All posts by rads2013

Intersectional Black Lives Matters: Placing People with Disabilities within the Anti-Black Racism Movement through a Disability Justice lens

This post was written by graduating student, Darlene Murrain.

IMG_0366
Photograph of Jalani Morgan’s photography exhibit with Darlene Murrain silhouette over it.

From the beginning of my scholastic career in Disability Studies, I always looked forward to the Major Research Thesis Project. As I navigated through the core courses of the program, I became more and more intrigued with various schools of thought around inclusion, intersectionality and activism. I knew that I wanted to carry these themes into my final project. Choosing a topic for my final project was a daunting process but thanks to my supervising professor Esther Ignagni, she helped me narrow down my topic in a way that brilliantly captured all of my interests: Placing people with disabilities in the movement against anti-black racism movement using a Disability Justice lens. The aim was to look at various local activist organizations (e.g. Black Lives Matter Toronto) whose missions seek social justice for black people and to determine how disability is addressed in their organizing efforts. With approximately 60-80% of state violence victims being black people with disabilities, I felt committed. So my research question became: “How is disability taken up within the movement? This meant to explore representation, ableist assumptions about disability embodiment, the vulnerability of differing bodies without perpetuating that vulnerability, internalized attitudes of ableism within the black community, inclusive spaces, and creating alternate ways for people with disabilities who cannot take to the streets. During the research process, I had to be intentional about not criticizing or assessing the efforts of the community organizations to determine if they were successful. I just simply wanted to see how it was done.

The research methodologies I used were Ethnography and Discourse analysis. It was impossible not to place myself in the research as I am a black woman and there were moments when I experienced a wide range of emotions, especially when reading newspaper articles about state violence and discrimination against black people. I used these moments to interact with the material from a personal perspective as well as a researcher’s perspective. Ethnography permitted me this opportunity since it’s a research method that respects the research’s subjectivity and does not make the assumption that the researcher is separate from the research. Discourse analysis helped to complement Ethnography through exploration of discriminatory language and social concepts, which I did by locating our cultural understanding of the word “normal”.

I used many sources to collect information. I collected data not only from scholarly articles and informational interviews but I also read blogs, followed social media accounts, visited visual art exhibitions during Black History Month and attended community speaking engagements. Looking back, I believe I was quite over zealous because the amount of information I accumulated became really overwhelming at one point. However, I recognize that I did this because I had so little in terms of scholarly research explicitly on disability inclusion in the modern movement against anti-black racism. I really had to process and organize the data in a way that made sense to my research. I accomplished this by focusing on the shared experiences of black people and people with disabilities. Three concepts that stood out to me in this area that I would like to share are Consciousness, The Weather and Internalized Racism/Ablesim. They are defined below:
Consciousness: This is idea of a social movement group and it’s members adjusting its way of organizing or its “conscious” to address the changing ways of systemic oppression. An example of this would be taking up an intersectional approach to black issues that include various identities, because not every one who identifies as black faces the oppression in the same ways.

The Weather: This is a concept shared by Canadian Poet and Documentarian Dionne Brand who has written about racism and state violence in Canada. She describes racism against black people as “the weather”. It is anti-blackness rooted in white supremacy and it is accompanied by the glance and the stare. She says just like the weather, racism is constant, casual and happens every day.

Internalized Racism/Ableism: This is when the individual feels inward hatred and inadequacy because of how society discriminates against them based on their identity. Also media representations can have a negative effect on the individual’s perception of self and contribute to their feelings of internal discrimination.

So back to my burning research question: Is disability taken up in the movement against anti-black racism? Absolutely! How is disability taken up? For the sake of this post, I will not go into extensive detail but from the articles I read, the organizations that I interviewed and the events and art exhibits I attended, serious considerations are made for black people with disabilities, whether visible or invisible, to participate fully in the movement. This can be anywhere from the frontlines to leadership roles to social media engagement to adding disability-related issues to the agenda. My analysis revealed that in order for the movement to be successful on a political front, the organizers had to consider the intersectionality of the multiple identities that claim blackness within the movement itself. Space is the top consideration when inviting people with disabilities into the movement, making sure it is accessible, inclusive and safe.

