Category Archives: Activism

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!

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CDSA-ACEH Tanis Doe Award for Canadian Disability Study and Culture

The School of Disability Studies is proud to announce that Dr. Esther Ignagni has been awarded the 2018 CDSA-ACEH Tanis Doe Award for Canadian Disability Study and Culture. She was nominated by the Student Alumni Advisory Committee. Below is her nomination letter.

Dear Selection Committee,

We are pleased to nominate Dr. Esther Ignagni for the 2018 CDSA-ACEH Tanis Doe Award for Canadian Disability Study and Culture. Over her 25 year career, Esther has consistently brought together innovative teaching strategies, community-based research, and fierce advocacy for the purpose of enriching the field of Disability Studies and furthering disability justice within and outside of academia. Esther upholds the feminist legacy of Tanis Doe for whom this prestigious award is named.

A proud disabled woman, Esther is a mainstay in the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University where she figures prominently as an Associate Professor. She joined the faculty eight years ago as a community-based intellectual, and she continues to teach and research community-based strategies, politics, and practices relating to disability. Her teaching and research is informed by her lived experience. In 2010, she won the Ryerson Faculty of Community Services Sue Williams Excellence in Teaching Award. In the nomination letter students described Esther as an extraordinary teacher, noting in particular her longstanding influence, her accessibility and approachability and “how much of a superb role model she is in terms of her intellect and critical approach to teaching.” In particular,students credited their success and engagement in the area of local disability rights to Esther’s finely honed capacity to communicate complex and important issues in an accessible manner. Her passion for teaching, research, and learning is infectious. She encourages students to grapple with concepts, engage with research, think through access broadly and have confidence their ability to engage in their community work and to move on to further education.

Students also benefit from Esther’s willingness to hold space for discomfort. Discomfort often accompanies learning, especially when that learning can complicate and trouble your professional work. Many of the students enrolled in Disability Studies at Ryerson University are working professionals, with particular understandings of disability espoused by their workplaces, such as school and health care systems. In these workplaces students are often required to respond to disability in ways that compete with disability-related activism and its intersections, including, for example, mad, queer and Indigenous activisms whose social justice work resists and disrupts such institutional systems. Esther has an innate ability to deftly guide students through that process of discomfort, nurture the desire for future learning and help her students enact disability justice in their workplaces, homes and communities.

Esther’s commitment to excellence in the classroom in pursuit of social justice is matched by her commitment to developing and sustaining a rigorous program of community-based research that furthers disability justice. Committed to grassroots advocacy and activism with disabled people in their everyday contexts, her program of research draws upon participatory, collaborative and community driven methodologies. For example, she was co-investigator with Dr Ann Fudge Schormans (McMaster University) of Reimagining Parenting Possibilities, an Ontario-wide community-based, participatory research initiative. This project grew out of Strength-based Parenting Initiative (SPIN). SPIN is a user-led provincial network, created and operated by and for parents and prospective parents with disabilities of which Esther is member. The project responded to the acute marginalization and containment of people labeled with intellectual/developmental disabilities with respect to parenthood and intimate life. Esther’s sensitive facilitation across universities, with the project advisory committee, community based organizations and participants from First Nations communities made this a truly collaborative project. Creatively, the researchers, including labeled co-researchers, mobilized the knowledge gathered from this inquiry using forum theater, drawing upon Augusto Boal’s theatre of the oppressed. This project culminated in the 2015 Making Space for Intimate Citizenship International conference which brought together people labeled with intellectual disabilities, community partners, academics, Indigenous leaders and artists from around the world.

Esther’s commitment to community-based and informed research is well established. She completed her PhD in 2011 within the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. Her dissertation, Disabled Young People, Support and the Dialogic Work of Accomplishing Citizenship, used sociological theories to explore citizenship as a determinant of young disabled people’s health. Over a period of ten years, Esther engaged a group of disabled youth in creating short films about their experiences of home support as they made the transition from living with their families of origin to living independently. Her analysis brilliantly links these informal conversations to larger theoretical debates on citizenship circulating both locally and nationally.

