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.
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.
This post was written by alumnus Scott Allan White, PhD(c), OCT, Reg. Psychotherapist.
On my own path toward a PhD Critical Disability Studies at York University, I made several ports-of-call along the way. I was a part of the Gay Purge from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1991 and began looking into different colleges and universities at that time. I set my sights on Loyalist College which had just opened up a new student residence and entered the School of Human Studies in 1992. I served on the DSW Program Advisory Committee at Loyalist for two years, as a Don in the residence and worked as a tutor through Student Counselling Services. When Ryerson started a Disability Studies Program in 1999 I came onboard and was excited to be a part of this new beginning in the Faculty of Community Services. I served as a representative on the Search Committee for the School of Disability Studies first faculty member and Director, and was later a recipient of the Bill and Lucille Owen Award in Public Policy. Over time, I’ve worked for a number of Toronto non-profits including Community Living, LOFT, Cota, the AIDS Committee of Toronto and with Canada’s National Ballet School. While at NBS I worked primarily with the Junior Boys at the school and decided I’d be thrilled to train as a Primary Junior Elementary School Teacher. I returned to studies and attended OISE at the University of Toronto to complete a Bachelor of Education in Social Justice Education. After my training at OISE I worked in a role as a workshop facilitator with Neighbourhood Link where I started my Master of Education part-time while also working on my competencies for registration with the newly forming College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO).
I’ve prioritized my studies over some work options, but I’ve also enjoyed the work opportunities I’ve come by and tried to happily transition moment to moment with my own dreams in mind. At the heart of the issue was always my own vision and mission for the work and social justice issues I felt personally connected to as a human being. While I’ve certified myself in a number of areas including CBT, ABI and in CAM therapies, my general professional approach to counselling has always been holistic in nature. I connect well to the post-modern, holistic, vitalist and emancipatory politics of both study and work. More often than not, if the work isn’t connected to something philosophically and ethically grounded I feel the earth shifting and the arc of my own trajectory leaning in new directions. I’m more committed to causes and people than the places and bureaucracies and happy say, that’s worked out great! I’m not sure I’d have instrumental advice to provide others, but simply to say follow your heart and reason and you rarely go wrong.
My own journey has taken me from place to place and I’ve learned a lot about human nature and human services that I hope to connect to my current work in academia. I’m now pursing a PhD at York University in Critical Disability Studies in the Faculty of Health and work as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Equity Studies. I’ve committed myself to a number of initiatives at the school, including work on the Critical Disability Studies Student Association Executive Committee, as a representative on the Faculty Committee and I’m currently serving on the 2018 CDS Admissions Committee. I’ve allotted a bit of time to also work with the Board of Directors of AccessTO, a non-profit devoted to highlighting accessibility in the City of Toronto. A work life balance would be impossible without a healthy sleep and gym routine, and maintaining good relationships with others – so I’ve tried to keep these in my wheelhouse along the way. If I had a motto, it’d be something about keeping busy and lending a helping hand.
No successful journey is without advocates and people who can say a few kind words about you, about your level of commitment, focus and energy. It’s important to keep people close who can help you navigate the waters.
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.
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.
These two pieces were written by current students Danica McPhee and Michelle Hewitt as an assignment for DST502 (Disability and the State).
Disability in the News – The Reality of Consultation versus Action
By Michelle Hewitt
In late October 2017, the Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) government announced the improvements they intend to make to accessibility regulations for physical spaces – buildings, parking lots and so on. These regulations only govern new construction and to extensive renovations, for features such as washrooms, ramps, parking, floor and counters, and the proportion of accessible units in apartment buildings. While there are clearly some issues with these announcements, as the regulations do not apply to structures already in place, on the face of things, the announcements show a government wanting to make positive change for disabled people. However, the following day, the response came from the disability community and it painted a very different picture. Carroll, a local advocate outlined the consultations that have already taken place in previous years, and the recommendations that had gone nowhere. She says, “We cannot consult for another five years, and then wait for another three or four years for it to go through the process within government.” Christy, the executive director of Coalition of Persons with Disabilities NL takes this a step further, and says that this continual consultation with no action is offensive to disabled people. The article continues with examples of the issues that wheelchair users currently face in St John’s, in accessing public spaces.
