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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
This post is written by Kevin Jackson. Graduate of the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson and now graduate of the Masters of Arts in Critical Disability Studies program at York University.
As a recent graduate of York University’s Critical Disability Studies (CDiS) master’s degree program (part-time), I wondered about how I should sum up all of my experiences in such a short space. Well, the first point that needs to be expressed is that I am a DST graduate (2014), and this is specifically written for Ryerson DST future/present graduates. As this piece will demonstrate, being a Ryerson DST grad gives CDiS MA students a tremendous advantage in the CDiS MA program.
My story would have to begin on orientation day. I was terrified. We all met in our dedicated Vari Hall classroom where I met my fellow MA/PhD students. We introduced ourselves and discussed the program. Thankfully Dr. nancy halifax was familiar with me from an edited collection to which we were both contributing. She was friendly and openly acknowledged my work. I felt this was a good way to start my MA! However, as I was delighted to discover, this was just the beginning of many outstanding experiences I would have in CDiS program.
The next thing to tackle were the actual classes. I recall the first few weeks of the mandatory disability studies overview class/tutorial with Dr. Geoffrey Reaume. I was overjoyed to learn that I was not only familiar with the themes, but that I had already read many of the assigned readings back in my DST undergrad! Although I did all of the readings again, I made sure to make notes that would allow me to make a few comments per class, which as anyone who knows can testify is a challenge for me. But with such small classes, great professors, and already being familiar with the themes/readings, I found class participation to be very manageable. In fact, I found my overall grades actually rose higher than my undergrad! Let me repeat that for DST students who might be worried about their capability to do the MA coursework: Yes, I actually received better grades in my MA than my BA. This was due to several factors—including the fact that I was academically supported (great profs), was dedicated to my academics (did all of the readings, research, and assignments), and that I was free to do my coursework. This last point cannot be overstated. One needs to consider their personal situation to determine if their job, social life, and even family can manage the amount of work that an MA requires. Certainly, doing the MA part-time could reduce the workload, but there are disadvantages to this as well. In all cases, there is a generous amount of work that you will be required to do to continue in the program (no less than a B for any course).
While CDiS is very good with accommodating disability and Madness, taking time off from the program is problematic. York University (but not CDiS itself) has a policy know as “continuous registration,” where once a student is enrolled, they cannot take time off from the program without financial penalty. That is to say, even if you have an accommodation (or even a MD’s letter) and you require time off, you will be charged for taking time off from the program. This red tape and bureaucracy were the most negative part of my grad school experience, but professors mitigate this issue by giving assignment extensions whenever possible.
I have tried to make this piece as helpful as possible to potential CDiS MA applicants; however, my experience will not be everyone’s experience. Being in the CDiS grad school has taught me that hard work, flexibility, and self reliance is so important, and the rewards far outweigh the negatives. I have met some of the most wonderful Mad and disabled people while doing my MA with CDiS, and these close relationships have stayed with me. My graduating class ceremony on October 19th, 2016 was a milestone in my academic, activist, and personal life. This experience has changed me, and I feel my own research has somehow changed Disability Studies and Mad Studies, hopefully for the better. You too can complete an MA in CDiS. As a Ryerson DST graduate, you already have a head start in the program (Kathryn Church has well prepared us for this). I myself can attest to the fear of beginning graduate school (MA), but if I can do it, you can do it—and make your own mark upon the world you are helping to create.
This post was written by current student Robin Kellner.
Almost daily, my clients and I are stopped by curiouspasser-by’s who have numerous questions and who feel entitled to our personal information.
I understand that we stand out. It’s not common to see two people side by side, one telling the other about every visual and auditory stimulus in the mall, doctor’s office, or restaurant. But that is how some people who are deafblind live their lives, with someone travelling beside them providing access to everything there is to see and hear in the environment around them.
Most commonly, I am asked if my client is my parent.
A few weeks ago, my client was getting her banking done when the teller stops to ask “Are you her daughter?” When I passed the question along to my client, she snapped “No! She’s an intervenor.”
We both sighed as we left the bank, “It’s annoying. I’m not old enough to be your mother.” It’s true, not even by a long shot.
