall, as a novice researcher I was significantly benefited from the opportunity to participate in the workshop. At the end of the workshop, I had developed a keen interest in doing research through institutional ethnography in future.

Welcome to the new ELA post-doctoral fellow: Dr. Loree Erickson!

This post was written by Dr. Loree Erickson the new Ethel Louise Armstrong Post-Doctoral Fellow.

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Dr. Loree Erickson

Hi all!

I am thrilled to be joining all of the brilliant people here at the School of Disability Studies and an incredible group of ELA Postdoctoral Fellows, most recently held by Dr. Tobin LeBlanc Haley.

Here is a little more about me, but I look forward to getting to know you all as well. I am a white, queer, from a mixed class background. I grew up in the territory of the Piscataway and Haudenosaunee Confederacy in rural northern Virginia. I relocated to Tkaronto from Richmond Virginia where I did an undergraduate degree in Politics and Women’s Studies and was a founder and coordinator for The Richmond Queer Space Project a.k.a. Queer Paradise, a community space and collective living project. Once I moved here I was part of the first group of students to complete the Critical Disability Studies Masters at York University in 2005. I then completed a PhD in Environmental Studies with a dissertation titled Unbreaking Our Hearts: Cultures of Un/Desirability and the Transformative Potential of Queercrip Porn.  This research engaged queercrip community as knowledge and cultural producers to interrogate the manifestations and impacts of systemic oppression in our lives as well as highlighting distinctly queercrip practices of resistance with a focus on the collaborative production of queercrip porn. I am also the creator of want, an internationally award-winning queercrip porn film. I am a forerunner in theorizing and thriving through care collectives having met the majority of my care needs through my community for 20 years.  I have organized with the Queer Liberation Front, 81 reasons, Prisoner Justice Action Coalition, DAMN 2025, Acsexxxable, and most recently Queers Crash the Beat. As a sessional instructor at Ryerson, OCAD, and U of T I have been offering classes on sexuality studies, transformative justice, queer theory, gender studies, disability justice, and pop culture. In addition to all of these things I am also a fan of cats, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, sun, sparkly things, and social justice.

During my next two years here at Ryerson’s School of Disability Studies I plan to build on and from ideas central to my dissertation and also aspects from my lived experience. I am mostly going to focus on 2 big projects and probably some smaller ones as they come up. Here is a little more about the research projects I will be working on.

Challenging Cultures of Undesirability and Cultivating Cultures of Resistance Summit.

One project will expand conceptualizations of cultures of undesirability, an intersectional, conceptual framework I developed to name the number of ways that marginalized people are actively imagined as undesirable others, and to bear witness to the systemic and interpersonal impacts of this construction. Cultures of undesirability also enables us to explore all of the rich complexity surrounding systemic oppression in a way that seeks to hold the tension of the need to access protection and rights via state recognition in order to navigate a tremendous number of barriers to well-being, expression and fulfilment while at the same time acknowledging the limitations and consequences of such pathways.

I will be organizing and hosting a weekend long summit called “Challenging Cultures of Undesirability and Cultivating Cultures of Resistance Summit.” I will be inviting 10 to 15 scholars, activists, and artists chosen in consultation with directly impacted communities (harm reduction advocates and users, sex workers, disabled folks, mad folks, trans community, Prisoner Justice activists, etc.) to share papers, performances, and strategies for making change in a variety of formats.

Collective Care Digital Storytelling Project and Website

I started meeting my care needs through collective care because of the inadequacy of government funding to hire care attendants as well as homophobia and disableism from agency-provided care providers. So my friends and I familiar with grassroots organizing that centred community-based solutions to social problems started my very first care collective. I have been meeting my daily care needs (going to the bathroom, eating, maintaining my home) through a collective of volunteers from my community for almost 20 years.  Having one of, if not the longest running care collectives in north America, makes me uniquely situated to lead this research.  I also feel in taking up collective care as a site of queercrip survival and flourishing exposes oppressive normative ideologies and explores conceptual and practical frameworks for building practices to keep marginalized people safe when state interventions fail or expose marginalized communities to more violence and harm.

As so much of the learning and theory making and living of collective care happens between bodies, in private interpersonal moments the knowledge generated in this experience often remains with the people who are involved in the specific care relationships. For years now, people have approached me to share these experiences as well as create tangible resources for other people who wish to form care collectives or who have care collectives. This project is an answer to that call for a gathering of the collective knowledge generated in moments of politicized collective care. I plan on creating an interactive, social-media style website through which collaborators (including myself) can post digital media, and collectively analyze posts through comments and tagging.

Care Cafés

I am thrilled to collaborate with Dr. Eliza Chandler, Dr. Esther Ignagni, and Kim Collins around their death cafés exploring the linkages and interdependencies between death and care.