The issues faced by disabled people in NL are not unique or new. Chouinard (2001) quotes the 1998 Ontarians with Disabilities Act committee (p189) in discussing the same issues of regulations only being applied to new construction. The committee then reflects on the role that this plays on the “lived geographies of law” and that the entitlement to rights are “more socially and spatially uneven that we often assume.” This concept of the disabled people’s invisibility was expanded by Prince (2009), and given the painfully accurate label of “absent citizenship.” Carroll’s frustration with continual consultation without action is seen by Prince as a “government control of the agenda… a largely one-way flow of information and public processes that are episodic and short lived.” (p156)
My own activism faces these same challenges. In my city, Kelowna, consultation is surface deep, following patterns similar to the one-way flow described Prince. Accessibility is rarely included in these consultations. A recent survey asked for thoughts on parking downtown, but none of the questions related to accessibility issues. I questioned this, and a response was posted, with no ability for me to continue to the discourse. Worse than that, the City intends to complete a separate parking analysis for accessibility purposes after the completion of the downtown plan, demonstrating their lack of understanding of Universal Design principles and potentially creating reports with conflicting outcomes. This consultation, similar to that seen in NL, is little more than window dressing, and it is disappointing that issues first seen by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act committee almost twenty years ago still persist.
Chouinard, V (2001), “Legal Periperies: Struggles over disabled Canadians’ places in law, society and space”, Canadian Geographer, Vol 45 no1, 187-192.
Prince, Michael J (2009), Absent Citizens: disability politics and policy in Canada”, University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Disability in the News – Ontario Government Calls on Businesses to Hire People with Disabilities
By Danica McPhee
The Ontario government has created a new employment strategy for people with disabilities as their unemployment rates are double that of the national average (McQuigge, 2017). This strategy consists of an encouragement for businesses with more than 20 employees to hire at least one person with a disability, yet it will not be enforced (McQuigge, 2017). Other aspects of this strategy involve an online platform that will connect people with disabilities to potential employers and an ‘Employers Partnership Table’ consisting of business leaders who are expected to share best practices with the government, though few details were given in regards to the specifics of these parts of the plan (McQuigge, 2017).
This new strategy is a state intervention in the lives of disabled people that does very little toward creating actual change, especially for those people who are most vulnerable. Without enforcement or incentive, this encouragement is not likely to change the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities.
Although little was said about the potential online platform that is intended to connect people with disabilities to potential employers, I see this as an example of the masculinization of yet another part of the state. Masculinization of state interventions is defined briefly as a rejection of collectivism and encouragement toward competition in society that ultimately benefits only the most privileged of participants (Braedly, 2012). Human interaction has been taken out of the equation in favour of a ‘quick-fix’ in the form of a web platform, where the participants data is quantified and the method is efficient but not measured for it’s quality. This platform will assist the most privileged of those people with disabilities who have access not only to internet and a computer, but access to adaptive devices that make their participation in such a platform possible. Such a platform would create more meaningful change if it were to include guaranteed access for those who need it.
Very little was also said of the ‘Employers Partnership Table’, where business leaders are expected to share their best practices with the government, although I fear that it will go against the mantra of the disabled community, which is ‘nothing about us without us’. This table consists of employers who are speaking on behalf of their disabled employees and assumes that it is the employer and not the potential employee who knows how to best create an accessible work environment. Such a partnership would create more meaningful change if it consisted of the voices of those with disabilities.
This post was written by current student Ryan McInally.
I remember June as an extremely stressful time in my life. In previous years working as an Educational Resource Facilitator, the end of the term was a time to reflect, organize and prepare as a team for the following year. This year as a teaching assistant was different. Instead of coming together as a department, I reflected alone while scraping gum off lockers for the last three days of the year. I was left feeling simultaneously drained, from excess last-minute duties, yet unfulfilled, knowing there had to be more I could do. I wasn’t the only one; many of my colleagues were dissatisfied with a new paradigm that had started mid-year and intensified towards the end of the school-year.
As I’ve come to realize over the past few years, many of my peers in the Faculty of Community Services have similar positions in various boards of education throughout Ontario. It’s hard for me to explain what a teaching assistant or youth worker does to those who have never held such a position. I think the best answer is simply: it is complicated. Our roles are not finite or rigid, and we tend to gravitate to areas that need the most attention and support. But that’s what makes it enchanting as well, given certain conditions. If your supervisor supports you and respects you, they are more likely to give you some level of autonomy. However, it’s not always the case. I have never worked in a role where my function can change so rapidly, and on the whim of those who may or may not understand exactly what I do. I felt trapped by a position and status that wasn’t being used to its full potential. The benefits and security were something that I heavily debated giving up. I remember telling my wife that I couldn’t return to my job for the following school year. She suggested that I create a flow chart to list my options. I realized that I really only had two; first, I could quit, secondly, I could take a sabbatical and pursue more courses at Ryerson. I decided with the latter, knowing full well that if the board did not permit me to have the year off I’d likely quit and take more courses anyway. Thankfully they accommodated a one-year unpaid sabbatical.
