Category Archives: Mad Pride

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:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This post was written by Tobin LeBlanc Haley.

Photograph of woman. She is smiling at the camera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Government of New Brunswick. The Action Plan for Mental Health Care in New Brunswick 2011-2018. Available at:

Horizon, Health Network. Centracare. Available at:

Moran, James. History of Madness and Mental Illness. Available at:

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

Vitalite: Health Network. Restigouche Hospital Centre. Available at:

Walking with Strangers: Exploring madness through mapping and ethnography

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

photograph of footprints in snow

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

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

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

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


My Graduate School Experience

This post is written by Kevin Jackson. Graduate of the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson and now graduate of the Masters of Arts in Critical Disability Studies program at York University.

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

As a recent graduate of York University’s Critical Disability Studies (CDiS) master’s degree program (part-time), I wondered about how I should sum up all of my experiences in such a short space. Well, the first point that needs to be expressed is that I am a DST graduate (2014), and this is specifically written for Ryerson DST future/present graduates. As this piece will demonstrate, being a Ryerson DST grad gives CDiS MA students a tremendous advantage in the CDiS MA program.  

My story would have to begin on orientation day. I was terrified. We all met in our dedicated Vari Hall classroom where I met my fellow MA/PhD students. We introduced ourselves and discussed the program. Thankfully Dr. nancy halifax was familiar with me from an edited collection to which we were both contributing. She was friendly  and openly acknowledged my work. I felt this was a good way to start my MA! However, as I was delighted to discover, this was just the beginning of many outstanding experiences I would have in CDiS program.

The next thing to tackle were the actual classes. I recall the first few weeks of the mandatory disability studies overview class/tutorial with Dr. Geoffrey Reaume. I was overjoyed to learn that I was not only familiar with the themes, but that I had already read many of the assigned readings back in my DST undergrad! Although I did all of the readings again, I made sure to make notes that would allow me to make a few comments per class, which as anyone who knows can testify is a challenge for me. But with such small classes, great professors, and already being familiar with the themes/readings, I found class participation to be very manageable. In fact, I found my overall grades actually rose higher than my undergrad! Let me repeat that for DST students who might be worried about their capability to do the MA coursework: Yes, I actually received better grades in my MA than my BA. This was due to several factors—including the fact that I was academically supported (great profs), was dedicated to my academics (did all of the readings, research, and assignments), and that I was free to do my coursework. This last point cannot be overstated. One needs to consider their personal situation to determine if their job, social life, and even family can manage the amount of work that an MA requires. Certainly, doing the MA part-time could reduce the workload, but there are disadvantages to this as well. In all cases, there is a generous amount of work that you will be required to do to continue in the program (no less than a B for any course).

While CDiS is very good with accommodating disability and Madness, taking time off from the program is problematic. York University (but not CDiS itself) has a policy know as “continuous registration,” where once a student is enrolled, they cannot take time off from the program without financial penalty. That is to say, even if you have an accommodation (or even a MD’s letter) and you require time off, you will be charged for taking time off from the program. This red tape and bureaucracy were the most negative part of my grad school experience, but professors mitigate this issue by giving assignment extensions whenever possible.  

I have tried to make this piece as helpful as possible to potential CDiS MA applicants; however, my experience will not be everyone’s experience. Being in the CDiS grad school has taught me that hard work, flexibility, and self reliance is so important, and the rewards far outweigh the negatives. I have met some of the most wonderful Mad and disabled people while doing my MA with CDiS, and these close relationships have stayed with me. My graduating class ceremony on October 19th, 2016 was a milestone in my academic, activist, and personal life. This experience has changed me, and I feel my own research has somehow changed Disability Studies and Mad Studies, hopefully for the better. You too can complete an MA in CDiS. As a Ryerson DST graduate, you already have a head start in the program (Kathryn Church has well prepared us for this). I myself can attest to the fear of beginning graduate school (MA), but if I can do it, you can do it—and make your own mark upon the world you are helping to create.


Clearing a Path: A Psychiatric Survivor Anti-Violence Framework

This post was written by instructor Danielle Landry.

Photograph of the backs of a seated audience members listening to a woman speak in the background
Jane Doe speaks at the PDAC Report Launch, December 10 2015.

Launching the Final Report

This past December, the Psychiatric Survivor Anti-Violence Coalition (PDAC) hosted a community event in Parkdale to release its final report. The project leads, Peggy-Gail DeHal Guraj from Parkdale Community Legal Services, Lucy Costa from the Empowerment Council and Andrea Daley from York University’s School of Social Work, were on hand to introduce the event. Together they spoke about the significance of the work undertaken by this coalition, how the group first came together following a series of assaults against residents of a Parkdale boarding home in 2011, and the subsequent community response, which aimed to ensure that incidents like these never happened again. 