Queercrip Porn Focus Groups

The lack of representation that fully communicates and reflects disabled people’s complex personhood is well-documented. One area of erasure that my research addresses is sexual representation. My video, want, was the first of its kind in 2006. When I embarked on my dissertation research there were a small handful (if 2 to 3 videos can count as a handful) of queercrip porn videos produced in the spirit of community-based art projects. This work is grounded in storytelling, embodied testimony, video and other participatory crip methods that are informed by transformative justice, queer theory, disability justice and radical access. Our co-created porn narratives have created spaces of community building where subjugated knowledges are revalued, practices and understandings of bodies, affect, disability and desire are transformed, and alternative worlds and imaginaries are made. I focused my dissertation on the transformative impacts of making co-created porn from a disability justice framework. I am hoping to hold between 2 and 4 focus groups where I would show the videos produced for my dissertation in order to discuss the transformative impacts of encountering queercrip porn on queer disabled communities and nondisabled queer communities.

Come See Me!

I am also really excited to be getting to know all of the fabulous people involved with the School of Disability Studies! If you are a student or faculty and you are interested in chatting about any of these things or, even things that are adjacent to any of this, please come by my office (right inside the disability studies area) or send me an email loree.erickson@ryerson.ca and say hello.

2018 Graduating Student Reflection

This post was written by graduating student Habiba Rahman.

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The 2018 graduating class including Habiba Rahman.

I would like to thank the School of Disability Studies for granting me The Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award as recognition of my thesis, and giving me the opportunity to deliver the Student Perspective speech. I want to congratulate all the award recipients who have been recognized for their efforts.  And I would like to say “thank you” to the donors whose contributions have made these awards possible.

For me it is really a great privilege and honor to representing the 2018 graduating class of Disabilities Studies. Thank you Kathryn for asking me to make some remarks on behalf of my peers and to share some personal reflections about what Disability Studies has meant to me.

I have found the part-time distant learning structure of this program very much helpful to balance my personal, professional and academic life. I invested my time at Disability Studies as a journey, not just for completion of a degree. Throughout this journey I learnt by listening to and reflecting on the voices, stories and actions of disabled thinkers, theorists, activists and artists. The community entered to our classroom too. Individuals shared the impact disability had on their lives as well as the systemic barriers they encountered/are encountering in various sectors including employment, housing, and community participation and so on. Many of these classes were held in seminar format, and thereby the two-way flow of information, experience, and views enhanced our knowledge of power, politics and human rights.

Indeed, a uniqueness of the program is the relationship between learner and instructor. Disability Studies fosters an effective academic environment that facilitates mutual engagement. We travel the journey together in an ongoing process of dialogue and reflection, questioning and debate. Throughout our journey we draw from different disciplines, explore sites of power, privilege, oppression, discrimination and marginalization. We obtain an illuminating comprehension of how disability is but a part of a person’s identity as is race, color, religion, gender, class, or sexual orientation. We start to see how intersectionality of identities allows entry and acceptance to some parts of society, and exclusion to others. Simultaneously, concept of intersectionality helps us to critically examine double or multiple jeopardy encountered by disabled people because of their marginalized group identities like women of color, visible minority, immigrant, indigenous people and so on. Our exposure to these concepts helps us to develop social imagination that is, looking at personal problems through the lens of broader social perspectives. Thus Disability Studies equips us with the critical Disability lens that contributes to our growth as global citizens, valuing and respecting the dignity of each human being.

Before taking this program, I never knew what a “critical disability lens” was but eventually I found myself applying it to my studies, professional life, and personal life. This tends me to give a suggestion to current students in the program.  Take electives from different disciplines, and see what role a critical disability lens can play. The diverse range of elective courses provides the freedom to pursue other fields of study that enhance your journey through the Disability Studies program.

I would like to end by extending my deep appreciation and thanks to our professors and instructors who allow us to reach our highest potential in this field through their constant support and friendly approach. You open opportunities for us to grow, to get involved and to lead. Thank you for choosing me to be a part of the Disability Studies family.

Thank you once again School of Disability Studies for giving me the opportunity to be a part of Annual Award Ceremony, 2018.

2018 Annual Student Awards Ceremony

These photographs were taken at the 2018 Annual Student Awards Ceremony. The School of Disability Studies distributed $44,600 to 31 students.

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Dr. Lisa Barnoff, Dean of the Faculty of Community Services, acknowledged the land and to brought greetings from the faculty.

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Dr. Lisa Barnoff

Dr. Michael Bennaroch, Provost and Vice-President, Academic who will bring greetings from Ryerson University.

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Dr. Michael Bennaroch

The G. Raymond Chang Outstanding Volunteer Awards celebrate the exemplary generosity and contribution of alumni and friends to Ryerson University. The awards are named in honour of G. Raymond Chang, the late chancellor emeritus of Ryerson and Officer of the Order of Canada, for his deep belief in the importance of volunteering. This year Ryerson recognized 61 volunteers through this award. Nominated by Celeste and Kathryn, Fran Odette was one of them.