I have said this before but never fully embraced it till this year, but self-care is the most important thing you can do as an individual. We are constantly filling up other people’s buckets, but how often do we let ourselves or others fill ours? This year off has been an opportunity for me to reflect on my educational, professional and personal goals. It hasn’t been an easy transition from steady employment to loans, but there have been supports to help me along the way. For one, OSAP bursaries have been a great help. Secondly, I have also been applying for every single school-wide bursary and award, and was honoured to be awarded the 2017 Faculty of Community Services Undergraduate Award for part-time students. Not to mention, filling out any and every survey Ryerson sends me. Necessity is the mother of all creations and by forcing myself into a precarious economic situation I have had to become thrifty. I don’t think life works in such a way that there is ever a right time to do something, such as going back to school full-time. There will always be some obstacle or reason that prevents or stops us, but this fear of the unknown can force us into stagnation and complicity.
I realized that much of my dissatisfaction for my former role was there long before this year started. Deep down, I knew it was time to pursue something different, yet I would never have arrived here without that experience. Being a part of the education system has been a big part of my life for several years now, and moving on will be bittersweet. I came to the decision a week ago that I would not be returning to work once my sabbatical is over. Instead, I am jumping out of a metaphorical plane. There is no safety net or parachute, but I feel like the first time in a long time, I have options.
This post is an introduction to the members of the School of Disability Studies Student Alumni Advisory Committee. You can find the latest meeting minutes on this site. To learn more about the committee contact Kim Collins at email@example.com
Kim Collins is the student engagement facilitator for the School of Disability Studies. She is an alumna of the program class of 2015.
Committee Vice Chair:
Greetings! My name is Carolyn Lee-Jones and I am a 2016 graduate of the Disability Studies program at Ryerson University. I first joined the Disability Studies Student Advisory and Alumni Committee (SAAC) while I was still a student in the program. After completing the DST course Strategies for Community Building I was looking for a way to increase my involvement and activism at Ryerson and becoming part of the SAAC was just the ticket. I am thrilled continue on with the SAAC, now as an alumni member.
Influenced by over a decade working front line in the disability sector my research interests include social justice, accessible learning and equity through social policy, Mad studies and the geographies of space and movement. When I am not engaged in research or working I keep a healthy balance in my life by pursuing my other passion; training for and running ½ marathons.
Members at Large:
Driven by passion to promote access to education for all, Marsha Ryan entered the program to explore how Disability Studies can enhance her knowledge and skills. On her academic path, Marsha immersed into a vast pool of theoretic and practical tools to further advocate for access. This resulted in her thesis project, in which Marsha described her journey of following (virtually and live) a charismatic Canadian disability rights advocate David Lepofsky, as she believes David will be one of the first to bring the Canadians with Disabilities Act. After her graduation, Marsha continues implementing educational strategies that would meet the needs of so many. She is proud to be a Disability Studies alumna and part of the SAC, as this is a way to bring change.
My name is Laura Mele. I am in my second year of Disability Studies and a member at large. I join the SAAC last January to become more involved in the school. I grew up in a small town called Point Edward in southwest Ontario. I have been involved with individuals with various disabilities for the past 23 years. If you want to gain experience you should considering joining the committee.
Ms. Pauline Wangari Mwangi is a passionate community leader. As a
Developmental Service worker with over 10 years experience, she stands
for more than simple approach to leadership, her goal is to inspire
unconventional thinking and transparency that delivers unparalleled
results in the area of developmental services, community housing,
women’s rights & mental health. Ms. Mwangi currently sits at Human Rights Committee Review board and Student Alumni Advisory Committee (SAAC).
Hi. My name is Hazel Williams and I am currently taking my second course in the Disabilities Studies degree program. I am really excited to be in this program and looking forward to expanding knowledge and continuing my work as an advocate.
Trevor Smith is a member at large who is in his second year of Disability Studies.
In 2017 students and staff at The School of Disability Studies launched five web-docs aiming to bring current disability activism into online classrooms. This project was a collaboration between Student Advisory Committee members Marsha Ryan, Nicole Meehan, Emily Delbecchi, Pauline Mwangi, Carolyn Lee-Jones, and Laura Mele. Chelsea Jones, Kim Collins and Melanie Panitch were the primary investigators on this project.