As stated, Esther’s engagement in Disability Studies and grassroots research and advocacy extends from her own lived experience. To quote Esther directly: “As someone whose everyday life has been shaped by medicine, I am committed to directing critical inquiry towards and with this powerful institution.” Her unique blend of research and advocacy also extends from her time as a community health worker in the anti-violence and HIV/AIDS action movement in the late 1980s and 1990s. Esther asserts that this work shapes her understanding of difference and disability and reinforces the need for intersectional analysis attentive to disability, gender, race, sexual orientation, and class.

Esther is a highly collaborative faculty member who is willing to share her expertise and who contributes a great deal to the overall functioning and spirit of the school. Esther is actively involved with the Ryerson community. She is on the Scholarly, Research and Creative Activities committee for the Faculty of Community Services, she sits on the Internationalization committee at Ryerson, and was the part of the Universal Design for Learning committee. Esther skillfully brings her community engagement into the academic community. She also plays a central role in mentoring new instructors, researchers and students and is highly creative in finding opportunities for them in her growing research program. Certainly, Esther’s research, like that of Tanis Doe, advances the study and culture of disability by “speaking the unspeakable.” More than this, however, Esther’s dedication to creative and ethical community-based research challenges the widespread ableism in the academy and charts new possibilities in knowledge production. It is also fitting that Esther be awarded this prestigious feminist honour, as her work, in many ways, is a continuation of that of Dr. Doe’s. Prior to her death in 2004, Tanis contributed to the development of disability studies programs internationally, challenged barriers to postsecondary education, worked to draw attention to issues of violence against women with disabilities, and explored parenting from the perspective of motherhood within the disability community. In this she was a trailblazer, making space for scholars, including Esther, to continue asking questions about education, gender, and intimate citizenship among others in the scholarship of disability and culture.

Many years ago Ryerson’s School of Disability Studies acquired the Tanis Doe archives, a generous act from her family cementing a relationship that began in 2000 when Tanis Doe was recruited to teach the first research course in our emerging program. In the spirit of remembering Tanis Doe’s legacy the committee would do well to recognize the excellent candidacy of Esther Ignagni for the 2018 Tanis Doe Award for Canadian Disability Study and Culture.

Respectfully submitted,

Ryerson University, School of Disability Studies, Student Alumni Advisory Committee

Marsha Ryan, Hazel Williams, Laura Mele, Trevor Smith, Carling Barry-Spicer, Carolyn Lee-Jones, and Pauline Mwangi

(with Dr Kathryn Church, Director, School of Disability Studies, and Kim Collins, Student Engagement Facilitator)

Making Accessible Media

This post was written by former student, Anne Zbitnew.

 

Screen shot of Accessible Design in Broadcast Media

In fall 2016, the School of Media Studies and Information Technology at Humber College received a grant from the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund for a project called Making Accessible Media: Accessible Design in Broadcast Media.

 

Making Accessible Media: Accessible Design in Broadcast Media was designed for broadcast media professionals, other post-secondary institutions, and all Canadians. This fully accessible open source online course, offered in French and English, focuses on the representation of disability in broadcast media; transcription, captioning; described video and live captioning for broadcast; alternative text for image description and tutorials on how to make documents and presentations inclusive and accessible. The website includes a built-in screen reader and magnifier; all video is captioned and transcribed and original video is accompanied by ASL video; captioned video tutorials with transcripts and accessible PDF descriptions and more.

 

Making Accessible Media: Accessible Design in Broadcast Media is offered through Humber’s School of Media Studies & Information Technology to all 4,000+ Media Studies students, helping to shape the next generation of broadcast experts. While this course offers practical insight into how to make media accessible in the final stages of production, it also reminds that accessibility should not be an afterthought but part of the initial development process. One of the mandates of this course is to raise awareness of the systemic, attitudinal, physical, information and technological barriers that interrupt accessibility in current broadcast media practices.

 

The course is made possible by a generous grant to the School of Media Studies and Information Technology at Humber from The Broadcasting Accessibility Fund, which supports innovative projects providing solutions to promote the accessibility of all broadcasting content in Canada.