Fran is an author, educator, and advocate for the rights of disabled women, and the expertise that marginalized people bring to the conversation. She has had key roles with DisAbled Women’s Network, Springtide Resources, Barrier Free Health Program Advisory Committee at the Anne Johnston Health Station, and as a member of the Education Committee of the Rainbow Health Network. She was President of the Canadian Disability Studies Association during the year that Ryerson hosted the Social Sciences and Humanities Congress. “It has taken some years to recognize the expertise marginalized populations, deaf and disabled women, bring to the conversation. You aren’t the expert of our lives, we are the experts of our lives.”
Fran was unable to attend the awards ceremony but she is here with us today and we are delighted to present her with this Outstanding Volunteer Award.

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Celeste Richards, Fran Odette and Eliza Chandler

The David and Sylvia Pollock Entrance Award

Andrew Letchuk

Andrew is a proud graduate of the Educational Support program at Sheridan College. Entering our program, he wants to use his past experience as a labeled student to secure the best possible educational futures of all disabled people.

Titilayo Oguntowo

Growing up in and out of hospitals in Nigeria, Titilayo is familiar with the struggle of ensuring that you don’t miss out on your education. Determined to give back to her community, her goal is to promote inclusion in her home country particularly in terms of health and community services.

Two other recipients, Katie Schmidt and Noah Paquette could not attend the ceremony.

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Deirdre Boyle, Andrew Letchuk, Titilayo Oguntowo and Melanie Panitch

We want to recognize someone who, while largely invisible, has changed the lives of every student in this room – to say nothing of our 500 alumni. Her name is Cheryl Maine and she is the Senior Admissions Officer for Disability Studies, a job that she has done since the program began 20 years ago.

In a basement office in Jorgenson Hall, where Beatles music and memorabilia live on, Cheryl receives all of the new student applications for our program – a portfolio overflowing with worthy people and challenging life circumstances. She receives them with patience and humor and wisdom and optimism. She gets to know those applicants and she works tirelessly to bring as many as possible into the School – crafting clever workarounds and organizational pathways within the organization’s regulations, finding glitches in our communication. Deeply supportive of the difference that disability makes for/in education, Cheryl practices fully accessible admissions. Accessibility in Disability Studies starts with Cheryl. For your great service to us, we thank you, dear lady, and we honor you.

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Melanie Panitch, Cheryl Maine and Kathryn Church

MK Chant Disability Studies Award

Michelle Armstrong: Michelle found her passion for Disability Studies while supporting and advocating for a son with a learning disability. Active in non-profit organizations and school settings, Michelle and another son (who was 14 at the time) designed an app called PowerSpeech which is offered through the Apple App Store free of charge.

Kim Morgan-Deriet: Kim started her studies with us in 2001 but challenging and grievous life events prevented her from continuing — until now. Kim, this award supports your unflagging determination to complete your Bachelors degree, and recognizes your growing skill as a workplace advocate.

Tamika Walker: To remember and honor a member of her family, Tamika’s mission is to learn more about supporting people in distress. By participating in mental health initiatives, attending city-hall forums, fundraisers and community events, she is advocating for new ways to fight discrimination on the grounds of psychiatric diagnosis.

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Kathryn Church, Kim Morgan-Deriet and Tamika Walker

Harry E. Foster Memorial Award

Sunita Aide: Sunita is an Employment Consultant who, now in her 40’s, is empowering herself to complete a university degree. Disability Studies has caused her to recognize the need for what she calls “eloquent activism” to foster the sexual rights and citizenship of labelled young people.

Adriano Aguiar: Overwhelmed five years ago by his first course in Disability Studies, Adriano is completing the final three courses for his Bachelors degree, and has been accepted to the Masters of Teaching at OISE/Utoronto. Adriano, we celebrate your achievement, and we continue to support you in the goal of transforming education for disabled students.

Naleni Jacob: Originally from Guyana, Naleni has taken the expertise she has gained from raising a disabled son as high motivation for her educational journey. Their relationship has given her the privilege of meeting other families who are facing barriers, and the task of promoting disability awareness to members of her own community.

Shauna-Lee Rerrie: Shauna-Lee is cultivating a career and life interest in education with a passion for disability and minority rights. Already, she feels that Disability Studies is just what she needs to address the need for daycare directors with a philosophy of promoting inclusion and accessibility for every student.

Vincent Rankin: Vincent Rankin is an Educational Assistant who advocates for students and their families. On his educational journey, he draws confidence from important women in his life: his younger sister who has Downs Syndrome, his mother who is a powerful advocate, and his young daughter who is very proud of her daddy today.

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Kathryn Church, Sunita Aide, Adriano Aguiar, Naleni Jacob, Shauna-Lee Rerrie and Vincent Rankin

Beth Foulkes Community Living Award

Andrew Day: With an extensive job history with Community Living organizations, Andrew currently manages a team of ten workers supporting 250 labeled people to gain competitive employment. Andrew, this award is meant to uphold you in shouldering the costs of your education – and to bring you closer to your dream of entering the Masters program in Critical Disability Studies at York.