Developed with a grant from Ryerson’s Learning and Teaching Enhancement Fund, these web-docs responded to requests from part-time online students to form “real world” connections with Toronto-based disability activists. This multidisciplinary project asked contemporary disability activists to think through the ways in which they challenge the status quo in their day-to-day work. Activists spoke to themes of: online queer movements, mad activism, accessible city building, crip arts, and institutional survival.
Some of the web-docs highlight more than one disciplinary theme. For example, activist Melanie Marsden discusses the politics of parenting and allyship in this 6-minute film:
Many students enrolled in this part-time program are Southern Ontario-based professionals who take classes across faculties. They are online learners with particular understandings of disability espoused by their workplaces, such as school and health care systems. They are often required to respond to disability in ways that are in opposition to disability-related activism and its intersections, including, for example, mad and queer activists whose social justice work resists and disrupts school and health care systems. In her discussion about siloed services and sexuality, Fran Odette describes the significance of interdependent and independent decision making within these and other systems:
As learners, Ryerson students are called to orient themselves to broader understandings of disability in order to effectively engage in community. Therefore, our objectives in producing these films were to:
Produce fully accessible teaching tools for online instructors
Build connections with disability communities beyond our work and school
Learn from real world disability activism/s that connect theory and practice
Highlight Toronto-based social justice movements
Develop a digital archive of disability activism
Wide-reaching in scope, these accessible web docs bring Toronto’s disability leaders into online classrooms, thus empowering students to forge knowledgeable connections with the wider disability community that may be difficult to access from their professionalized vantage points. For example, Disability Pride March co-creator Kevin Jackson discusses his work organizing the annual event in Toronto:
This project started in January 2016 and was completed in June 2017. Our commitment to accessibility was that involved consideration of the ableist barriers over which all of the contributors behind these web docs have little control. The need for flexibility in any disability-based project stems from features of its diversity: a dependency on attendants, extra time needed for accessible transportation, equipment malfunctions, an ableist encounter with a stranger that interrupts filming and shifting understanding of consent (Kafer, 2013). Eliza Chandler offers some examples of the ways in which it is important to think broadly about access in creating cultural spaces and representation of disability in this film:
Importantly, these web docs are be accessible in that they apply to the AODA’s Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation. The web docs are transcribed, captioned, and presented with ASL interpretation. However, through the production of these films we learned that accessibility is fluid; our understanding of access changed throughout the production process. We learned to think through crip time, the politics of storytelling, ethics, and collaboration:
Crip time: Working in crip time means understanding that accessibility is a broad concept; accessibility means meeting AODA barriers and simultaneously understanding that people face ableist barriers as they tell their stories
The politics of storytelling: often stories are not told in linear ways, but rather in fragments as Barry’s film demonstrates.
Ethics: Consent is an ongoing process that can change and impact production.
Collaboration: Negotiating creative differences and the importance of being entrusted with others’ stories is a key part of the creative process.
Each of these features–crip time, the politics of storytelling, ethics, and collaboration–emerged in our work with Barry Smith, whose story emerged gradually through one interview Here, Barry tells his stories of living both in and outside of Huronia Regional Centre.
In total, the project lasted spanned 19 months and cost approximately $13,000 in total. Our costs were divided as follows:
Pre-production (research such as interviews and participant honorariums): $1400
Production (filming): $4,500
Post-production (editing, captions, audio descriptions and ASL interpretation): $7,000
Cost of dissemination (conferences, posters, and screenings): $100
Good afternoon everyone. I feel honoured and humbled to have been asked by Kathryn and Esther to deliver the Student Perspective speech today as well as being awarded the Jake Edelsen Award in Community Organizing. I want to also extend my congratulations to all the award recipients who have been recognized for their efforts and thank you to the donors for your contributions who made these awards possible.
If you were to ask me back in 2008 when I freshly graduated with my Behavioural Sciences diploma what my next endeavour would be, my answer probably wouldn’t have included Disability Studies. I didn’t know it existed until a former professor told me about it but in all honesty, I believe Disability Studies chose me and I’m glad it did. For a majority of us students, it all begins at the summer intensive, DST 501 “Rethinking Disability” with Esther Ignagni in what I like to call the “unlearning stage”. Unpacking and questioning disability was something I’ve never considered before and this opened up a whole new understanding of disability from the perspective of disabled people.. For me, this was not only revolutionary in altering my understanding but it forever shaped the way I interacted with the world: from the language I used, to the models and theories I referenced to the way I repositioned myself as an advocate and ally to the disability community. We were introduced to varying schools of thought by experts in the field like Kumari-Campbell, Razack, Freire, Finkelstein, Tregaskis, Garland-Thomson, Bell and Crenshaw just to name a few. What I loved most about the intensive was having the chance to spend a couple weeks with my classmates and bounce around our ideas and individual experiences with disability.
