This post was written by Tobin LeBlanc Haley who holds the ELA postdoctoral fellowship in the school of Disability Studies.
Content Warning: The following is sardonic and involves discussion of eating disorders, racism, homophobia and patriarchy
As a young woman I consumed (if you will pardon the pun) every movie about eating ‘disorders’ I could get my hands on; think “Thin”, “For the Love of Nancy”, “Sharing the Secret”, “The Smartest Little Girl in the World” and “Kate’s Secret”…the list goes on, but note these films are largely about white women (I am also a white woman). Sometimes the viewings were, admittedly, about “tips” but, more often they were an attempt to feel less isolated, about trying to get a handle on why most of my time was taken up with behaviours that got me assigned an eating disorder diagnosis. Although I watched, re-watched and analyzed these movies, they never did bring me a sense of peace or a feeling of citizenship in a common community. Instead, they made me feel more isolated, broken, damaged, crazy, sad and alone in my attempts to control the world around me and to numb the pain of living in that world by filling up, emptying and contorting my own body.
Now, as a Mad scholar, when I look back on the inability of this form of storytelling to offer me comfort or community I can see that it is because these films were deeply oppressive. They offered me no sense of the root causes of my own experience, suggesting instead that I could not mentally cope in a world that demands that people who present as female be very thin as well as unassuming, well-behaved and uncritical. My brain, I was taught, was ill-equipped for this world and the challenges it brings, while ‘normal’ people (i.e., people without eating disorders or any psychiatric diagnosis) were mentally strong enough, mentally well enough, to cope.
This way of understanding distress, as we as critical scholars know, in anemic. It is a reification of the social conditions underpinning eating ‘disorders’ (e.g., gendered violence, precarity, racism); a means of locating distress in the individual, clinicalizable, medicatable body. This is Mad Studies 101 (see LeFrancois, Menzies, Reaume 2013), but as a young woman, I did not have access to this critique. I did not have access to media or support that positioned my body and mind socially.
Which is why I was so excited when I read the reviews of “To The Bone”, Netflix’s new movie about eating disorders and one in a long-line of disability-themed movies and shows. This was a movie made by and with people with eating disorders that was supposed to be a fresh new take on anorexia and the ‘patient’-therapist relationship.
It was not.
The Freudian tour-de-force follows the experiences of Ellen, an anorexic woman with an absent father, pushy step-mother and bi-polar lesbian mother (sigh), through her ‘journey’ into residential treatment and then ‘recovery.’ There are some departures from the tradition eating ‘disorder’ film, for example, the patients live in a large house instead of a hospital and can eat what they want. However, in the film they are still subjected to weigh-ins and post-meal locked toilets. The film, which was supposed to challenge the typical ‘patient’-therapist relationship, instead sees Keanu Reeves (Dr. Beckham) taking the residents on supervised outings and their days being made up of individual and group counselling. Some of these scenes could come right out of the documentary “Thin.” There is no attempt to understand Ellen’s experiences beyond her own home life (remember absent dad, divorced parents, new step-mom and bi-polar lesbian mom), her individual ‘obsession’ with being thin and the fact that some of her Thinspo art contributed to a suicide. Instead, we are only inside Ellen’s head. There is no space for social relations of power in this film.
Instead, there is a mounting sense that unless Ellen can get a ‘grip,’ she will die. Fortunately, she comes around after a soul-searching night in the mountains and allows her mother to bottle-feed her rice milk to recover some of her lost childhood and their lost connection. It is a cringe-worthy as it sounds. What I found more upsetting that the rather blasé and individualistic plot that reproduced existing tropes about eating disorders, was the treatment of queerness, gender, disability, and race.
When considering the representation of queerness in the film, I was left both dissatisfied with the analysis and alarmed. The film seems to assume that the mother’s bi-polar diagnosis, her coming out as a lesbian and her subsequent romantic relationship with a woman had a negative impact on Ellen. Absent is consideration of persistent homophobia and the alienating impact this may have had on Ellen’s relationship with her mother. Moreover, the bi-polar diagnosis applied to the character of the mother, which is barely unpacked, is irresponsible as it ignores the long history of the psychiatric pathologization of queer people (see, e.g. Chesler 1972; Carr 2005).