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Chelsea Jones, Andrew Day and Micheal Foulkes

Karen Tench Memorial Award in Community Inclusion and Advocacy

Christina Devlin: Over the past year, Christina has gained a deeper understanding of intersectionality, decolonization and leading from disability justice as an autistic person living in a neuro-typical-dominated society. We are pleased to have you here in person, Christina, and we are moved by your search for “a job that does not involve doing harm”.

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Melanie Panitch and Christina Devlin

Jake Edelson Award in Community Organizing

Meghan Hogg: For ten years, Meaghan has committed herself to what she calls the “necessary upheavals” of taking on homelessness, poverty, violence and marginalization. Through adhoc committees, collaborative writing, conference presentations, staff training, and community forums (to name a few) she has encouraged conversations that center the voices of disabled, d/Deaf and mad people in a more just world.

Megan Suggitt: Megan is a child and youth worker who is combining her degree in Disability Studies with a certificate in Aboriginal Knowledges and Experiences. Her proximity to the site of the former Huronia Regional Centre and her lived experience have led her to become a supportive ally to Huronia survivors, and to participate in memorial efforts by the survivor led group “Remember Every Name”.

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Kim Collins, Meghan Hogg, and Megan Suggitt

Ethel Louise Armstrong Post-doctoral Fellowship

We welcome the 4th ELA post-doctoral fellow in Disability Studies: Dr. Loree Erickson who will begin her two-year term in September. Loree completed her doctorate in Environmental Studies at York University. Titled “Unbreaking Our Hearts”, her research engaged queercrip community as knowledge and cultural producers interrogating systemic oppression. Her work highlights practices of resistance with a focus on producing queercrip porn such as her internationally award-winning film want. Loree is at the forefront of theorizing and thriving through care collectives having met the majority of her care needs through her community for 20 years. She will use her time with us to foster interdisciplinary conversations of disability, gender, sexuality, normativity, embodiment and care.

As we welcome Loree, we say farewell to Dr Tobin LeBlanc Haley, outgoing ELA Fellow. Thank you, Tobin, for so generously sharing your scholarship and your sharp analysis of current affairs with us and many groups and students at Ryerson. We have been buoyed by your enthusiastic collegiality: the dress debates, the coffee…..the chocolate. Our best wishes follow you along your next steps, and we look forward to your continued engagement as Adjunct Professor.

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Dr. Loree Erickson

Bill and Lucille Owen Award in Public Policy

Thalia Bullen-Rutherford: On the verge of graduating, Thalia notes that even as a disabled person herself, this program has completely changed how she views what it means to be disabled. Her desire to become a teacher still burns bright. She says: “If I had listened to all the people who put limitations on what I could achieve, I would not be here today.”

Ryan McInally: Just three courses away from degree completion, Ryan’s new theoretical stances allow him to perceive the various ways that disability is framed in society. Still focused on the failures of support systems to meet the needs of mad and disabled people, his critique is no longer linear or one-dimensional and graduate studies are in sight.

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Maggi Redmonds, Ryan McInally and Thalia Bullen-Rutherford

Malcolm Jeffreys Memorial Leadership Award

Nicole Cadwallader: Every course that Nicole has taken here has challenged her thinking — but none more than Rethinking Disability in Education – taught for us again this spring by our early childhood studies colleague, Dr. Kathryn Underwood. Nicole an envision a very different education system now from the one she currently works in and she is freshly committed to being part of that change.

Sophia Owenya: Sophia has been a teacher and Educational Assistant for more than 21 years. As a volunteer with several church-based organizations, she has been active in securing education and medical aid for vulnerable children in Tanzania, Rwanda –and in Windsor where she lives. This award helps Sophia complete her degree – but it also benefits her many communities – at home and internationally.

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Melodie Cook, Nicole Cadwallader, Sophia Owenya and Eliza Chandler

Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons (CFPDP) Disability Studies Award

Chellephe Gayle: Chellephe’s engagement is fueled by having a close family member whose life and circumstances have been shaped by mental health issues. Employed by the York Region District School Board, this award will benefit her personally as well her many communities—at home and abroad.

Jennifer Mosley: Jennifer teaches at Lambton College in the Co-operative Education Program and the Developmental Service Worker program. Five and a half years studying Disability Studies has been exciting but also challenging as she strives to become the first person in her immediate family to graduate from university.

Nabeela Siddique: Approaching her final year in our program, Nabeela is committed to fighting injustice in education, employment and social support. Having faced both institutional barriers and personal loss this past year, she is carrying a deeper understanding of systemic discrimination into communities and situations where disabled lives are still not valued.

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Kathryn Church, Nabeela Siddique, Jennifer Mosley and Paris Master-McRae

The David Reville/Working for Change Mad People’s History Course Award

Zully Samji: Zully is a graduate of the Peer Navigator program with Working For Change; graduates of this program do placements as customer service representatives in Ontario Works offices. With Dawnmarie Herriott, a previous recipient of this award, he has also done a number of speaking engagements on issues related to mental health and poverty.