“Why is the media only interested when we’re dead?”

– Lucy Costa, December 10 2015 PDAC Report Launch

Author of the book The Story of Jane Doe: A Book About Rape (2004), activist, educator and litigant Jane Doe (Jane Doe vs. Toronto Police), gave a compelling talk to a room of about 50 keen listeners. She spoke openly about how at the trial to convict her rapist, the cross-examiner sought to discredit her testimony by asking about her mental health history and her interest in reading ‘feminist literature’. The audience was aghast, but not entirely surprised by the experience she recounted.

Creatively designed by Lisa Walter, PDAC’s final report is written in easy to understand non-academic language. At the launch event she spoke about how the anti-violence framework inspired her design. A timeline diagram runs along the bottom of the page, giving readers a sense of significant events that have occurred during the time this coalition has been active. The report’s text uses the metaphor of ‘clearing a path’ to illustrate how we can build on both what psychiatric survivors already collectively know about the violence that permeates their lives and the anti-violence work that has been undertaken to date. Instead of learning about structural violence anew, the coalition sought to ‘clear a path’, to make visible a road that already exists and challenge familiar roadblocks, such as “lack of committed funding, organizational policy constraints and apathy” (p.29). As stated in the report, “psychiatric survivors’ pressing needs — and indeed, their right — to safety and wellness demand that we use novel approaches to break them down.” (p.29)

“Redignified lives. Now that’s a revolution”

– Lisa Walter, December 10 2015 PDAC Report Launch

Working with the Coalition

The organizing members of PDAC share a desire and commitment to address the discrimination, exclusion and violence experienced by people with psychiatric disabilities. In 2011, the originating members reached out to other people with a vested interest in this issue, including community members, professionals, academics and members of government, asking them to bring their knowledge, experience, and resources to the table.

In 2012, I joined the coalition as a volunteer representative of the School of Disability Studies and as someone who is mad-identified. At the time I was working as a Research Assistant to Dr. Kathryn Church and looking to complete a capstone project for the certificate in Advancing the AODA through the Chang School (now known as Accessibility Practices: AODA and Beyond). I was able to put my research for my capstone to use by building a literature review on psychiatric disability and violence. I quickly discovered, as you might imagine, that a lot more has been written about the trope of mad people as violent than work investigating the many forms of violence experienced by mad people. Looking at the literature on structural violence experienced by people with psychiatric disabilities, I noted that there are many conceptual frameworks for understanding violence and disability, such as: human rights, hate crimes, social determinants of health, and more… but the literature on violence written from a psychiatric survivor perspective was harder to find. Unfortunately, community knowledge of this sort frequently goes unpublished or only appears in the ‘grey literature’, which can be harder to track down.

Many of you connected to the School of Disability Studies have likely heard me talk about the work of the coalition at some point over the past few years; I’ve spoken about it to numerous DST 501 classes, presented at CDSA on the findings of my capstone project, and participated in panel at Mad Pride with A History of Madness instructor Jenna Reid. Now years later, I’m excited to share what this coalition has produced.


Report cover. Photo of shadow figure on rocky path. Text underneath: CLEARING A PATH: A PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVOR ANTI-VIOLENCE FRAMEWORK
Cover image of PDAC’s final report

Using the Anti-Violence Framework

PDAC’s final report documents the coalition’s work over the last 4 years to address the structural violence experienced by people with psychiatric disabilities. Here violence is defined as:

actions, words, attitudes, structures, or systems that cause physical or psychological harm to a vulnerable individual, or that cause such an individual to be placed in harm’s way (adapted from Fisher, Abdi, Ludin, Smith, Williams, & Williams, 2000). ‘Structural violence’ describes social structures — economic, political, legal, religious, and cultural — that put vulnerable individuals and populations in harm’s way (adapted from Gilligan, J., 1997 and Farmer, P.E., 2004 as cited in Farmer, Nizeye, Stulac, & Keshavjee, 2006). Violence against people with psychiatric disabilities occurs both through intended and unintended acts of violence and omission (Ontario Human Rights Commission [OHRC], 2012).” (Psychiatric Disabilities Anti-Violence Coalition, 2015, p.9)

The report outlines our psychiatric survivor-led research process, the findings from our community consultations in 2014/2015, and the anti-violence framework which sets guidelines to examine, analyze and respond to violence in the community.