 

As broadcasting content becomes widely available across many platforms – televisions, computers, phones – it is critical to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with the practical and technical means to access this content. The Broadcasting Accessibility Fund (BAF) was established for this purpose. The BAF supports projects that address a range of accessibility needs, and encourages project submissions from a variety of applicants and expects that applicants will employ inclusive design, which sees accessibility built in at the earliest possible stage of its development. The BAF supports projects that work to advance accessibility to content across all platforms, and contribute to a model for innovation that will establish Canada as an international leader in broadcasting accessibility.

http://www.baf-far.ca/

Here is a link to the project:  http://www.humber.ca/makingaccessiblemedia/index.html

And some of the key features of each module.

 

Module One-Introduction to Accessible Design in Broadcast Media

AODA Legislation

Representation of Disability in Media

Media Models of Disability

 

Module Two-Creating Accessible Audio Content

 

Manual Transcription and Tips for Transcribing

American Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language

Transcription and Captioning at Humber College

 

Module Three-Captions for Video and Live Events

 

Captioned Video and Tips for Captioning Video

Video Captioning Format and Grammar

Captions for Live Broadcast

 

Module Four-Creating Described Video for Broadcast Media

 

Described Video

Integrated Described Video

Live Description

 

Module Five-Designing Inclusive Images and Words

 

Writing in Plain Language

Alternative Text and Screen Readers

Designing Accessible Documents and Presentations

 

Module Six-Accessibility Innovation in Broadcast Media

 

Broadcasting Accessibility Fund

Broadcast and Beyond

Choosing Inclusive Language and Style Guide

Making Accessible Media: Documenting Our Process

For more information, contact:

 

Project Lead:  Anne Zbitnew  anne.zbitnew@humber.ca

Project Manager: Jennie Grimard  jennie.grimard@humber.ca

Broadcast Media Expert: Mike Karapita  mike.karapita@humber.ca

Ok, let’s talk: A response to the Bell Let’s Talk campaign

This piece is re-posted from 2017. This was written by Danielle Landry. She teaches Mad People’s History as part-time instructor with the School of Disability Studies.

A drawing of a road side stand with the words "psychiatric help 5 cents" on top. Inside the stand there is a person with a blue text box. The bottom of the stand reads "The corporation is in"

Ok, let’s talk.

Let’s talk about how those two new workplace scenario commercials only reinforce the idea that it’s unsafe to talk about mental health to your boss or co-workers, instead of establishing that employers in Ontario actually have a duty to accommodate disabled workers, including those with psychiatric disabilities.

Let’s stop positioning disabled people as charity cases through a-nickel-for-every-text campaigns.

Let’s talk about the erosion of our social systems through corporate greed.

Let’s ask why Bell hasn’t instituted any programs to support its low-income customers, such as if they need a reprieve from paying their bills during a hospital stay.

Let’s talk about why it’s not okay that we have to rely on corporate sponsorship to sustain our mental health system. Let’s ask if corporate influence serves to deter (or co-opt) the kinds of radical approaches and critical thinking that are essential for challenging the mental health system to improve and innovate.

Let’s talk about how we’re constantly establishing and maintaining divisions between people (labels, diagnoses, categories of who is ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’) and how these divisions keep us from working together for change.

Let’s question the false dichotomy that’s been created and is being perpetuated in the media between those ‘productive citizens’ with mental health problems and those ‘others’ diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, and how this is a tactic to divide our community and squash social movement.

Let’s talk about how we shouldn’t shame ourselves for not achieving all of the things the white upper-middle celebrities who’ve ‘come out’ to lead these campaigns have managed to achieve in their ‘overcoming’ narratives.

Let’s acknowledge that our experiences differ based on our various social locations, but let’s come together to recognize how we all have a role to play in dismantling all forms of oppression.

Let’s talk about the importance of community.

Let’s talk about universal access as a standard of living.

Let’s talk about our rights.

Let’s talk about our collective history and where we need to go from here.

Re-thinking Student Distress on University Campuses

This post was written by Tobin LeBlanc Haley, ELA postdoctoral fellow, Ryerson University in response to an article in University Affairs titled: Our role is to support students when they are ready to be students.