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David Reville, Zully Samji and Joyce Brown

Helen Henderson Writing for Disability Activism Award

Daniela Dinardo: From a young age, Daniela liked to write: short-stories, poetry, lyrics for songs that had no melodies, diaries and journals that were safe places for her to express herself without judgment. At university, writing became something much more than a hobby. In Disability Studies, she has been able to find her voice as an advocate by merging her ambition to write about meaningful, complex issues with her desire to write passionately for social justice.

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Lindsay Campbell and Daniela Dinardo

Emma Hardie International Disability Award

Trevor Smith: A few years back, Trevor spent a year in China teaching English to children aged 3-16, and immersing himself in a different culture and language. Some of the children had learning difficulties, and that meant learning through a translator about the support they needed. These experiences sparked Trevor’s interest in pedagogy and the realization that if he wanted to bring creativity and innovation to international classrooms he needed to further his education. This desire, which Emma shared, is why he is standing here today.

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Robert Hardie,Cole Bonathan, Trevor Smith and Heather Hardie

Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award

Ann Beatty: The opioid epidemic as temporal eclipse
Leanne Cornell: Chasing fit: An altered story of the Fitbit
Francis Pineda: Missing in action: Are student unions accessible to disabled students
Lee Armstrong: Searching for hospital accessibility: An insider ethnography
Habiba Rahman: Muslim women and career interruption: Narratives of post-migration distress

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Kathryn Church, Ann Beatty, Leanne Cornell, Francis Pineda and Tobin LeBlanc Haley

This years student reflection was delivered by Ann Beatty.

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Ann Beatty
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All of the 2018 Disability Studies Award Winners

These awards would not be possible without the generous support of our donors. Thank you.

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Some of the 2018 Disability Studies Awards donors.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom

This was in written by alumnae Carling Barry-Spicer and the members of Sol Express.

poster which reads "L'arche Toronto Sol Express Presents birds make me think about freedome". A labeled woman looks up at a bird.

For over 35 years, L’Arche Toronto has provided support to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families in regard to daily living, employment, and community participation as well as Sol Express.

Sol Express is a day program that is open to committed individuals who have been labeled with a developmental disability and love to perform. The group meets twice a week to develop skills, and explore the creative process which results in original works in front of various audiences. Sol Express involves music, movement, dance, arts & crafts, theatre games and story development.

Last year at the Toronto Fringe Festival Sol Express put on a play called Seasons. In Seasons, Sol Express performers explored life through the lens of the four seasons as well as the seasons in our lives (the changes we go through) in a one hour play full of movements, dance, music, poetry, film, as well as a funny clowning piece. Seasons was a great success with almost every show sold out. Audiences loved it and felt greatly entertained.

Sol Express is performing another play this year at the Toronto Fringe Festival. The play is called “Birds Make Me Think About Freedom”. The play reflects on our humanity inspired by the stories of people institutionalized for being labeled with developmental disabilities, their families, and friends. The play goes to dark places by touching on sensitive material regarding institutional mistreatment of individuals with developmental disabilities. However, it doesn’t end there as it delves into thoughts and discussion on freedom, hope, choice and living on our own.

Birds Make Me Think About Freedom was created by L’Arche Toronto’s Sol Express, in collaboration with Victoria Freeman, and their team of supporting artists: Angela Blumberg, Natalie Breton, Madeleine Brown, Katherine Duncanson, Carrie Hage, Ruth Howard, David Rawlins and Lieke van der Voort. The play is in consultation with their project’s survivor consultants.

Sol Express Performers are R. Boardman, Robert Gray, Nicholas Herd, Nafiz Ismail, Agnes Kenny, Michael Liu, Melissa Marshall, Irene Pollock, Andreas Prinz, Matt Rawlins, Kevin Schmidt, Cheryl Zinyk. Volunteer performers are Carling Barry-Spicer, Fiona Strachan, Madeline Burghardt and Joan Curran.

Dates & Times of Performance
Friday 6th July 6:30pm-7:30pm
Saturday 7th July 7:00pm-8:00pm
Sunday 8th July 3:15pm-4:15pm
Tuesday 10th July 1:00pm-2:00pm
Friday 13th July 6:15pm-7:15pm
Saturday 14th July 5:45pm-6:45pm
Sunday 15th July 3:30pm-4:30pm

Information on Theatre and Accessible Performances

The Al Green Theatre is located at 750 Spadina Ave in Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2J2. The Theatre holds 215 people. Al Green Theatre is barrier-free. Only certain building entrances are wheelchair-accessible. Accessible seating is in front of the front row, and may have poor sightlines for certain productions. Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.