Black Lives Matter Toronto advocating for queer-disability rights is an example of the intersectional shift of consciousness to bring to the forefront the issues that affect everyone, not just people of colour. At the 2016 Pride parade, BLM-TO halted the parade to present a list of 9 demands to the head of the parade. Although the backlash from the media focused heavily on BLM-TO requesting the removal of police floats, what they failed to acknowledge were that 2 of the demands were requesting improved accessibility for queer people with disabilities and hearing impairments, which is awesome!

To conclude, I believe that the modern movement against anti-black racism has done a great job of being a intersectional model of inclusive and safe spaces as well as a platform for black people with disabilities.

I want to end with a quote from Feminist and Civil Right Activist Audre Lorde that says:
It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those other identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make the strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

My Journey post Disability Studies at Ryerson…

This post was written by Disability Studies alumna, Katherine Ridolfo.

photograph of light skinned woman with dark hair wearing a white blouse and a black sweater.
Photograph of Katherine Ridolfo.

Though I have a long and dedicated history of working with people who have a developmental disability, I felt that I needed more post-graduate education to continue to pursue my career path, personal goals and dedication to the field. My role has largely been as a Family Support Worker and I felt that coupled with the Disability Studies and Master’s degree in Social Work would be a good fit.

For me, as a single parent, the challenge was in finding a program that would allow me to continue to work full time and pursue an education that considered my current educational background. The MSW for Working Professionals, offered through the University of Windsor was a perfect fit! The education was delivered locally (for me-Mississauga, but I understand that it is also offered in Oshawa) every other weekend starting with Friday afternoons at 3 pm to 8 pm and then all day Saturdays from 8 am to 4 pm. It was not necessary to have a BA in Social Work, however, this meant that I was making a 32 month commitment of not having a life beyond the program!

The program is generalized and is not specific to any particular counselling modalities (my understanding is that this is more the norm, all programs have taken on a broader approach) and is very fast moving. A new module is covered approximately every six weeks. The curriculum consists of lots of reading, and a combination of essays, group presentations and tests. There are two field placements consisting of 450 hours. It is difficult (and discouraged) to work throughout this time. There is also a final capstone/research project at the end of the program. In addition to the cost of books, be prepared to do lots of additional photocopying of required and recommended reading. The approximate cost of this program is about $30,000 with books in. Thankfully, the whole amount does not need to be paid upfront! (A word of caution is warranted at this point…students who pursue this avenue and are expecting to get an entry scholarship (based on a high GPA) are NOT entitled-however, the students on campus taking the same program are. I tried to advocate for the same rights but was not successful. Perhaps a fellow Ryerson alumni who pursues this avenue can take up the good fight).

Once admitted, you will complete your journey with the same cohort-which is a bonus. Through these bonds I have managed to forge incredible ongoing relationships and connections. My cohort retains a FB page as well as communicates routinely through Messenger-so that we all know what is going on with our graduating class at all times.

Currently, I continue to work at a local Community Living agency, teach part time at Humber College in the CICE program (Community Integration through Co-operative Education)-which is a unique two year college experience program for young adults who have a developmental disability. It is a passion of mine and I am hoping for full time employment in the near future. I am also beginning to build a private practice as a social worker and am hoping to build a niche for working with families who have a child with a developmental disability as well as for individuals who are cognitively capable of participating and benefiting from counselling. I have a long standing vested interest in End of Life Care for people who have a disability, specifically-developmental, and as such I am also actively pursuing a PhD program though I am not sure if I’d like it to be in Social Work or Disability Studies at this time.

And… on a final note-Kathryn Church, writes phenomenal letters of support!

 

To learn more about this MA option check out the MSW for Working Professionals at University of Windsor website.

Choosing elective courses

This post was written by student, Zahra Ali.

open books sitting on tables with books piled around it

Choosing the right electives require a lot of planning. If you are able to, you should plan for the entire academic year beforehand. That way you can see during what semester the courses you are interested in are available and can plan accordingly. You have the opportunity to take courses and gather knowledge in areas that are meaningful to your life personally, related to your job, or courses that will relate directly to the Disability Studies program which will increase your knowledge and expertise in the field.

I would suggest having a look at the Undergraduate Calendar for the Disability Studies program to get an idea of what courses are available and their themes. From there you can decide what subjects or topics that you are attracted to or maybe some that you find interesting but wouldn’t have thought it was an option. Paris emails a Course Selection Registration package which is a wonderful tool to help guide you in getting started.