When considering gender relations, absent is any consideration of how women with psychiatric diagnoses are cast as “bad mothers”. Instead, there is an undercurrent in the film that Ellen’s eating disorder, her mental ‘illness,’ was inherited from her mother both biologically and as a result of her coming out and leaving the family. Similarly, Ellen’s relationship with her step-mother is fraught as it is the step-mother, in light of the absent father, who is left to do most of the family labour involved in Ellen’s ‘recovery’ and who offloads much of the day-to-day work involved in running the household on to a racialized and feminized housekeeper played by Joanna Sanchez. While the father is portrayed as a troubling, unhelpful character, there is no consideration of how such normative gender roles create conditions in which women are exploited and undervalued and the role of such patriarchal relations in eating disorders. Against the backdrop of these patriarchal family relations, Ellen enters into a relationship with a male patient who is, frankly, obsessive and then ‘rescues’ her in a dream sequence at the end of the film.
There are, to my recollection, two people of colour with named roles in the film. There is the previously mentioned Latinix housekeeper, Rosa, whose accent is mocked by Ellen’s sister (and whose contribution to the family is never unpacked in relation to the feminization and racialization of social reproduction (Arat-Koc 2006)) and a Black female played by Lindsey McDowell. Kendra, the only Black woman with a speaking role in the film, is not thin unlike all the other white women in the film. While it is good, I guess, to recognize that eating ‘disorders’ impact people across social location and that that not all eating disorders result in thin bodies, I am left to wonder precisely why it was a Black body was expected to represent the non-thin contingent. I was left to conclude that this film, precisely because it did not explore Kendra’s Black body and her experience, was ignoring the whiteness embedded in the beauty myth and the implications for women of colour. Moreover, given the weak healthcare coverage in the USA, I was left wondering precisely how these ‘patients’ paid for their residency and whether or not this was a movie about eating disorder or white rich women’s experiences with eating disorders.
Overall, I found the film absent of social critique and heavy on individuals, erasing the very social context from which these individuals emerged. Also, some actor had to starve herself to play this role…is this truly a new form of storytelling about eating disorders? We need to do better. We need Mad interventions into eating disorders.
Carr, S. (2005). “The sickness label infected everything we said”: Lesbian and gay perspectives on mental disorder. In J. Tew (Ed.), Social perspectives in mental health: Developing social models to understand work and mental distress (pp. 168-183). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Chesler, P. (1972). Women and madness. New York: Avon Books.
LeFrancois, B., Menzies, R., & Reaume, G. (Eds.). (2013). Mad matters: A critical reader in Canadian mad studies. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Inc. Press.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
Good afternoon everyone. I feel honoured and humbled to have been asked by Kathryn and Esther to deliver the Student Perspective speech today as well as being awarded the Jake Edelsen Award in Community Organizing. I want to also extend my congratulations to all the award recipients who have been recognized for their efforts and thank you to the donors for your contributions who made these awards possible.
If you were to ask me back in 2008 when I freshly graduated with my Behavioural Sciences diploma what my next endeavour would be, my answer probably wouldn’t have included Disability Studies. I didn’t know it existed until a former professor told me about it but in all honesty, I believe Disability Studies chose me and I’m glad it did. For a majority of us students, it all begins at the summer intensive, DST 501 “Rethinking Disability” with Esther Ignagni in what I like to call the “unlearning stage”. Unpacking and questioning disability was something I’ve never considered before and this opened up a whole new understanding of disability from the perspective of disabled people.. For me, this was not only revolutionary in altering my understanding but it forever shaped the way I interacted with the world: from the language I used, to the models and theories I referenced to the way I repositioned myself as an advocate and ally to the disability community. We were introduced to varying schools of thought by experts in the field like Kumari-Campbell, Razack, Freire, Finkelstein, Tregaskis, Garland-Thomson, Bell and Crenshaw just to name a few. What I loved most about the intensive was having the chance to spend a couple weeks with my classmates and bounce around our ideas and individual experiences with disability.