The Accessible Performances are as follows:

Friday, July 6th,6:30 pm – Open Audio Description
Sunday, July 8, 3:15 pm – Relaxed performance
Tuesday, July 10, 1:00 pm – ASL & Relaxed performance
Friday, July 13, 6:15 pm – Open Audio Description
Sunday, July 15, 3:30 pm – ASL

The Touch tour table is available 30 minutes before all performances. Tactile Audio Display (TAD) seating is available at all performances from July 8th to 15th. Seating can be reserved through the box office. For more information on accessibility please contact access@fringetoronto.com.

Tickets are $13.00. You can buy tickets to Birds Make Me Think About Freedom online at https://fringetoronto.com/festivals/fringe/event/birds-make-me-think-about-freedom for $13.00 with a $2.00 order service fee. Tickets are also available at the Theatre before the performance (do come early if this is the option you want to take) but watch out they could be sold out!

The courage to pivot and the ability to strategize

This post was written by alumna, Jennifer Wilson.

photograph of sign which reads "career change"

My career path has taken many twists and turns to get to where I am today. 8 years ago I was faced with the most important decision of my career, and it set the tone for every decision that I made after that. I had been working in service delivery of developmental services for over 5 years. I had always envisioned myself working up through the ranks to senior management, but over time I began to see that while I was happy in the roles I held and committed to them, I couldn’t knock the feeling that there was something very different out there for me.

It was humbling and soul-baring, but I had to be open to the fact that the career path I had been focused on for so many years was not the right fit for me. The culture wasn’t right, the role wasn’t right, and the leveraging of several skills was missing. I wasn’t using my strengths to live my best me, I was only living part of me.

While completing my BA in Disability Studies, I became aware that I was equally as inspired by the content of my Minor in Organizational Leadership (business acumen, communications, change management, organizational behavior) as I was by the content in my core courses. It was this balance that helped me to open myself up and see what my true calling could be.

I pivoted dramatically into the broader non-profit sector (an organization that provided integrated summer camp opportunities for children from low-income families) and entered into a place of reflection. From that point forward every time I moved on from a job I spent a lot of time thinking about the role and how to pick an even better fit next time…what I liked and what I didn’t, which skills I used and which ones I didn’t (and was I okay about the ones that I didn’t get to use), in which areas did I underperform (and are they areas that I can and should improve in or inherent weaknesses).

My advice? Reflect on every aspect of every job. If you’re not happy then don’t settle. Figure out what isn’t working for you and what is, be fearless, and try again. Sometimes it means changing roles, functional areas, organizations, or pivoting into a different sub-sector or career path altogether. When I found the courage to do this, I found my passion, I began tapping into my true strengths, I discovered what I really wanted, and I realized a life where my career is a source of incredible joy, personal growth, and reward.

I spent time identifying my core wants in a job. Over the years I have identified these 6 core wants:

  1. A team of people that are enthusiastic, passionate, and ambitious.
  2. An opportunity to create change.
  3. A role that is dynamic.
  4. Flexibility to work when my mind is buzzing the most.
  5. A job that is results-oriented.
  6. Intense challenge (I enjoy jobs that get so hard that it makes me question if I can do it, makes me problem solve, and forces me into a place of discomfort and uncertainty so that I can learn the most).

Focusing on these 6 things I have spent the past 8 years working for organizations in roles such as Director of Development, Interim Executive Director, National Program Manager, and Projects Leader, and have loved every position I’ve held. I’ve loved different things about them, and not every job ticks every one of my 6 boxes, but I’ve always weighed out fulfillment and compromise in each of these core areas.

A lot of people comment on how unique my career path has been. Unique in that I started in direct service, pivoted significantly, and then carved out a path equally across leadership, strategic growth, fund development, and program/project management. I attribute the windy road that still appears continuous to one thing: strategy. I strategically pursued positions in several functional areas of non-profit organizations in order to position myself well for leadership. I developed skills in financial management, team management, project acquisition, risk management, program management, communications, stakeholder relations, and fund development. Although the path looks windy, I find employers are able to see exactly what I was doing and pinpoint my strategy.

Strategy. Everything I do in life I try to do strategically. Every role I’ve taken I’ve considered the 6 points I discussed above, and then considered one big question. Which of the following things will I gain from this role?

  1. Will it get me towards my goal?
  2. What skills or lessons will I learn from this role?
  3. What relationships will I form in this role?
  4. Will I gain credibility in this role?
  5. How will my next employer perceive this role?

Sometimes in sectors that focus on soft skills, strategy can be a dirty word. As if strategizing in your career is too contrived, but strategy is how vision is realized. Organizations don’t just happen upon success, they strategize to get there and careers require the same type of focus and strategy. The focus can pivot, and the strategy can be adaptive, but I believe that having a goal in mind and strategizing towards that goal is very helpful. It doesn’t make any one experience less authentic or sincere. Each of my roles have been pursued at the most visceral level because my gut told me that I was meant to take them on, but I consider strategy as well.  

