Appearing on DurAbility

This post was written by Donna Lee who graduated from the School of Disability Studies in 2011. 

                                                    A man holding a mircophone sits next to the words DURABILITY

Although I was a little reluctant to volunteer to participate in a televised panel discussion, in the end I agreed to represent Ryerson on the Rogers –TV show DurAbility.  An invitation was issued to The School of Disability Studies to send a member of Ryerson staff to appear on an episode of the show to discuss the medical and social models of disability.  The intention of the host and producer, Scott Bremner, was to have faculty from three different post-secondary programs in the area discuss the topic together, each bringing a different perspective to the conversation. 

My reluctance stemmed not just from the idea that I might be viewed by thousands (okay dozens, it’s the local Rogers station in Durham) of people, but from a wariness regarding how this show takes up disability issues.  When I looked up the show online I found a description that informed me DurAbility “provides relevant information about local resources available for people living with a disability to help them navigate the challenges and obstacles they face in their everyday life”.  Not too bad, although it sounds a bit like focus on overcoming rather than on the need to eliminate barriers.  The host states on his Facebook page that his intention is to dismantle stereotypes of disabled people and advocate for access, however he also mentions his love of ‘inspiring stories’ and his appearances on charity telethons.   Perhaps participating in the panel would provide an opportunity to offer a counter perspective to the overcoming and inspiration narratives.

 I arrived on the scheduled date of taping and introduced myself to Scott.  He informed me that there had been a change in topic as he had been unable to get representatives from the other schools.  Instead he had invited staff (not disabled young adults) from Bloorview McMillian and Grandview Hospital to talk about helping disabled young adults achieve independence. Well this was a bit of a plot twist.

Too late to back out, I gamely took my place on the stage and answered the questions posed to me about disability and independence.  Scott created several opportunities for me to discuss the social model as it pertained to the topic and while there were clearly differences in how each of the panel members viewed the topic, there were points of intersection and agreement.  We discussed the importance of recognizing the interdependence of all people, particularly during the process of separating from parental homes and authority.   We agreed that defining independence as self-determination rather than as the completion of a task without assistance, is useful in the understanding of how independence can be performed.  There was much talk from the other panel members about teaching skills and very little about ensuring access and claiming rights, although they both talked of the importance of advocating with disabled young people when parents might be resistant to letting go. The last question posed by Scott was what did we think was the most important aspect of helping disabled young adults achieve independence.  I proposed that perhaps the recognition of the right to an adulthood of all persons, regardless of ability, was at the foundation of this issue and that once this right was recognized supports to claim the right could be focused on dismantling attitudinal and environmental barriers to self-determination.   

The taping wrapped up and I thanked Scott for the opportunity to participate.  I’m not sure that I would accept another invitation, but overall I was pleased to be able to offer an alternative point of view to the conversation. 

The episode is scheduled to air sometime in late January 2014.   

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