Using the search tool on RAMSS you can search by subject which is the first three letters of the class (Ex. DST for Disability or INT for Interdisciplinary Studies). You are able to search different terms and I would suggest looking at past terms to get an idea of when the course is normally offered; fall, winter, spring or summer. From there you can make a list of which courses are offered in each semester and narrow the list down based on your availability or their delivery method.

Personally, I was able to complete most of my electives over the Summer and Spring terms. Both semesters are only 7 weeks long with some courses offered that run the full 13 weeks. There are also one week onsite intensive courses available. One of the intensive course I took was GEO 106 Geographies of Everyday Life. It is offered over the course of 6 days Monday to Saturday in May. I was really surprised by the content of the course, it was a social geography course that was specific to Toronto so you were able to learn about how the city is territorially divided the way it is and how certain communities were formed. The course consisted of a quiz every morning on Tuesday to Saturday each worth 10% followed by an assignment that was due a few weeks after the class ended.

Another one-week intensive onsite course I took was PPA 125 Rights, Equity and the State. It was offered in June over the course of five days. It followed a similar structure in terms of workload, there were in class mini assignments, a test, and a final paper due a few weeks after the class was over.

The intensive courses can be a wonderful opportunity to get an elective out of the way if you can fit it into your schedule but it can also be an opportunity to take a course that you may not have taken otherwise and learn something new. After taking GEO 106 I was very glad I had decided to the course and was happy with the knowledge I had learned about my community and its history.

The Chang School of Continuing Education has some of the onsite intensive courses available during May and June every year. You can search through them using this link http://ce-online.ryerson.ca/ce/calendar/default.aspx?id=5&section=search&Credit+Type=Degree+Credit&Term=Spring%2fSummer+2016&Intensive+Format=Yes . This search tools allow you to narrow your search based on things such as instruction mode and location.

Taking courses that fit into your schedule is important but it is also important that the courses are of interest to you and you are able to gain new knowledge. The Disability Studies program has a lot of flexibility and I encourage you to take advantage and learn as much as you can.

Charter Challenge: Canada Student Load Program

This post was written by Melanie Panitch. She is a former director of the School of Disability Studies and is currently holds the John C. Eaton Chair in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Photograph of Melanie Panitch standing against brick wall.

Ten years ago, in 2007, while Director of DST, I signed an affidavit in a Charter Challenge (under Section 15 and the Equality clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms). See Carol Goar article from the Toronto Star.
The case itself addressed the differential and discriminatory impact of the Canada Student Loan Program, which we know as OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program ) on students with disabilities. The argument went as follows: Disabled students take longer to complete degrees, hence incur more debt than non-disabled students to get the same degree. This serves as a deterrent to disabled students from attending post-secondary education worried by a high debt load and how to pay it off afterwards given the uncertainty of finding work, yet, without degrees are in a further disadvantageous position in the job markets.

The wheels of justice are slow, and two weeks ago I was advised by the applicant’s lawyer, I would be cross-examined on my affidavit. In preparing for this cross examination which involved updating my knowledge about loans and grants – I found our many revealing things in support of the discriminatory impact of OSAP on disabled students. Alas I was not given the opportunity to “make the speech” I wanted at the hearing itself, but I can share in this blog some of what I learned.

  1. The first big decision is whether to disclose disability. Registering with the student accommodation and support office and if eligible for OSAP (even for only $1.00) taps into some non repayable grants: Bursary program for up to $10,000 for learning supports (eg computer, accessible technology). Is it high enough for account for the wide range of supports required to succeed? There is also an annual $2000 grant for students identified with a permanent disability.
  2. 40% course load counts as Full Time status. But FT status at the University doesn’t translate to FT status for example Awards or bursaries that assist financially nor does it have the same meaning with ODSP which can be confusing. A 40% load also means less funding. There can be long wait times before the loans are approved, often held up until the required assessments arrive, and given wait time for appointments students may end up having to pay out of pocket for eg, first or last months’ rent, course materials etc.
  3. Managing OSAP can be like having a full time career because there is a need for constant reporting. If you change a course load, add a course, withdraw from a course, do badly in a course, need some time away for eg episodic disability, OSAP monitors closely and adds or subtracts payment. A low grade in a course that indicates a lack of progress or success according to OSAP triggers a requirement for a letter and explanation. If that happens twice, you can’t take any more courses until you repay. Condensed courses, intensive courses are also confusing for OSAP. Lack of flexibility – a disability keystone – is an issue. Having to think about reporting at a time when health or disability related concerns are predominant is tricky to say the least yet missing the deadlines has an impact on loans and interest on loans.
  4. There is an assumption of disability as monolithic – that disability is stable and physical and visible.
  5. Students with disabilities who are not on OSAP are not eligible for work-study programs thus denying opportunities for acquiring work-related skills and experience to boost resumes.
  6. A positive step has been instituted by charging tuition by course rather than by semester. However for student with disabilities taking more years to finish their studies means extra costs in a number of ways: budgeting for accommodation, travel and food over a longer period, a delayed period before entering the work force; some student ancillary fees are pro-rated though others continue to be charged.