I always knew I wanted to be involved in community organizing for the inclusion of people with disabilities: I ran free a tutoring club for low-income children with learning disabilities, wrote a few proposals for international programs focusing on education for children with disabilities yet it wasn’t until I progressed about halfway through the program, I got that moment of truth. I learned about Inclusive Design in DST 614 and for me that was it, I found my calling! Now as a graduate, I can say that I have found a tangible way to apply my learnings and my passion for advocacy by considering future graduate studies in the field of Inclusive Design. My thesis project was a great wrap-up to my academic career at Ryerson as I explored inclusion for people with disabilities in the Anti-Black Racism movement. What I enjoyed most about the program is there were always opportunities to refresh your perspective and apply it to your everyday life. Let’s take the social model of disability for example. Think about how that one concept alone has altered the way you are in the workplace with coworkers, disabled people and their families. And also, how many teaching moments you had where you were talking to family and friends and you educated them about how societal barriers perpetuate disability. Sound familiar?
All-in-all, this program taught me how to think critically and consider new point of views. I never knew what a “critical lens” was before but eventually I found myself applying it to my studies. This leads me to give some advice to current students in the program. My first piece of advice to current students would be to take as many electives as you can and see what role a critical disability lens can play. The diverse range of elective courses give you the freedom to pursue other fields of study that enhance your journey through the Disability Studies program and I believe, makes you more well-rounded. One of the electives I took was International Community Development. I enjoyed this elective very much and being a Disability Studies student allowed me to bring the theoretical framework into it for my final essay about children with disabilities living in improvised communities. I also found that I was able to do that with a majority of my elective courses.
My second piece of advice is get to know the members of the faculty and staff. They’re awesome! They are so knowledgeable in the field and are so hands-on. Ask Paris about the random emails I sent her almost every semester about my course selection or Esther about the amount of times during DST 99 I showed up to her office just to pick her brain about my major research project. They were each always so gracious and accommodating to assist me.
My last piece of advice is to take your time through the program so you can really engage with the learning process. It took me a full 8 years to complete the program and it was not a fact I liked to share with people when they asked me but when I arrived on the presentation day for our final projects, I heard the journeys of other students and what it took for them to reach this point of completion. This made me proud of what taking this program has made me both professionally, academically and personally. I hope that throughout the remainder of your studies here at Ryerson, you will continue soak up all that comes your way to help you forge your academic path and ultimately become creators and influencers in the world at large.
I would like to end by thanking the biggest creators and influencers, our professors who exemplify the school’s motto of vision, passion and action. Your contributions impact not only our academic lives but help to shape the future climate of our society to be more compassionate, knowledgeable and inclusive. We appreciate all that you do to allow us to reach our highest potential in this field through your continuous support. You provide us opportunities to grow, to get involved and to lead. For me personally, your mentorship has molded me into the woman standing in front of you today. Thank you for choosing me 8 years ago to be apart of the Disability Studies family.
Lee Armstrong: Lee planned a degree in art history but found a more satisfying career path through a Developmental Service Worker diploma that led to Disability Studies. Working in a range of service settings “sparked the fire” in her to learn to think about disability in new ways which she has done through five semesters in our program. Based in an Ottawa hospital, her job in augmentative communication and writing services challenges her every day to apply classroom knowledge to advocacy for people’s right to a voice.
Naleni Jacob: Naleni immigrated to Canada in the 1990s with her two sons, one of whom is disabled, and has been the sole provider for them ever since. It is through experiences of parenting that she has come to Disability Studies, specifically through fighting for her son’s rights to education. She knows intimately the struggles that immigrants, in particular, face in attempting to achieve substantive inclusion, and has been heavily involved in parental outreach, and addressing issues of long-term care. She has become an activist mother.
Joanne McQuinn (not present due to debilitating back pain): A new student to Disability Studies, Joanne is “incredibly excited and proud to be part of such an amazing program”. She is employed as an Educational Assistant in a high school program for autistic students. In this context, she is an advocate for rights, justice and change in what is still called “special education.” Her goal is to work in post-secondary student accessibility services or helping disabled students transition to post-secondary studies.
