Category Archives: Intersectional

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

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

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

Ok, let’s talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s talk about the importance of community.

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

Let’s talk about our rights.

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

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Re-thinking Student Distress on University Campuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ordinary Extraordinary Activism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

This post was written by graduating student, Darlene Murrain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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