Curiosity is human nature, but I often wonder, if disability were to be removed from the situation, would people still feel inclined to ask such questions? I would never pull up a chair at a café and ask the two people sitting at the table how they know each other. By Torontonian standards, that would be socially inappropriate – not to mention that I do not give a crap how they know each other.
It may not sound horrible to be approached with questions, but could you imagine if it happened almost every day? Such inquiries rarely turn into thoughtful conversations promote awareness of deafblindness – they are flat out insulting.
The interview does not often end with me being asked if I am my client’s offspring. Again and again, we hear “Can she see?” or “What’s wrong with him?”
These quandaries are also always directed at me implying that the person views my client as invisible and unable to answer a question.
I am not advocating for a society of people who never talk to one another and ask each other questions, but I encourage people to think about their questions before asking them. Speak to the person you are curious about directly, regardless of their mode of communication, language, vision, or hearing, and ask yourself: Why am I asking the question? Without the presence of visible disability, would I still feel the need to ask the question at all?
On a recent shift at the dentist, the receptionist asked if my client was my father. When I relayed the answer along to my client – who took the time to explain the role of an intervenor – the response was: “so like your daughter.”
We were speechless – but offered polite chuckles as we walked out using sighted guide. Having never been in that situation with this particular person, once we got outside, I asked him how he felt about the question. His response gave me a new perspective to the scenario – he said that he should have asked the receptionist if the dentist was her mother.
It occurred to me that such questions are not only disrespectful to the person with the embodied difference; they are also patronizing to the intervenor and diminish our roles as professionals.
The receptionist at the dental office is a skilled professional who plays an essential role in managing the office and ensuring the quality of the patients’ experience. Intervenors are trained professionals who provide visual and auditory information to people who are deafblind, and are trained in various modes of communication, orientation and mobility, and much more. Sure, it could happen that a dentist could hire their child to work in their office, and a family member could be put in the position of intervenor if there is a need. But would you ever feel the need to ask the receptionist at a dental office how they are related to their employer? I would guess the answer to that question is likely no.
Why then, do people feel it is their right to ask me how I am related to the person beside me who is holding my arm, a white cane, or the harness of a guide dog? Is it because they are perceived to have a disability?
In reality, I could be their daughter, cousin, or I could even be their lover – but is it really any of your business?
This post was written by student Sharon Clegg-Lintner and Micki McIntrye.
“Well, Micki. What do you think??”
“That would be all right with me I guess. If it means a couple of extra dollars a month for me to spend, that would be okay.”
And that’s how it all started; the second half of taking a stand and pursuing a closure for all the lost opportunities in life and one that makes her feel more credible and dignified as a human being. Not that she ever discussed those twenty years of pain, abuse and hardship while living in four of Ontario’s Provincial Institutions.
Micki, whose birth name is Marlene McIntyre, had to re-live all those painful memories three years ago as we spent nearly seven hours with me and her Adult Protective Service Worker completing the most intimate details of her years of mental, physical and emotional abuse. She spoke of other horrors that had occurred to people she knew and lived with, surprised at herself for even remembering some of their names.
“You didn’t speak of those things when staff were around and you couldn’t help even if you wanted to. I did a couple of times and got smacked and locked in a room for it. Some people died, Sharon, and we didn’t know where their bodies went.”
I’m sitting here with Micki right now so she can be part of this submission, because that’s how it’s always been between her and I since we met. We share. I was redneck nineteen year old who got a summer job at the Ontario Hospital for Women in Cobourg. (Later known as D’Arcy Place) That was 1972. And we’ve been friends ever since. There are too many stories to elaborate on since then, but the most important aspect of our relationship was how hers, and others, humbled me into choosing my career path. She became family and the both of us struggled through many obstacles so she could obtain her freedom. I took on Community and Social Services in the late 70’s to get her released into the community of Barrie and she has lived a life to establish herself as a citizen there, not without consequences by any means, but as someone who always had a heart of gold, of which she gave while others took. But I was always there as her “protector”, providing choices and alternatives.