Perhaps this can be the start of a conversation on how the impact of the student loan program has affected students and their studies. It is worth noting that the Ontario government intends to roll out a new financial aid program. A recent Globe and Mail article (Nov 29, 2016) reported it was redesigning the current system to “scrap a complicated package of grants and loans and tax credits and replace it with a singled program, the Ontario Student Grant…” Stay alert!

Introducing the new Ethel Louise Armstrong Post-Doctoral Fellow: Tobin LeBlanc Haley.

This post was written by Tobin LeBlanc Haley.

Photograph of woman. She is smiling at the camera

Hi, Everyone! I am Tobin LeBlanc Haley, the new Ethel Louise Armstrong Post-Doctoral Fellow in the School of Disability Studies. I am following in the footsteps of Dr. Kirsty Liddiard and Dr. Eliza Chandler. I have much to live up to!  

I am a Mad-identified, white, cis-gender, normatively physically-abled woman. I came to Toronto from Fredericton, New Brunswick to do my doctorate in Political Science at York University and decided to stay. My interest in disability studies comes from my experiences and the lack attention to mental health care, Mad Studies, and the experiences of consumers/survivors/ex-patient/Mad folk within the field of critical political economy. Most of my research, therefore, is about mental health, specifically the political economy of mental health policy and the implications for people labelled mentally ill.  My doctoral research critically assesses Ontario’s public mental health care system, retelling the history of psychiatric deinstitutionalization from a political economy perspective and interrogating the landscape of mental health care services in the province today during the period of transinstitutionalization.

As a post-doctoral fellow, I am focusing on my home province, which is often neglected in critical scholarship. Here are some facts about psychiatric services in New Brunswick that might interest you.

  • The New Brunswick Lunatic Asylum opened in 1848 in Saint John, New Brunswick (St.-Amand & LeBlanc, 2013). This asylum is often referred to as Canada’s first asylum or as one of the “first permanent ‘lunatic asylums’ in [British North America]” (Moran, n.d, n.p.).  
  • New Brunswick was also home to the Restigouche Hospital which opened approximately 100 years after the asylum in Saint John (Vitalite: Health Network, n.d., n.p.).  
  • Today there is a new Restigouche Hospital, a 140-bed psychiatric hospital in Campbellton, NB (Vitalite: Health Network, n.d., n.p.).  
  • There is also a 50-bed psychiatric facility in Saint John (Horizon, Health Network, n.d., n.p.).  
  • Psychiatric deinstitutionalization was not initiated in the province until the mid-to-late 1980s, well after many other provinces in Canada and during earlier expressions of neoliberalism (Government of New Brunswick. The Action Plan for Mental Health Care in New Brunswick 2011-2018, n.p.).
  • The mid-1980s was a unique time in New Brunswick politics. From 1987-1991, there was no real opposition in the New Brunswick Legislature as the Liberal Party, under the leadership of Frank McKenna, won all the seats (Desserud, 2015).
  • The Liberals remained in power until 1999, with McKenna as Premier until 1997.
  • McKenna implemented an aggressive neoliberal policy program (Desserud, 2015).

For my post-doctoral research project, I will be mapping the history of psychiatric deinstitutionalization in New Brunswick, focusing in particular on whether prevailing economic ideology played a role in the decision to implement deinstitutionalization in the 1980s, the form this process took in the province and the implications for ex-patients.