Here are a few strategic tips and tricks on job applications:

  • Pursue activities that align with your field of interest. Every element of your resume and cover letter that focuses on your field of interest demonstrates your commitment, peripheral skills, and understanding. If you want to pursue a sector that you don’t currently work in, then use the skills you have to volunteer in that sector, or try to work with the same target population.
  • Be sincere and invest yourself. Take the time to invest yourself in every prospective role. Don’t send out the same resume for jobs across multiple focus areas. It’s not a numbers game; it’s quality over quantity. Print out the job posting, highlight and chart every single skill, aptitude, experience, or asset that they are looking for and then write a cover letter that hits every single item in the posting. This is strategic in two ways, 1) if they’re using a digital application scanner then you’ve hit the key words necessary to get an interview, and 2) you are positioning yourself as someone who checks every box. Take the time to speak directly to the employer or recruiter in a sincere way. Position job experience, skills, and lived-experience to hit all of their points. No deposit, no return.
  • Articulate your passion. If you work in a field that is rooted in positive social change and you write a cover letter that in no way summarizes why you are compelled by the work of the organization, how their mission aligns with your values, and why you would be committed to them, then you are missing out on a key piece they are looking for. This should be covered in one of your initial paragraphs.
  • Have several variations of every resume. Every resume you send should be uniquely positioned for the job. You should have at least 2-5 resume variations that focus on core skill sets or are catered to specific sub-sectors or roles. Everything in the resume from the upfront profile, and skill sets to the detailed information in each of your former jobs, should all be tailored to the job you’re applying for.
  • Sell transferable skills. Every job you do is somehow connected to a job that you want to do. Think about the job you’re applying for and then think about how you can position your experience in a way that highlights the skills that they’re looking for. So much of application writing is actually just focusing on the right experiences. Be confident. You’re not suggesting that maybe your experience might sort have prepare you for a different role; you know with every fiber of your being that you are the best candidate for the job because your previous experience has provided you with a unique perspective on the role.
  • Highlight your strengths and acknowledge your gaps with transferrable skills. This is a big one. Sell your strengths hard, but don’t skip over the skillsets and experience that you don’t have. This will only make them jump out more at the person reviewing your application. It will be flagged that you are not only missing the skills but don’t understand what the job takes. Instead write about how a transferrable skill prepares you for that part of the job. Never start a sentence with “I don’t have experience in that but…” Instead position it in a positive light; “I am confident in my ability to complete XYZ because I have experience in XYZ. This experience has provided me with the foundational knowledge required to take on this aspect of the role”. Spell out the transferability for them if you need to.
  • Be confident. When it comes time to interview, focus on skills such as confidence, presentation, and a good handshake. These go a long way. I don’t see confidence as a way of being; I see it as a skillset that you develop. Confidence is more about instilling trust and calm in people than it is about your own self-concept (your belief in your ability to do the job). Practice your tone of voice, word choice, and body language. The goal of displaying confidence is to put the person hiring at ease; to have them feel secure, trusting, and calm in your presence because they believe in you. In fact it can be a beautiful cycle…you feel a bit unsure because you want to take on this big challenge, you demonstrate confidence in the interview, they trust you, they hire you, their confidence in you improves your self-concept and voila, good things are happening!


Reflections on Regina

This post was written by current student, Michelle Hewitt.

photograph of woman in wheelchair who is looking at camera
Michelle Hewitt in Regina at the Canadian Disability Studies Association conference.

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!

Y/our Vision, Passion, Action

This post was written by alumnus Kevin Jackson.

photograph of sidewalk on which read

At a point in one’s life…

One tends to make a few general realizations, especially when considering higher education. First, life always takes you on a journey. Second, having direction within your life journey is not only a unique gift, but is the difference between having the time of your life verses just ‘getting by.’ The perfect motif for this idea is that of this blog’s title, Vision, Passion, Action. That is to say, if you possess, and can allow yourself to appreciate, your own unquenchable thirst to learn from life, in all of its numerous forms (Vision), and your educational opportunities and situations allow you to match and realize your goals (Passion), then conceivably your life while completing these goals (Action) may offer you a more meaningful and enjoyable experience. So yes, you can do it, and yes you can have the time of your life (while getting paid! …very little).

However, there are a few conditions—what works for one may not work for the other, and if what is stated here does not resonate with you, then this information may not be as useful to you. For example, we all have different interests, goals, and means’ to accomplish those goals. Essentially, if you can easily work out the logistics of doing graduate work (MA or PhD), then for you it may simply be a choice of either going or not going. However, this post was written specifically for those potential graduate students in Disability Studies or Mad Studies who find themselves face-to-face with challenging obstacles (perhaps facing resistance from family, friends, culture, socio-economic situation, etc.). For people living in precarious environments, graduate school may seem out of reach, even though it may not be that far out of reach. When considering graduate school, I have found the following three overlapping considerations (and series of questions, comments) to be helpful, based on the DST’s blogs maxim, Vision, Passion, Action!


Is there an issue or topic that is thematic within your life that you would love to research full-time for the rest of your life? Do you possess a burning desire to explore a set of thoughts, assumptions and/or phenomenon?  Do you think, somewhat obsessively, about how you would carry out your own unique style and type of research projects(s)? If so, please proceed to the next section….