Alisha Barfoot travelled from her home in Owen Sound to celebrate with us today. she has dedicated her academic and professional career to the practice of inclusive education. It is her passion — even if it means being unsettled in a job where disabled students are denied the meaningful learning experiences. A 2017 graduate of our program, Alisha’s final independent study painted portraits of inclusive education based on accounts of actual practice provided by inclusive educators.
Ryan Mcinally is filling the routine periods of unemployment that he experiences in his job with courses towards his Disability Studies degree – which he expects to complete by 2019. He works in an alternative classroom supporting at-risk youth, many of who have mental health labels. In our program, he is thinking about the contradictions of his own role, and using those reflections to develop strategies for improving the lives of students. This award supports Ryan’s educational aspirations, and his growing advocacy as an educator.
Ronnie Samarita: As a high school student, a co-op placement in an adult day program for labelled people sparked Ronnie into a Developmental Services Worker program and from there to Disability Studies. As an Educational Assistant, speaking up for students is a daily part of practice. Ronnie is grasping the complexities of the “support worker” role and looking to broaden his work into a range of age groups and school settings.
Nabella Siddique is of Pakistani origin but was born on the tiny Middle Eastern island of Bahrain where she perceives a powerful need for disability rights activism and the voices of disabled people. Taking up disability from a Canadian perspective has caused her to think about marginalization and discrimination as a global issue. As a teaching assistant with the Peel school board, she can feel the impact of Disability Studies in the way she deals with her students. As the twin sister of a disabled woman, she has a personal stake in inclusive education, human dignity and peace.
Megan Suggitt (unable to attend) is a first year student in our program who reports that she is already perceiving the world around her in ways that are more culturally alert – whether it is to Indigeneous people in Canada, the Hearing Voices movement or students with learning disabilities in educational settings around the world. Her studies with us and with Child and Youth care inspired her to start a non-profit business which offers support services to disadvantaged youth.
Sophia Owenya is a teacher and educational assistant from Windsor Essex who has spent more than 20 years providing support to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Involved with charity organizations locally and internationally, she has done volunteer work in Rwanda and Tanzania. She is passionate about Disability Studies and determined to complete the program on schedule. This award upholds her hopes.
Nicole Cadwallader: In her application, Nicole tells us that Disability Studies has shaken her world. She started this program with zero knowledge about disability as social and political – but after three years, she is critically examining the world through potent new theoretical lenses. She works in the educational sector where disabled children and their families are still fighting for their rights. She knows what it is like to question the programs and systems that employ her but this program has given her tools to analyze how those systemic issues are being created. This award supports Nicole’s refusal to accept educational gaps as “normal” – and her pursuit of purposeful education for disabled students.
Melissa Rideout: For the past four years, Melissa has worked as a Teaching Assistant for the Peel District School Board. She came to Disability Studies to increase her knowledge and become a better advocate, to know how to speak back to demeaning comments in the face of the powers that teachers wield in classrooms. As her course work deepens, she reports that she is “gaining backbone”, getting fueled up to be the advocate she wants to be. She has learned that being a disability advocate means you are an advocate for every race, class and gender. She writes: “The job I may get after this program is not as important as the knowledge I foster and the leader I become.”
Francis Pineda: From first-hand experience as a racialized student, Francis can testify to the barriers that students face in completing post-secondary education – starting with high tuition fees. For several years he has been active in student politics and marked his third term with the Continuing Education Students’ of Ryerson by being elected its president. Through a range of collective projects, he tries to center marginalized voices such as those of disabled students. In Disability Studies, Francis finds support for deconstructing, challenging and unpacking the dominant system. His engagement in this program is shifting the pathway he will take after graduation.
Darlene Murrain: Darlene has always wanted to be involved in community organizing for the inclusion of disabled people. Her final independent study was about placing disabled people in the anti-black racism movement. But Darlene’s big aha! moment was learning about Inclusive Design from Charles Silverman in DST 614. “That was it”, she writes, “I had found my calling!” Now, as a graduate, she feels that she has tangible ways to apply her learnings. Her aspiration is to follow her passion by pursuing graduate studies in the field of Universal Design and education.