The anti-violence framework PDAC has developed can be taken up and applied by different organizations in their own settings. Instead of producing another set of recommendations that could be overlooked or collect dust on a shelf, we’ve developed a framework that’s more of a “how to” than a “what to do”, so service providers and other stakeholder groups have a method to conduct their own psychiatric survivor analysis. I encourage each of you to read the report and consider how it could be taken up in the groups and organizations you belong to.

A copy of the final report “Clearing a Path: A Psychiatric Survivor Anti-Violence Framework” is available for download here:



Label Jars Not People

This post was written by current students, Amanda Lin, Andrea Tropea and Danielle MacLean.

Three imitation glass Heinz ketchup bottles are displayed. The labels read Labelz are for jars not for people.
Three imitation glass Heinz ketchup bottles are displayed. The labels read Labelz are for jars not for people.

Anti-Psychiatry movements have been around for decades. The Rosenhan Experiment which began in 1973 initiated a gathering of people who wanted to expose the truths within the medical field of psychiatry. Individuals who identify as anti-psychiatry activists, ex-patient/consumers/survivors and allies collectively question the validity of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), otherwise known as the Bible of psychiatry. Despite the concerns surrounding the application of the DSM, it continues to be embedded into the attitudes and practices surround our academic institutions. Recently, this movement has become centre stage with regards to the settlement of Navi Dhanota vs. York University.

Many people revere this settlement as a celebrated victory within the anti-psychiatry activists, ex-patient/consumers/survivors’ community. After reflecting on this victory it is easy to see that there is still a long road ahead. Academic institutions within Canada, specifically, Ontario, are far from accessible. One of the many ways our educational system continues to be inaccessible is through the use of labels. In order to attain support, often, the first step includes the identification and labelling of students. Otherwise, known as Identification Placement and Review Committees as outlined by The Ontario Ministry of Education. This becomes problematic when vulnerable individuals such as young children, and people with disabilities are forced to accept labels, especially when they have been excluded from the process of labelling themselves.

Labels, their associated stigma and stereotypes can become self-fulfilling prophecies. The future of this “anti-label” movement aims to educate society on the dangers associated with presuming a diagnosis is everything and the gateway to proper supports. Within an accessible education system, the focus could remain on how a disability affects the individual’s learning needs, and not the disability itself. Therefore, if you have the urge to label someone other than yourself, we suggest you find a jar.

Researching the Politics of Inclusion

This post was written by Jijian Voronka who teaches at the School of Disability Studies and is a SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Dept. of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University.

a photograph of Jijian Voronka.
A photograph of Jijian Voronka.

In Ontario, the participation of disabled people as ‘experts by experience’ in health, education, and social service systems is growing, and the advocacy work that we do as faculty, staff, students, and alumni at the School of Disability Studies has helped make inclusion a ‘best practice.’ For the last several years, I have greatly benefitted from the implementation of community-based inclusionary practices. I can now use my usually denigrated experiences of homelessness and psychiatric disability as entry points into systems that previously were built on our exclusion. This involves working and offering service to a broad range of academic, community mental health, and social service sectors.

Yet, I am also a researcher. And as the culmination of inclusionary opportunities continued to grow, I became curious as to just how the inclusion of people with psychiatric disabilities was organizing. From 2009-2015 I worked for the Mental Health Commission of Canada as a consumer research consultant: in this role, I was to explicitly draw on both my academic training and my lived experiences of homelessness and distress to inform my work. Drawing on lived experience in work roles is now called ‘peer work.’ For me, doing peer work included promoting peer inclusion, supporting fellow peer workers, and building and consulting on research, reports, policy, and procedures.

Most significantly, this work was done for the At Home/Chez Soi project (2009-2013), a $110 million national research demonstration project studying how to best house the ‘chronically homeless mentally ill.’ Here, I helped implement and support peer workers in 5 cities across Canada in a broad range of roles: as peer researchers, as peer support workers, as peer organizers, facilitators, consultants and more. Thanks to substantive project investments, over 100 roles for peer workers developed throughout the course of the project, and I established a National Consumer Panel and Peer Research Group to bring us together to work on a national scale.

I also used this site as a case study for my PhD research. This project offered the opportunity to explore inclusion as a technology of rule: how inclusion is organized, managed, contingent, and what changes it brings to workplaces [for this study, worksites included universities, community mental health teams, housing and homeless services, and a wide range of community organizations]. More importantly, I wanted to learn how other peer workers experience inclusion: what does it mean to do peer work? What is it like to have to work from this identity every day? How do we manage our character, comportment, and self-presentation so that we are recognized as ‘peers’? What are we asked to do in our work? Where is our work understood as useful; and where is our work understood as useless? Drawing from knowledge that you learn in DST 88, I used qualitative mixed methods to explore peer inclusion in practice: a four-year ethnography drawing on participant observation, autoethnography, institutional ethnography, critical discourse analysis and in-depth interviews with other peer workers. I used Disability, Mad, and other Critical Studies to inform the study.