She eventually met and decided to live with her partner, Bob, and that was nearly over thirty-five years ago. She is quite emphatic to this day that she won’t share Bob with me! “You’re my sister, and he can’t come to our house to stay when I come home!” Even when Micki got really ill two years ago and I learned that her one leg had gotten so badly infected, she was hospitalized, she told me she didn’t want to worry me and that she had tried her best to do things on her own. That cost her the amputation of her leg, a decision she made by herself after we had tried for four months to save it. South Lake Regional Hospital in Newmarket sure got to know the both of us during those months, after they originally wanted to discharge her back to her apartment that was consumed with bed bugs! It wasn’t long before the medical professionals discovered that we were a team not to be pushed around because of policies!! We’ve come even a longer way since then. I was able to secure a place at a retirement home the next year for both of them and took on officials in Barrie. It hasn’t been a smooth road since then making sure she was getting the correct medical attention and prevention for her other leg. We learned of the first collective Class Action Lawsuit against the Province of Ontario and I made sure her name was on the list. The law firm of Koskie Minsky in Toronto were absolutely wonderful! Micki and I had to originally travel to Toronto for depositions, affidavits, motions and intimidating consultations with Ministry people. But Micki charmed them all! Her wit, humour and sincerity won them over. Plus, she absolutely looked forward to staying in the big hotels!
Micki received a substantial financial gift as a result of the first lawsuit. We were able to obtain a brand new electric wheelchair for her and as of last October, she and Bob have relocated to a geared-to-rent disabled unit apartment in Barrie. They had the most wonderful Christmas last year, with a proper Christmas tree, decorations and gifts. Although there have been some serious medical concerns with the both of them this last year, they are much happier.
Our final chapter enlisted by Koskie Minsky this past year, was Micki taking on the responsibility of being named as applicant for a second class action lawsuit, again against the Province of Ontario, for any and all survivors of the smaller provincial institutions before they were closed. We spearheaded this motion because Micki wanted to ensure that EVERYONE who was still alive and had gone through horrific experiences were also entitled to a better life. The day she had to appear in court this past April, she manoeuvred her wheelchair up next to the lawyer’s benches and got to speak to the Judge and let him know how grateful she felt and other survivors in the courtroom clapped when she did so.
Micki’s life long wishes were to see Alice Cooper, which we have done twice now at Casino Rama and she wants to go to Santa’s Village this summer, which we are planning. Micki comes home here to my farm more often now, and it is our hope that with continuing medical assistance, we can get her one leg stable enough to warrant a prosthesis, because that’s Micki — she never wants to give up on any possibilities in her life and don’t anyone tell her she can’t do something!
Playgrounds provide opportunities for children to play in a diverse, safe environment along with allowing them to grow to create and pretend while interacting with their peers. Playgrounds are meant to provide children an exciting, diverse environment to play. Authors; Yantz, Young, & Mckeever (2010) maintain “by providing children the opportunity to play together is an important step in redressing discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion, inclusive play spaces help to promote and create an inclusive community” (pg.76). The purpose and goal of my community project are to create an accessible play environment that meets the needs both of the children disabilities who attend the school and everyone within the community. My paper focused my narrative, of my journeys as I worked on two projects one being changing the existing playground in making it accessible to everyone within the community. The second project is participating and working with school committees and stakeholders in designing and creating an accessible outdoor play space in the school’s courtyard. My motivation: As an Educational Assistant I am required to supervise the students I support outside during their morning, lunch and afternoon recesses. However during this time, I often see the students isolated playing on their devices because there is no equipment or other students to play and or socialize with. The students sit in their wheelchairs alone watching the other children play soccer on a field that is not accessible or safe for them to maneuver their wheelchairs, children building castles, holes, imagining that they are going to China or in the sandbox that has borders that allow able-bodied children in and children in wheelchairs out. I see children playing on the playscapes that has slides and or fireman poles, but no ramps for children in wheelchairs and opportunities to explore, imagine or play.
Children with disabilities are often marginalized and excluded on school playgrounds often because their abilities are unappreciated. I believe one of the effective ways to encourage such a change is to provide opportunities for them to self-advocate and be included in the decision-making process by providing the tools and resources necessary to express their wants and needs.