I would like to thank Dr. Costopoulos for raising the important topic of student distress and attendant university responses in his August article for University Affairs. Regrettably, the piece does not factor in the social conditions that contribute to or create student distress, such as student debt, gendered violence, racism, ableism/saneism, and homo/transphobia on campus and the hostile post-crisis political climate and labour market.

Instead, the piece collapses distress and mental illness. To put this another way, in the original article all distress is equated with mental illness and any person with a mental illness label is perceived as distressed. In this context the ‘problem’ is mind/body of the student in distress, in particular, those who Costopoulos identifies as the “severely mentally ill and sometimes actively suicidal” who take up a “very significant portion of [university] resources” (a claim which is not cited). The ‘solution’, the fix, is to have these students take time off and access mental health care systems until/if they can “function as students” (something which is not defined) and be less of a burden on the university.

In addition to ignoring the social nature of distress, the significant problems with mental health care systems in Canada are also sidelined. Yet, these are problems that have been well documented. A very few examples include long-wait times (Canadian Institute for Health Information 2012), services that do not make space for Indigenous knowledges and expertise related to mental health (Clark et al 2017) and involuntary treatment practices which have been identified as a violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to which Canada is a signatory (Minkowitz 2014). Is medicalizing distress and simply passing students off to mental health care systems (although certainly, they should be able to access public mental health services if they desire) while de-enrolling them from the university a solution?

The collapsing of distress and psychiatric diagnosis, the silence on broader systemic issues that can lead to or exacerbate student distress and the misrepresentation of mental health care systems belies an unawareness of Disability Studies or an unwillingness to engage with this scholarship. For more than forty years, Disability Studies scholars and activists, many of us who have been students in distress and/or students with psychiatric diagnoses, have argued against the individual/medical approach (see for e.g. Oliver 1983), most recently its mobilization under neoliberalism (Morrow and Halinka Malcoe 2017), developing instead a rich body of work about the social production of disability and mental illness (see Meekosha & Shuttleworth 2009, LeFrancois et al 2013). Briefly, in challenging the individual/medical model, Disability Scholars caution against a myopic focus on the individual body drawing attention to the social relations that define and often limit bodies. The focus on bodies obfuscates external factors (e.g., oppression) while simultaneously explaining the implications (e.g., distress) through the mobilization of solely pathological explanations. Certainly, we, as scholars, can understand that distress is not produced in a vacuum but rather emerges from the location of bodies in the current conjuncture discussed above and the devaluing of bodily/mind difference. The very notion of “functioning as a student” must be understood within this broader context, especially as university educators rank people thereby opening up or foreclosing future opportunities. How can we not take into account the world in which we are situated and the challenges it brings for our students when mobilizing this power?

Which brings me to the issue of accommodation. Typically, universities provide accommodation for those barriers to education that can be quantified (e.g., more time on exams to create an equitable testing experience). Should we not also be thinking about how issues like poverty, unaffordable childcare, systemic racism and colonialism, gendered violence and pathologized difference create material inequalities that can make living in the world more “distressing” for some people than others (whether they have a psychiatric diagnosis or not)? Simply telling students who experience distress to leave until they get better (even if financial and academic penalties are eliminated) means we are asking students in distress to individually cope with unequal social relations of power, the very social relations of power which are present on university campuses. Moreover, such an exclusionary practice is discriminatory and would likely be a violation of students’ Human Rights.

We must not treat students in distress as if they have nothing to contribute and/or as people who must be protected from their ‘poor decisions’ (e.g. remaining enrolled). Instead, we must ask them what they want and need and cultivate this support to ensure that they are not unfairly excluded from universities (permanently or temporarily). The following recommendations are potential first steps:

1. That the language used to describe students in distress recognizes that distress is related to oppression within and outside of the university including poverty, ableism/saneism, racism, homo/transphobia, and patriarchy.

2. That it be recognized that student distress will always exist so long as oppression persists, and all efforts to deal with distress must be connected to decolonizing, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-poverty, pro-LGBTQ work on campus.

