A Message from a Student

This post was written by current student Seija Korpela.

An image of the piece by Rebecca Beayni entitled “Passion”

I find the words transition and acclimatizing to the Disability Studies program very interesting.  I have just completed DST 501 and my personal experiences included excitement with an equally powerful discomforting/unsettling feeling.

My personal experiences include working with a community living agency for 22 years and currently as a college professor in the DSW program for the past 5 years.  DST 501 ended up validating what I had felt were some of the “wrongs” within the sector.  Although at that time I didn’t have the knowledge base to put the language and theory to work, I see that my ideas were on the right track.  With only one course under my belt, and many ideas on how to incorporate changes into our DSW program, I am thrilled to be continuing.  If this single course can create such a powerful personal “will” and “duty” to make change, I can only imagine what lies ahead with all of the other courses.

The initial post questions the challenges around the shift from community college to Disability Studies.  One of the “biggest” changes I (we) are going to make in our DSW program surrounds “critical thinking” and “critical self analysis”.   Although, this is a part of our vocational standards and this is being currently met, I believe that I can do a much better job with our students in this area.   These two skills need to be embedded in every single course that they take.  I have already begun re-writing course outlines to better meet these two needs for the fall 2010 semester, and am trying a new delivery system for this winter semester.   I personally feel that critical thinking and critical self analysis are “key” for a successful transition into the Disability Studies program.

As a DSW graduate, the past and current theories taught are all based on abnormal psychology.  Abnormal psychology = medical model.  Unless your eyes and mind have been opened to the disability perspective as DST 501 so effectively has done, the odds of effecting change diminishes immensely.   For those of us who have been around awhile, there are many subtle and larger changes that can be made.  For those who are relatively new to the field, you have an incredible opportunity to “share” and “do” at the frontline level.   I believe I read on the DST website that DST 501 is a cornerstone for all other courses.  Once you have successfully completed this course, it provides you with the “cornerstone” in which to begin making changes in the agency you work for and for the people you work for.  If this doesn’t recharge your batteries, or kick start you into doing more by empowering you then I’m afraid that you’ve missed something.  This course is very, very powerful.

One of the biggest personal and emotional challenges for me was to accept that I have been oppressive and that I am still oppressive.  This one characteristic of your being has huge ramifications when you are working in this field.  It isn’t productive to beat yourself up over things that you may have done in the past, however, it is productive and prudent of you to question your motives when you are working in the present.  You can’t begin to change your “self” until you accept and recognize this within yourself.

Another challenge for me was in regards to personal “baggage”.  I hate the word, “baggage” so I will call it “carry- on luggage.”  We have victimized or been victimized albeit at varying levels.  Regardless of the level or type, your “carry-on luggage” will open.  You can choose to “close” it again, or “let it all out”.  I’m not intimating that you need to publicly share, however you will find this “discomfort” somewhere along the line, and that told me to “deal” with it, so that I can move on.   I found DST 501 to be a very personal and rewarding journey.  The support I received from my professor was positive, encouraging and motivating.  You do not have to walk the walk alone.

My views and attitudes towards “disability” have changed a great deal.  I have practiced and taught the traditional message.  Look at the persons strengths, we need to focus on the positive, ensure social inclusion, normalization etc. are maintained or put into place, however, we do need to take into consideration their limitations as well.  In retrospect, that “however” has always been there.   I have poured through the case studies used at the college.  To my surprise, they all speak to what the person is not able to do.  Since September, I have not found one case study that does not speak to the “deficits” of a person.  The problem is that the materials at our disposal for teaching highlight the “not able” part of the person way too much.  I thought about my first weekend at Ryerson, and we all introduced ourselves and gave a brief overview of ourselves.  I find it amusing that no one spoke to their strengths or limitations, but that is how we talk about persons with developmental disabilities.  In fact the only discussions regarding strengths or limitations had to do with the grades we received for work completed amongst each other.  This is intriguing for me, as it can create a hierarchy within the class and can create an opportunity to marginalize those with lower marks.  The similarities between the abled and disabled in terms of how we oppress and marginalize people are what have stood out the most for me.  There are far more similarities between the two than differences.   This makes the defining of disability very murky.  We are all human, we are all the same, and we all have our own “uniqueness”.

I really enjoyed the three weekends at Ryerson.  They are jam packed and full of “learning”.  It is the ultimate learning experience.  It also provides you the opportunity to meet and develop new contacts/friendships, to meet face to face with your professor, to meet previous grads, and other professors within the Disability Studies program.  It is definitely a win-win situation.

For any future students interested in the Disability Studies program my message for them would be:

  • If you want to make a difference – immediate and future – this is for you!
  • If you feel that what you are experiencing out in the field isn’t “enough” or are disillusioned, then you should take the Disability Studies program.
  • If you care about equality and the human side of disability then this is the program for you.
  • This course allows you to work in a multitude of settings: community living, education, ministry etc.  Just think the more of us out there; the sooner we will see the changes which need to occur.
  • The professors at Ryerson are grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!
  • You will have an alumni support network to access after graduation.
  • I feel that this course will provide you with better advancement opportunities than traditional undergraduate programs.
  • You will be taught by the leading minds and researchers in disability studies.
  • You will hopefully be an advocate extraordinaire.
  • Ryerson is student friendly.

I feel that the transition into Disability Studies is largely dependent on one’s willingness to put forth the effort it requires and demands.  There is a lot of reading to do, there is the learning of theoretical perspectives, and the completing of the required evaluative components.   You will get out of DST 501 what you put into it.    In terms of acclimatizing to Disability Studies, the more open minded you are, the more accepting you are of other people’s perspectives and views the easier it becomes and you’ll then feel yourself start to change.

As I mentioned earlier, I have only completed DST 501.   I cannot think of a single thing to change about this course, nor can I think of something I didn’t particularly like.  You’ll have to take this course to experience the effect it will have on you.  Trust me, it is worth it!


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