What is that you have always wanted to research with almost full autonomy? Do you find yourself thinking that a Disability or Mad studies framework could provide you with a set of (almost) perfect models upon which to help you realize your research goals (…with a little tweaking)? Do you find the thought of doing an MA or PhD alluring, yet also a tad stress-inducing? If so, please proceed to the next section….


The above questions are important to keep in mind, but are, for the most part, not really much more than a thought experiment. Unless one actually throws their hat into the ring, so to speak, one will never realize their own Vision and Passion. Action is the doing part; but Action may also include not doing. In this case, I mean that it is perfectly acceptable to simply apply to an MA or PhD program (that resonates with you), which you may actually end up turning down. I said and I did just that. In my case, I just wanted to see if I would get accepted (NB: each program application can cost upwards of $200 CAD). However, I found that, after the shock of being accepted into York University’s Critical Disability Studies PhD program (the only one I applied to), I might actually be able to do my own PhD! Why not? I was accepted, was I not? So, while I continue to feel like an imposter within ‘the academy,’ I have come to realize that I may just simply be where I am supposed to be in life. It was under these sets of assumptions (as informed by reflection, information gathering, and careful assessment of resources and family connections) that I finally made my decision to follow the path before me.

Final Words:

Aside from your exploration of all other practical considerations, the above questions and ponderings may help you to make an informed decision about whether or not to do your graduate work. So, if you have a burning desire to learn about social issues that focus on inequality, social justice, or anything in between, then doing focused graduate/post-graduate work may be the vocation for you.

I wish you all the best, and urge you not to limit yourself. If you are careful, and have the desire to learn (to live in your head a bit more than you did yesterday) then you may be ready to (gradually and gently) commit to graduate school. If the above information resonates with you, perhaps it is time to speak with one or two of your favorite faculty members, friends and family about the process (for me it was Kathryn, Rachel, Tobin, and my friend Russell from York U’s, PhD program). These teachers have supported me, and I am very fond of them. Such teachers will mentor you through your academic career, if you can open yourself to their wisdom and guidance. The last piece of advice I can offer you is about people: Pay-it-forward is always a good motto to follow in graduate school. As professional teachers, you will both teach and be taught. Final words of advice: be informed within y/our own VPA (whatever that means to you), and simply be there, open to the experience and your potential.

I wish you the best of luck on your next great life adventure!


Graduate studies at OISE after disability studies

This post was written by graduate, Brittney Van Beilen.

photograph of books with mortarboard on top

Throughout my last year in the disability studies program I didn’t quite feel ready to leave my studies behind just yet, so I decided I would pursue a Master’s degree. I did some research online to find a program that would suit my needs and allow me to continue to engage in disability studies enquiry. The Social Justice Education program at University of Toronto – Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) seemed to be the perfect fit, so I went to an Open House that was held at the OISE library. There I was able to meet some of the professors, hear testimonials of current and past students, and learn more about the courses offered. It wasn’t long after that I made my decision to apply.

I began preparing my application in late fall of my final year. As part of the admissions requirements, I had to write a 2-3 page statement of academic and professional intent relevant to Social Justice Education and list one or more faculty member/s whose work is relevant to my interests and concerns I was also required to obtain two letters of reference – one academic and one professional, provide a resume, transcripts from previously attended post-secondary institutions, and provide a sample of written work related to social justice education. For this, I had many options thanks to the coursework and experience from the Disability Studies Program. Once I had all the required documents, I was able to easily apply online via OISE’s admissions application. I have to admit, it was quite a busy and stressful time, and as daunting a task it seemed to be, it was all worth it in the end. My advice for applying to grad school is to do a lot of research to find out what programs are available, which ones will work for you in terms of delivery and timing, which ones match your interests, goals and lifestyle, what the admissions requirements are, what types of courses are offered, when they’re offered, who the faculty is and who you might want to work with (especially if you plan to pursue an MA).

The Social Justice Education department offers both MA (Master of Arts) and MEd (Master of Education) degree options and students may choose to study full time or part time. This was one of the aspects that drew me to the program. It was a nice transition from the Disability Studies program, allowing me to continue to work full-time while pursuing my education part time. The MA requires less coursework but students write a thesis – something graduates of the Disability Studies program are well-equipped to do after completing the capstone project. MEd students complete more coursework but do not write a thesis. The Social Justice Education program offers studies in education, with a focus on equity and social justice from various perspectives such as history, philosophy, sociology and political science. Students are encouraged to focus their studies on one area or discipline as courses are offered in a variety of studies and I am focusing on disability studies. The Disability studies program at Ryerson helped me to think critically about my role within a “helping profession” and to consider the power relations at play that work to individualize and pathologize disability. It taught me to analyze and critique the social, cultural and political aspects of disability, giving me a solid critical framework to move forward with and at OISE I feel like I’ve picked up right where I left off at Ryerson.