3. That in lieu of “the mentally ill”, language about mental health be fully representative of the diverse identities of people living with mental illness labels; for example, consumers/survivors/ex-patients/Mad people (or c/s/x/m) or some agreed upon alternative developed by impacted students. This grouping of terms, which comes from a robust social movement, represents the multiplicity of understandings of mental illness categories developed by the c/s/x/m communities.

4. That students experiencing or who have experienced in distress, especially including c/s/x/m students, BIPOC students, and LGBTQ students, lead all consultations and changes related to mental health and associated support services on campus (including accommodation) and be paid for this labour.

5. That all administrators, faculty members and services providers involved in mental health care and associated services on universities campus take a course on the history of mental health care in Canada.

6. That this course be offered by scholars and/or community members who belong to the c/s/x/m community, especially including BIPOC and LGBTQ peoples, and that all involved be paid for this labour.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a starting point to shift the recent attention to mental health and distress on campuses away from a conversation about pathologization and exclusion.

Works cited

Canadian Institute for Health Information. (2012). Chapter 4: Waits for Specialized Care. Health Care in Canada 2012: A Focus on Wait Times. Available at: https://www.cihi.ca/sites/default/files/document/hcic2012_ch4_en.pdf

Clark, N., Walton, P., Drolet, J., Tribute, T., Jules, G., Main, T., & Arnouse, M. (2017). Melq’ilwiye: Coming Together: Intersections of Identity, Sovereignty and Mental Health for Urban Indigenous Youth. In M. Morrow & L. Halinka Malcoe (Eds.) Critical Inquiries For Social Justice in Mental Health (pp. 165-193). Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

LeFrancois, B., Menzies, R., & Reaume, G. (eds). (2013). Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies. Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars Inc.

Meekosha, H., and R. Shuttleworth. 2009. What’s So ‘critical’ about Critical Disability Studies? Australian Journal of Human Rights 15 (1), 47–75.

Minkowitz, T. (2013). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Liberation from Psychiatric Oppression. In B. Burstow, B. LeFrançois and S. Diamond (Eds.) Psychiatry Disrupted (pp. 129-144). London: McGill-Queens University Press.

Morrow, M. & Halinka Malcoe, L. (eds.). (2017). Critical Inquiries For Social Justice in Mental Health. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press.

Oliver, M. (1983). Social Work with Disabled People. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Introducing the 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

Committee Chair: 

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

Committee Vice Chair:

Greetings! My name is Carolyn Lee-Jones and I am a 2016 graduate of the Disability Studies program at Ryerson University. I first joined the Disability Studies Student Advisory and Alumni Committee (SAAC) while I was still a student in the program. After completing the DST course Strategies for Community Building I was looking for a way to increase my involvement and activism at Ryerson and becoming part of the SAAC was just the ticket. I am thrilled continue on with the SAAC, now as an alumni member.

Influenced by over a decade working front line in the disability sector my research interests include social justice, accessible learning and equity through social policy, Mad studies and the geographies of space and movement. When I am not engaged in research or working I keep a healthy balance in my life by pursuing my other passion; training for and running ½ marathons.

Members at Large:

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. This resulted in her thesis project, in which Marsha described her journey of following (virtually and live) a charismatic Canadian disability rights advocate David Lepofsky, as she believes David will be one of the first to bring the Canadians with Disabilities Act. 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 SAC, as this is a way to bring change.

My name is Laura Mele.  I am in my second year of Disability Studies and a member at large. I join the SAAC last January to become more involved in the school. I grew up in a small town called Point Edward in southwest Ontario. I have been involved with individuals with various disabilities for the past 23 years. If you want to gain experience you should considering joining the committee.

Ms. Pauline Wangari Mwangi is a passionate community leader. As a
Developmental Service worker with over 10 years experience, she stands
for more than simple approach to leadership, her goal is to  inspire
unconventional thinking and transparency that delivers unparalleled
results  in the area of developmental services, community housing,
women’s rights & mental health. Ms. Mwangi currently sits at Human Rights Committee Review board and Student Alumni Advisory Committee (SAAC).