After a decade in the sector, Meghan Hogg is grounded in a feminist social justice approach to counselling and support in response to violence against women. In 2009-10, for Nellie’s Shelter, she co-researched and wrote a position paper on the intersections of trauma and violence, picking up on the ways that women’s voices and experiences are pathologised through systemic medicalized responses to trauma. In conference presentations and training workshops she draws upon the work of Mad activists/scholars, and describes the conversations that ensue as “sticky, profound, emotional, illuminating and deeply relevant” for professional practice.
Marsha Ryan: Originally from Moldova, Marsha brings to Disability Studies a political consciousness drawn from the confluence of Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian identities, languages and cultures. In Canada, Disability Studies has become her second home – a place where she encounters people who demonstrate leadership around injustice in a complex world. Last year, for her final independent study, Marsha spent most of the winter shadowing AODA activist David Lepofsky in his relentless pursuit of a provincial Educational Accessibility Standard. Using visual mapping, word walls and Twitter analytics, she teased out the ways that he builds community, shapes and disseminates ideas towards a more inclusive society.
KATHRYN: Disability Studies has an active Student Advisory Committee working with Kim Collins, our Student Engagement Facilitator to demonstrate community engagement strategies for/amongst part-time learners at a distance. This year, the committee wishes to recognize Paris Master-McRae for her powerful contribution to their work and the life of the School. Marsha Ryan will speak for the committee.
MARSHA: Paris Master-McRae is the gold standard when it comes to the School of Disability Studies. She knows the system from within. She knows it both as the Student Affairs Coordinator and as a program student, now Graduate and Alumni, Class of 2015. She is also an award winner, the recipient of the Malcolm Jeffreys Leadership Award. To Paris, “disability studies is not just a job or a program it is a community, a family.” She is a change-maker and a tireless advocate for values of the school, faculty and university. Guided by the Disability Studies motto “Vision. Passion. Action” her day-to-day work propels the work of equity, inclusion, and diversity. She will do whatever it takes and more to support staff, faculty and students, to offer encouragement and to explore new ideas. Paris’s welcoming smile, infectious laughter and open door create an environment that cultivates collegiality, camaraderie and solidarity in seeking disability justice.
Rukiyah Ghani: Rukiyah is a first generation post-secondary student whose experiences reflect the challenges and joys of both immigration and disability. Close in age, Rukiyah and her brother navigate their community together, as he faces both discrimination and institutionalization. Much of her knowledge and skill in disability advocacy is gained from this lived experience. An accomplished student, she makes powerful links between the classroom, community and professional practice. Described as “exceptional” by her instructors, she is serving as a member of School Council where we benefited from her gentle intelligence.
Laura Mele: Laura’s application came in with two shining letters of reference: one from the mother of a young woman who is designated Medically Fragile and with whom Laura has worked for 18 years. The other came from Dr. Chelsea Jones, an instructor in our program who writes that “Laura’s work revolves around the task of improving the lives of others – from small gestures to large strides in various fields of study.” A resident of Sarnia, Laura identifies as a disabled rural woman, and often pulls the geographic peripheries into class discussion. She is making her mark through participation on the Student Advisory Committee and relationship-building in its many projects.
DAVID: In its attempts to “change the conversation” around mental health, Disability Studies at Ryerson links social movement issues and actions with the fresh scholarship of Mad Studies. To mark my 70th birthday, some friends paid the tuition fees for someone to take Mad People’s History – the course that I helped to create and taught here for many years. That gesture has become a yearly ritual as has the involvement of Working for Change, the community organization from which the recipient is selected and where I am pleased to be a member of the board.
We regret to tell you that last year’s recipient, Adrienne Mageenis, passed away this year. Adrienne was a graduate of the Women Speak Out Leadership Training course at Working for Change and a passionate advocate on issues related to mental health. She participated on numerous committees and Boards of Directors for non-profit mental health agencies. She was very committed to furthering her education in the field of mental health. Our community misses her strong voice, perspectives and wisdom.
This year’s recipient is Desiree Bowen. Desiree is a graduate of En Route to Employment and is now working as a Program Assistant at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health CAMH. She has a keen interest in Peer Work. Mad People’s History will provide her with a strong background and understanding of the history of the survivor movement.