Processes of deinstitutionalization, while undoubtedly essential for the well-being of anyone who experiences confinement, have long-lasting impacts on where and how ex-patients live and how governments and the public frame the needs and entitlements of these groups. To date, these processes in New Brunswick have not been analyzed. I cannot wait to get into the archives, start talking to people and piece together the place-specific social, political and economic factors that led to psychiatric deinstitutionalization in the province, the immediate implications for ex-patients and the on-going implications for the c/s/x/m community today. I also hope to do some comparative work around de/transinstitutionalization across Deaf/dis/Abled/Mad communities.

So far I have only had the chance to meet a few students, but I am deeply impressed with the creativity and engagement in the DST community. I love all things related to intersectional feminism, archival research, radical social change and, of course, Dis and Mad Studies. Please feel free to stop by my office anytime or email me at tobinh@ryerson.ca.  

References

Desserud, Don. (2015). The Political Economy of New Brunswick. In B. Evans and C. Smith (Eds.) Transforming provincial politics: The political economy of Canada’s provinces and territories in the neoliberal era (pp. 110-134). University of Toronto Press.

Government of New Brunswick. The Action Plan for Mental Health Care in New Brunswick 2011-2018. Available at: https://www.gnb.ca/0055/pdf/2011/7379%20english.pdf

Horizon, Health Network. Centracare. Available at: http://en.horizonnb.ca/facilities-and-services/facilities/centracare.aspx

Moran, James. History of Madness and Mental Illness. Available at: http://historyofmadness.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=80.

St.-Amand, N. and LeBlanc, E. (2013). Women in 19th Century Asylums. In B. LeFrancois, R. Menzies, & G. Reaume (Eds.), Mad matters: A critical reader in Canadian mad studies (pp. 38-48). Toronto: Canadian Scholars Inc. Press.

Vitalite: Health Network. Restigouche Hospital Centre. Available at: http://www.vitalitenb.ca/en/points-service/restigouche-hospital-centre

Walking with Strangers: Exploring madness through mapping and ethnography

This post was written by recent graduate, Carolyn Lee-Jones.

photograph of footprints in snow

I always find the hardest part of any task is the beginning.  Taking that awkward first step or action needed to propel me forward always brings with it a terrifying sense of anxiety.  Today, I am here to talk about presenting my DST 99 project, Walking with Strangers: Mapping experiences of madness and space, to diverse audiences.  But at the moment all I see is a sea of unfamiliar faces, strangers really.  I close my eyes, take a deep breath and start walking…

Walking with Strangers emerged to make sense of a troubling situation involving someone I had been in a care relationship with experienced escalating mental health crises.  The degree of stigma, lack of accommodations and responses to her distress was appalling.  Witnessing these events led me to reflect on my own experiences of distress and struggles with a Mad identity.  Guided by a Mad Studies framework, Walking with Stranger is an ethnographic study exploring how Mad People experience and negotiate social and geographical spaces in everyday life.  Or more simply, discovering how Mad People are living in space.  My research involved working with four Mad identified participants.  Each produced 24-hour narrative diaries focussing on ‘thick description’ and participated in semi formal interviews.  Most importantly to my research, I also went on go ‘go alongs’ where I actually walked with participants as they went about their regular routines and locales to get a sense of how they interact with their environments.  

When I initially developed Walking with Strangers I didn’t give much thought about how I might have to alter my project to reach audiences from different backgrounds.  Most recently I was challenged with taking the presentation I prepared for the Canadian Disability Studies Association (CDSA 2016) conference and turning it into something I could co-present with Dr. Kathryn Church to a Media Production class at Ryerson.  Being immersed in Disability Studies, I had forgotten how foreign the concepts had been when I was first introduced to them.  Presenting to the Media Production students, mental health as illness and the more common medical, recovery based models- these were familiar to the students.  Mad as an identity and pride, never mind an entire field of study was far more difficult to grasp.  Nevertheless, I did my best to present the bare bones of my project and its relationship to Mad Studies.  By focusing on how I enacted ethnography in my project and what ethnographic research looked like on the ground level, I wanted to emphasise how ethnography is about living engagement.  It’s awkwardness as well as connection and everything else in between still counts as data.  