Hi. My name is Hazel Williams and I am currently taking my second course in the Disabilities Studies degree program. I am really excited to be in this program and looking forward to expanding knowledge and continuing my work as an advocate.

Trevor Smith is a member at large who is in his second year of Disability Studies.

 

 

Ordinary Extraordinary Activism

In 2017 students and staff at The School of Disability Studies launched five web-docs aiming to bring current disability activism into online classrooms. This project was a collaboration between Student Advisory Committee members Marsha Ryan, Nicole Meehan, Emily Delbecchi, Pauline Mwangi, Carolyn Lee-Jones, and Laura Mele. Chelsea Jones, Kim Collins and Melanie Panitch were the primary investigators on this project.

Developed with a grant from Ryerson’s Learning and Teaching Enhancement Fund, these web-docs responded to requests from part-time online students to form “real world” connections with Toronto-based disability activists. This multidisciplinary project asked contemporary disability activists to think through the ways in which they challenge the status quo in their day-to-day work. Activists spoke to themes of: online queer movements, mad activism, accessible city building, crip arts, and institutional survival.

Some of the web-docs highlight more than one disciplinary theme. For example, activist Melanie Marsden discusses the politics of parenting and allyship in this 6-minute film:

Many students enrolled in this part-time program are Southern Ontario-based professionals who take classes across faculties. They are online learners with particular understandings of disability espoused by their workplaces, such as school and health care systems. They are often required to respond to disability in ways that are in opposition to disability-related activism and its intersections, including, for example, mad and queer activists whose social justice work resists and disrupts school and health care systems. In her discussion about siloed services and sexuality, Fran Odette describes the significance of interdependent and independent decision making within these and other systems:

As learners, Ryerson students are called to orient themselves to broader understandings of disability in order to effectively engage in community. Therefore, our objectives in producing these films were to:

Produce fully accessible teaching tools for online instructors
Build connections with disability communities beyond our work and school
Learn from real world disability activism/s that connect theory and practice
Highlight Toronto-based social justice movements
Develop a digital archive of disability activism

Wide-reaching in scope, these accessible web docs bring Toronto’s disability leaders into online classrooms, thus empowering students to forge knowledgeable connections with the wider disability community that may be difficult to access from their professionalized vantage points. For example, Disability Pride March co-creator Kevin Jackson discusses his work organizing the annual event in Toronto:

This project started in January 2016 and was completed in June 2017. Our commitment to accessibility was that involved consideration of the ableist barriers over which all of the contributors behind these web docs have little control. The need for flexibility in any disability-based project stems from features of its diversity: a dependency on attendants, extra time needed for accessible transportation, equipment malfunctions, an ableist encounter with a stranger that interrupts filming and shifting understanding of consent (Kafer, 2013). Eliza Chandler offers some examples of the ways in which it is important to think broadly about access in creating cultural spaces and representation of disability in this film:

Importantly, these web docs are be accessible in that they apply to the AODA’s Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation. The web docs are transcribed, captioned, and presented with ASL interpretation. However, through the production of these films we learned that accessibility is fluid; our understanding of access changed throughout the production process. We learned to think through crip time, the politics of storytelling, ethics, and collaboration:

Crip time: Working in crip time means understanding that accessibility is a broad concept; accessibility means meeting AODA barriers and simultaneously understanding that people face ableist barriers as they tell their stories
The politics of storytelling: often stories are not told in linear ways, but rather in fragments as Barry’s film demonstrates.
Ethics: Consent is an ongoing process that can change and impact production.
Collaboration: Negotiating creative differences and the importance of being entrusted with others’ stories is a key part of the creative process.

Each of these features–crip time, the politics of storytelling, ethics, and collaboration–emerged in our work with Barry Smith, whose story emerged gradually through one interview Here, Barry tells his stories of living both in and outside of Huronia Regional Centre.

In total, the project lasted spanned 19 months and cost approximately $13,000 in total. Our costs were divided as follows:

Pre-production (research such as interviews and participant honorariums): $1400
Production (filming): $4,500
Post-production (editing, captions, audio descriptions and ASL interpretation): $7,000
Cost of dissemination (conferences, posters, and screenings): $100

 

 

 

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.

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