What my research shows is that inclusion is a tenuous business. It can be difficult work for peers to embody and endure. This does not mean that inclusion shouldn’t occur. What it does mean is that we have to map just how inclusion unfolds for disabled people when we are suddenly brought in to work for systems that have long been sites of systemic discrimination. We have to map to begin to be able to imagine how to do better, differently, otherwise.

There are clear terms of engagement that govern peer inclusion, including that we have to actively try to manage our madness. We must be ‘authentic’ enough to represent the ‘homeless mentally ill,’ yet simultaneously respectable enough to sustain employment in professional settings. Further, the direction of our work is oriented in very specific ways. Peer work is recognized and celebrated most when we undertake what has been termed ‘affective labour:’ the often gendered economy of care that supports endangered peoples. This means sharing our stories, inspiring others, and helping those who are going through similar experiences. Yet, when we try to critique or change the conceptual frames that govern us — for example, the policies, professional procedures, discourses, and structures that are actually producing and sustaining our marginality — our work is ignored, blocked, or gets us into trouble.

Further, peer work presents a paradox in labour relations. While peer work offers clear benefits to those of us who are usually excluded from workforces, peer work remains a form of precarious labour that contributes to the deskilling and fragmentation of the unionized health and community service workforce. Most often, peer work is paid less than other professions, and is carried out by people who are marginal not only by virtue of their status as disabled or formerly homeless, but also by virtue of their position in terms of gender, race, class, sexuality, culture and more. Thus, the use of peers in health and social policy delivery is not simply a matter of inclusion, but it also entails a shift towards low-paid often non-unionized labour and is thus part of a complex political economy of care work. Our inclusion changes things: it both benefits us, and creates new complex problems. It also benefits neoliberal austerity strategies and alters the landscape of how labour is organized in health and social service system settings.

In short, our ‘inclusion’ needs to not only be premised on helping to support those made marginal, but also orient towards dismantling the systems of oppression that create and sustain our subordination. Our work as disability activists and advocates is to continue to keep an eye on inclusionary practices, and how they can at once improve, change, and sustain our position as subjugated peoples as we intersect, resist, and incorporate into governing ruling relations.


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

This post 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.


How did I get here?

This post was written by current student Nicole Meehan.

painting with 6 colour blocks inside which are dancing stick figures

Hello, I feel like I need to say hello today to anyone who is reading this. Why? I do not know, but I feel like maybe it eases me into this important and full conversation I am going to have to have about my process in creating my final DST 99 project, Breaking Free: The Aesthetics of Madness (this is the current working title and is subject to change).

I began in the Disability Studies program in 2011 and have always wanted to have dance be involved in my 99 project, but how it is involved has changed with the many ruptures I have experienced, as my supervisor Kathryn Church calls them, especially within the last year and a half alone.  

I am a dancer, and have been since I was eleven years old. It has always been a passion of mine but how I identify as a dancer is changing. I trained as a highland dancer for fourteen years and ballet dancer for five years respectively. Both art forms can be rigid, come with expectations and high standards, along with set steps and positions to follow. I have also taught both highland and ballet for many years.

Originally I thought I would run a dance workshop for people with disabilities creating a space for them to create and express using movement.

Rupture #1

Through my ballet teacher Lisa, I was introduced to a whole new dancing world.  After a difficult competitive season and my retirement, I was asked to participate in a contemporary modern dance piece called Storm and Silence, which was being performed in the Hamilton Fringe Festival. I had never tried anything like that before but thought it was a risk I was willing to take. I was given the opportunity to begin exploring ways in which I can find my own voice within my movement and body. Using a combination of spoken word, poetry, dance and movement I found a more authentic and organic way of expression.

This coupled with my further immersion in the DST program lead me to envision my 99 to have a dance piece that combined writing pieces, with dance choreography and was performed by myself and a varying group of dancers. I thought about redefining what is and can be considered dance and who can be a dancer.

It became about creating a performance piece that merges Dance and Disability Activism.

Rupture #2

This continued until I took Chelsea Jones’ class to learn about Writing for Disability Activism. From here I wanted to include my writing pieces about Madness, which I later titled Mad Ramblings, into the dance but was unsure how I was going to do it, so I guess it was more of a development than a rupture.

It became, “redefining what is and can be considered dance and who can be a dancer”, while expressing my experiences as a self identified Mad Person.