Based on the Q & A session which followed my presentation, the response to my project seemed mostly positive.  The students had interesting questions about Disability and Mad Studies, finding participants and challenges working with mad participants.  Some of the students shared discomfort with this kind of research which seemed only natural.  I had similar reservations at first but I found that doing ethnography included my learning to face my discomfort and accept that ethnography is not necessarily a linear approach to research.  Through ethnographic research I found that having to adjust, adjust, adjust was just all part of the process.  In doing so, ethnography showed me alternative way of knowing and seeing the world by immersing myself in my participant’s experiences of their everyday spatiality’s.  By presenting to the students I could show them that mad people can be researchers as well as participants.  Maybe, even changing some of the student’s previous notions about madness.  As a Mad researcher, I feel I was in a unique position both personally and academically to work from the inside out to explore complicated questions about everyday spatiality’s, madness and geography.  My work was about people living in space and presenting to the Media Production students gave me another opportunity to show the other, every day side of madness.  Reflecting, learning to present across diverse groups, I better understand the importance of being able to make my work accessible and share it with wider audiences to change how people think about mad people and experiences.  Thanks for walking with me!

 

Introducing Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life

This post was written by Associate Professor, Eliza Chandler.

photograph of Eliza Chandler standing in front of a painting of a woman with long hair

Beginning in January, Dr. Carla Rice and myself will be co-directing a seven year SSHRC-funded Partnership Grant called Bodies in Translation: Activist Art, Technology, and Access to Life. Activist art, as it is defined in this grant, is Deaf, disability, and Mad art, fat art, art made by aging/aged people, and Indigenous art produced by Ontario-based artists. This grant will animate the assertion that when non-normative artists have access to creating and exhibiting art, and when we all have access to publically engaging with it, that differently embodied and marginalized people achieve greater possibilities for living a fulfilled life and expanded recognition of having liveable futures. And in a culture in which D/deaf people, disabled people, Mad people, fat/differently-sized people, aging/aged people, and Indigenous people are recognized as living unliveable and undesirable lives, we recognize that the project of claiming vitality through activist art is nothing short of urgent.

Bodies in Translation brings together 40 university and community-based partners from across Canada and the UK. Tangled Art + Disability, the main community partner, will be the site of much of the grant’s artistic activity. We aim to help cultivate activist art and mobilize its social justice capacity through five research streams which will: 1) Create an open-access, accessible, and ever-expanding archive of activist art in Ontario; 2) Innovate new ways for technology to help create, exhibit, archive and experience art; 3) Facilitate the creation and exhibition of activist art; 4) Consider how activist art contributes to social justice by promoting new understandings of embodied differences, both through art and as artists; and 5) Develop free and accessible secondary and post-secondary curriculum around activist art which can be used within equity and social justice pedagogy.

The main research outputs of this grant will be an activist art archive co-hosted by the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies; the development of a standard and policy for making the arts accessible; activist art programming, performances, and exhibitions; symposiums, conferences, workshops, and publications about activist art; and a web-based knowledge platform wherein educators can freely access curriculum and curriculum development tools for teaching about social justice through activist art.

What this means for the Ryerson community:

As one of the two main university partners on this grant, the School of Disability Studies will be abuzz with research and artistic activity for the next seven years. The School will host many research symposiums— the first of which, the Aging/Disability Symposium will be held February 16th and 17th, 2017 and stay tuned for the second Cripping the Arts symposium happening in 2018. The School will also be the site of the grants Access the Arts Lab, a lab complete with 3D printers, iPads, video editing software, and new technology as it gets developed over the life of the grant that will help make art-making more accessible. This lab is free to use for students, artists, and community members, so feel free to pop by when the lab is set up next winter. The grant will also create a number of research assistantship positions for students, artists, and community members. If you are interested in one of these positions, please get in touch with me.

If you want to hear more about this grant or would like to get involved, please get in touch with me at any time: eliza.chandler@ryerson.ca, 416-979-5000 ext. 6200, office #523.

Looking forward to an exciting next seven years cultivating activist art at the School of Disability Studies!

Eliza

My Graduate School Experience

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.

photograph of man in black ceremonial gown with red hood and black hat with red tassel.
Kevin at his graduate ceremony in 2016.

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.

 

Is that any of your business?

This post was written by current student  Robin Kellner.

photo of Lindsay and Robin.
Robin Kellner winner of the Inaugural Helen Henderson Writing for Disability Activism Award with Lindsay Campbell.

Almost daily, my clients and I are stopped by curious passer-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?