Erin Poudrier: Erin graduated this Spring. In reflecting on her time in the program, she is most proud of her development as an academic writer. Her application included course papers on cultural representation, and bioethics, as well as her final independent study titled Precarious Terrain: Narratives of American Sign Language Interpreters. She explained that her disability consciousness “did not happen overnight. Rather it was a journey through reading and writing about learning” with feedback from professors that overcame her skepticism and uncertainty. Erin had the pleasure to get to know Helen in the summer of 2014 when they both took the community building course.” I am thrilled to accept”, she wrote. “I feel truly honored to receive this award in Helen’s name.”
Maria Teresa Larrain: A mature student in our program, Maria Teresa is a Chilean Canadian film-maker and community organizer. She has just released Shadow Girl, a film that follows her journey into blindness and her encounter with a group of blind Chilean street vendors from whom she learns a different way to look and to see. Maria spent several years making this film – some of it shot on the Ryerson campus during one of our summer institutes – and much of the past year in its international promotion. The film has been recognized by the Circle of Chilean Art Critics (Best Documentary), DIVA Film Festival (Best Film, Best Director, Best Sound), FEDOCHI Film Festival (Best National Documentary), DocsBarcelona Valparaiso Festival (Best National Film Audience Award), FIDOCS Film Festival (Audience Award) and the Vogyakarta Film Festival (Special Jury Award). We are so pleased in Emma’s memory to recognize Maria Teresa and to support her ongoing work.
Jerusalem Bete: A recent graduate of the Developmental Service Worker program at Centennial College, Jerusalem is looking to increase her knowledge and her impact as a worker. Member of a family who migrated from Ethiopia, she and a brother who is autistic grew up in the diverse Toronto neighborhood of Flemingdon Park. She knows the many challenges that racialized disabled people face in life. With educational challenges herself, she is keen to expand her capacities to support others.
Hedy Ng (not present): Resident of Markham, Ontario, Hedy works as an Adult Education Literacy Program Assistant. Unable to complete her early studies, she is now a single parent raising a son who has been diagnosed with ASD. She regained her educational pathway by taking any seminars or class she could find. Her path to our program began with the Accessibility Practices Certificate which, after seven courses, she used as a platform for launching into program admission. Great stamina, Hedy.
John Okot: Following his completion of the Developmental Service Worker diploma at Fanshawe College in London, John comes to us with a strong desire for further education and a broader range of job opportunities. Prior to returning to school in 2013, he drove transport truck for almost eight years – which was a living but one that did not allow him to make the kind of difference he wants to in other people’s lives. One of his long-term goals is to use the skills he develops to educate young people in his country of origin, South Sudan, Africa.
Ann Beatty: With connections to disability in her personal life and her job as a support worker, Ann enjoys learning new theoretical frameworks, risking challenging topics, connecting her coursework with her personal life and generally thinking through the complexities of how disability is understood in society. Since 2005 when she started the program, she has completed nearly all of the DST courses and is poised to begin her final independent study towards degree completion in April 2018. Having faced challenges as a working student, this award will provide very meaningful assistance to her in completing her studies.
Christina Devlin: Christina started her Disability Studies program in 2014 as a self-advocate who was running a support group for Autism Ontario (London chapter). Being a co-researcher on Esther’s parenting possibilities research introduced her to Disability Studies and this program has given her greater confidence as an autistic person living in a neurotypical-dominated society. Christina draws direct connections between course materials, assignments and her growing activism including leadership with a grassroots, intersectional, user-led, peer support and advocacy organization that is run collectively by autistic people. She is headed into Research Methods this fall, pressing towards degree completion and savoring a dream to work for the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Adriano Aguiar – Life measured in feet: An arts-informed inquiry
Linh Chau – Illness and disability in the workplace: Living the organizational experience
Nadia Lembo – Disability as a story that connects us: Exploring the impact of narrative moments
Karine Roy – (not present ) Critical Discourse Analysis of InVitro Fertilization (IVF): “Your embryos are not grade A”!
Brittany Van Beilen – ABLLS-R Activated: The invisible connections within ABA: An institutional ethnography
This post was written by graduating student, Darlene Murrain.
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.
This post was written by Disability Studies alumna, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is an assumption of disability as monolithic – that disability is stable and physical and visible.
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.
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!
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.