I held a learning circle including the children I support to provide them a means to express what they felt about the school playground. The students expressed they felt isolated, frustrated, mad, unvalued and sad. Expressed the basketball nets were too high and were afraid of getting hit in the head by a ball. They wanted to play in the sand with their peers, however because the sandbox is sunken in the ground, has high borders, and not entirely accessible, the students with physical disabilities are unable to gain access to the sandbox. In other instances, students were unsure of what to do when they wanted to play soccer because they felt they couldn’t ask their friends to stay with them to play. They didn’t want to prevent their peers from doing things they were able to do such as playing in the sandbox, practicing gymnastics on the grass or playing on the playscape. It also assisted in deciding what equipment the children felt was missing from the playground. The students shared that the most accessible equipment such as an elevated sand table and adjustable basketball net to accommodate their wheelchairs would be beneficial. The students expressed they felt comfortable playing with other students in the Intensive Support Program because they didn’t feel they would be judged. They didn’t want to leave other students alone without anyone to play with and because sometimes other students didn’t understand them or have the patience to wait for them to respond whether it is throwing the ball or responding to a question. I have also found that because of differing maturity levels from that of their grade peers they do not have much in common. For instance; one student is 14 years old, and her favourite television shows are not age or maturity appropriate for younger children. The other children watch television shows that contain content that some other students do not understand or watch. Having an opportunity to engage in a circle dialogue with the students, allowed me to hear the accounts first- the hand of the students’ experiences firsthand. It also allowed the students to express their feelings and suggestions regarding what they want and need to be changed, so they feel more comfortable and inclusive with their peers. How those changes and express can be included in the design stage of the Courtyard Revitalization Project is vital and allowed the student an opportunity for them to feel comfortable in a situation and which other students may have felt the same way.
I did not include children in the photographs that illustrate barriers children with disabilities face on the playgrounds. I wanted the main focus to be on the barrier not on the child.
I was able to gain funding from the parent council and the principal to purchase an elevated sand table, as well as an adjustable basketball goal. It has been very exciting for both the students and I; the elevated sand table is in the process of being installed. The children love playing with the adjustable basketball goal. The students with the class I support are beginning to enjoy the school playground and are beginning to feel included within the of the school community. Currently, I am still an active member of the in the school Playground Revitalization Project steering committee. The revitalization project is going well. We have created our designs and are in the process of working with the board in finalizing our design and develop strategies on how to gain extra funding. Although this began as my DST 99 final project, I am in the long haul!!
This was written by graduating student, Kelly Smith.
First I would like to congratulate all of the award winners that are here today. It is a true representation of the hard work and commitment that each of you.r have put into your studies and your work. I would also like to thank the donors for their generous contributions without which we would not be able to recognize the work that students are doing. Thank you!
I would also like to say thank you to the award committee for presenting me with the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award. When Kathryn contacted me to let me know that I had won the award for excellence in my thesis I was truly surprised and deeply honoured. I almost felt like it wasn’t really fair since I had such a great time working on my thesis. Not that it wasn’t a lot of work, which it was, and it was certainly stressful at times but I really enjoyed the process as a whole.
I was also very honoured to have been asked to give the Student Response speech today. It has meant a lot to me. Thank you again.
A little about me:
I was first accepted into the Disability Studies program here at Ryerson in 2002. I had been scheduled to start in the fall but lost my job during the summer months and had to withdraw from the program at that time. While my living circumstances changed, I always knew that I wanted to complete the Disability Studies program. So, fast forward to July 2013 and I finally, after many years, got the chance to start the program!
When I started DST 501 with Kirsty Liddiard, I came into the class feeling as if I had a pretty good foundation to start from. My experience in the field of Disability had started at age 12 when I began working with a running coach at Variety Village. At a young age I was exposed to an environment where I could ask questions and experienced so much diversity that it just became a natural part of life for me. I started working at summer camps with Variety Village when I was 16yrs old and at that time I was also training with a coach who was a paraplegic and the other athletes that he coached were all wheelchair racers. I continued working recreation programs for kid with disabilities through Toronto Parks and Rec (as it was called back then) in evening and summer programs for many years. I graduated from the DSW program at Centennial College in 1995 and up until the time that I stepped back into the classroom for DST 501, I worked many different jobs within the Disability field…from working in group homes and supportive living environments, teaching life skills at Bloorview MacMillan Centre (again dating myself), providing behaviour management training to people with acquired brain injuries, managing an Employment program for people with disabilities, as well working as a Sign Language Facilitator with the Toronto District School Board. With my background and experience I wondered just what new things this program would or could teach me.