Rupture #3

I held the previous vision right up until I had to present my proposal to my current cohort of students. I was wondering where I might get dancers who would be interested and also have diverse styles of movement. My class was very helpful in providing many suggestions but I kept having an uneasy feeling that I was being pulled away from where I really wanted to be.

Emerging Aesthetics of Madness

Highland, ballet, contemporary, modern… all different forms of dance that have taught me something new and given me a new way of expressing myself. They have also given me the confidence to trust in my own voice. Each time I dance I bring myself to the floor, I am the common denominator, and I am the only one who can do this. It is not about following someone else’s steps but creating my own and developing my style through my life experiences. even though I am resistant to the structure of the different styles over the years, I want to acknowledge the influences they have had in creating my life dance, my madness. Each dance style has come into my life at the point that I have needed it the most and when I was ready for it.

And then it hit me, Breaking Free is to be about the Aesthetics of Madness and exploring this through dance. It is about my journey and experiences of Madness, a solo. I have noticed that many of the current representations out there are one dimensional, we just see the diagnosis. They don’t show the complexities of the madness of life. Good days and bad days, days that are all the way out to the left. They are all a part of my madness and as such are part of the whole aesthetic.

Although I would like to give you a final bang of a conclusion, I can’t, I still have 3 months to go and that is a long time for many more ruptures to come.

Annual Student Award Ceremony

The Annual Student Award Ceremony takes place every year during the School’s summer institute. It highlights an amazing collection of students and supporters of the School of Disability Studies.

A woman stands in front of a podium.
Kathryn Church giving opening remarks at the Annual Student Award Ceremony.
a vase of roses sits beside a podium
Memorial flowers to honour students Somona Gupta and Helen Henderson who passed away this year.
A woman stands in front of a podium.
Janice Waddell, Associate Dean, Faculty of Community Services brings greetings from the Faculty of Community Services.
a woman stands in front of a podium
Alumnus Tracy Beck introduces the winners of the Civitan International Foundation of Canada Disability Studies Citizenship Award.
two women stand in front of a disability studies sign
Award winner Zahra Ali receives her award.
two women hold a folder and smile
Award winner Melissa Felice receives her award.
a woman and a man stand together holding a file and smile
Award winner Francis Pineda receives his award.
a woman stands in front of a podium
Instructor Jijian Voronka introduces the winners of the Harry E. Foster Memorial Award.
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Award Winner Linh Chau receives her award.
two women hold a file folder
Award winner Elizabeth Da Silva receives her award.
two women stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Jessica Houston receives her award.
two women stand together and hold a file folder
Award winner Pauline Mwangi receives her award.
a man stands in front of a podium
Charles Silverman introduces the award winners for the M K Chant Disability Studies Award.
a woman and a man stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Bev Atkin receives her award.
a man and a woman stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Samantha DesGroseillers receives her award.
a man and woman stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Netisha Ragguette receives her award.
a woman stands at a podium
Chelsea Jones introduces the award winner for the Beth Foulkes Award in Community Living.
a man and a woman stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Nelson Mugisha receives his award.
a woman sits near the podium
Heather Willis introduces the winner of the Karen Tench Memorial Award in Community Inclusion and Advocacy.
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Award winner Jessica Doberstein receives her award.
A woman sits near the podium
Fran Odette introduces the winner of the Jake Edelson Award in Community Organizing.
two women hold a file folder
Award winner Carling Berry receives her award.
a woman stands near the podium
Eliza Chandler introduces the winner of the Bill and Lucille Owen Award in Public Policy
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Award winner Carolyn Lee-Jones receives her award.
a man stands near the podium
Kevin Jackson introduces the David Reville/ Working for Change Bursary for ‘Mad People’s History’
a woman stands near the podium
Dawnmarie Harriott introduces the award winner for the David Reville/Working for Change Bursary for “Mad People’s History”
A man and two women stand together
Award winner Junic Wokuri receives her award.
a woman stands near the podium
Esther Ignagni introduces the award winners for the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Awards.
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Award winner Emma Burston receives her award.
Two women stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Jennifer Scott receives her award.
a woman and a man stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Mike Stanley receives his award.
a woman stands near the podium
Kathryn Church introduces the award winner for the Emma Hardie International Disability Award.
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Award winner Catherine Eje’s son receives her award with Emma Hardie’s parents.
a woman stands at the podium
Alumus Melodie Cook introduces the award winners for the Malcolm Jeffreys Memorial Leadership Award.
two women stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Kim Collins receives her award.
two women stand together holding a file folder
Award winner Paris Master-McRae receives her award.