Well, it taught me a lot and there’s still so much for me to learn. I remember having my world shattered to some extent in that first class, having things that I had learned and believed in thrown on its ear. One example is the use of “people first” language. For as long as I can remember it was something that I had always done and taught others to do as well, so to learn in that first class that it was not always supported….well, it really shook things up and made me second guess all that I thought that I knew.
I was one of those people who took a long time to really assimilate what I was learning in my classes. Logically I knew the answers to the questions and how to respond to my instructors but it took me a long time to be able to really understand, internalize and to formulate my own thoughts and understandings that were in line with the program, so if you’re a new student or even have been in the program for sometime and haven’t reached that point yet, don’t worry, keep working and critically questioning the information that you learn and it will come.
As a recent graduate I have some advice to offer to new students.
The first is that it is really important to keep yourself organized and disciplined with the classes…and I say this as someone who was at times taking 3 courses and working full time. I don’t really recommend that though! Treat your online courses like a job. Schedule the days that you will complete your readings, go online and post your responses and complete assignments into your week. It’s much easier to develop a schedule that can be flexible, rather than leaving everything to the last minute or not having a plan at all. I actually used to take the TTC to work instead of driving to give myself 45min in the morning and 45mins in the evening each day to complete my reading….and I might have fallen asleep at times but….I did try!
Secondly, I highly recommend taking some courses from other departments when possible for your electives. There are a few reasons that I say this. One reason is that people are made up of many different parts, and for those of you who have gotten this far, it’s what we refer to as intersectionality. People are never just read by one part of themselves, such as their age, culture, sex, economic status or disability but instead are read at different times by their different intersections together. Taking courses from other departments help us to learn about different aspects of people. For example, I took Sociology of Food and Eating and in it I learned how a person’s socioeconomic status can affect their access to foods not only through cost but also through the area that they live in which might be a food desert and food swamp. This is something that I had never thought of before and would certainly impact many of the people that I work with. I found that there was some unexpected cross-over in what would seem like unlikely places as well. For example, in Geography of Recreation and Leisure I saw how the “rupture” had taken place and influenced research in Geography just after I had learned about how it had affected the field of Disability studies in DST 88.
Some classes can also offer insight into how society works. For example, in Pop Culture I learned about the power that the media plays in social construct and used ideas from this class as well as Eliza’s class as a jumping off point for my thesis.
Another reason is that in taking these courses we become, as Paulo Freire suggests, co-creators in our education. We have the chance to share the information that we learn in our core courses with other student’ and instructors from different departments. As we learn from them, they are learning from us at the same time but it also gives us the opportunity to learn how to share our learnings with others who don’t have a Disability Studies background. I found that after taking a few classes, and many of you may have experienced the same things, that I would want to come home and share this new way of thinking that I was learning with my friends, family or co-workers, only to be surprised that they didn’t agree, didn’t understand or at times even become defensive about what I was saying. I had some good conversations about this with my mum while working on my thesis and I found that it this because in our program we use specific word and phrasing and are taught to critically think about things in different ways than we did when we first came into the program. So while we can hold conversations with those who have taken or who teach the classes, we sometimes struggle with how to put our new perspectives into different words. I think that taking a range of classes from various departments can help us to learn how to have these conversations and say the same the things that we need to but to do it in ways that invite conversation and understanding. This is an important skill to have when going back to our communities and workplaces with new ideas and philosophies that we learn over the course of our program.
Finally, I would just like to say that the instructors and other staff in our program are truly amazing. They come from diverse backgrounds and are great resources and a wealth of information and are willing to help whenever they can. We are truly lucky to have them in our department! On behalf of the graduating class, I would like to thank them for the help, support and commitment to us throughout our time in the program. Without you, we would not be able to reach the heights that we have.
To end, I would like to say to all students: throughout the rest of your time in the program I urge you to ask questions, critically examine with passion, create your vision and take action!