I always knew I wanted to be involved in community organizing for the inclusion of people with disabilities: I ran free a tutoring club for low-income children with learning disabilities, wrote a few proposals for international programs focusing on education for children with disabilities yet it wasn’t until I progressed about halfway through the program, I got that moment of truth. I learned about Inclusive Design in DST 614 and for me that was it, I found my calling! Now as a graduate, I can say that I have found a tangible way to apply my learnings and my passion for advocacy by considering future graduate studies in the field of Inclusive Design. My thesis project was a great wrap-up to my academic career at Ryerson as I explored inclusion for people with disabilities in the Anti-Black Racism movement. What I enjoyed most about the program is there were always opportunities to refresh your perspective and apply it to your everyday life. Let’s take the social model of disability for example. Think about how that one concept alone has altered the way you are in the workplace with coworkers, disabled people and their families. And also, how many teaching moments you had where you were talking to family and friends and you educated them about how societal barriers perpetuate disability. Sound familiar?
All-in-all, this program taught me how to think critically and consider new point of views. I never knew what a “critical lens” was before but eventually I found myself applying it to my studies. This leads me to give some advice to current students in the program. My first piece of advice to current students would be to take as many electives as you can and see what role a critical disability lens can play. The diverse range of elective courses give you the freedom to pursue other fields of study that enhance your journey through the Disability Studies program and I believe, makes you more well-rounded. One of the electives I took was International Community Development. I enjoyed this elective very much and being a Disability Studies student allowed me to bring the theoretical framework into it for my final essay about children with disabilities living in improvised communities. I also found that I was able to do that with a majority of my elective courses.
My second piece of advice is get to know the members of the faculty and staff. They’re awesome! They are so knowledgeable in the field and are so hands-on. Ask Paris about the random emails I sent her almost every semester about my course selection or Esther about the amount of times during DST 99 I showed up to her office just to pick her brain about my major research project. They were each always so gracious and accommodating to assist me.
My last piece of advice is to take your time through the program so you can really engage with the learning process. It took me a full 8 years to complete the program and it was not a fact I liked to share with people when they asked me but when I arrived on the presentation day for our final projects, I heard the journeys of other students and what it took for them to reach this point of completion. This made me proud of what taking this program has made me both professionally, academically and personally. I hope that throughout the remainder of your studies here at Ryerson, you will continue soak up all that comes your way to help you forge your academic path and ultimately become creators and influencers in the world at large.
I would like to end by thanking the biggest creators and influencers, our professors who exemplify the school’s motto of vision, passion and action. Your contributions impact not only our academic lives but help to shape the future climate of our society to be more compassionate, knowledgeable and inclusive. We appreciate all that you do to allow us to reach our highest potential in this field through your continuous support. You provide us opportunities to grow, to get involved and to lead. For me personally, your mentorship has molded me into the woman standing in front of you today. Thank you for choosing me 8 years ago to be apart of the Disability Studies family.
Lee Armstrong: Lee planned a degree in art history but found a more satisfying career path through a Developmental Service Worker diploma that led to Disability Studies. Working in a range of service settings “sparked the fire” in her to learn to think about disability in new ways which she has done through five semesters in our program. Based in an Ottawa hospital, her job in augmentative communication and writing services challenges her every day to apply classroom knowledge to advocacy for people’s right to a voice.
Naleni Jacob: Naleni immigrated to Canada in the 1990s with her two sons, one of whom is disabled, and has been the sole provider for them ever since. It is through experiences of parenting that she has come to Disability Studies, specifically through fighting for her son’s rights to education. She knows intimately the struggles that immigrants, in particular, face in attempting to achieve substantive inclusion, and has been heavily involved in parental outreach, and addressing issues of long-term care. She has become an activist mother.
Joanne McQuinn (not present due to debilitating back pain): A new student to Disability Studies, Joanne is “incredibly excited and proud to be part of such an amazing program”. She is employed as an Educational Assistant in a high school program for autistic students. In this context, she is an advocate for rights, justice and change in what is still called “special education.” Her goal is to work in post-secondary student accessibility services or helping disabled students transition to post-secondary studies.
Alisha Barfoot travelled from her home in Owen Sound to celebrate with us today. she has dedicated her academic and professional career to the practice of inclusive education. It is her passion — even if it means being unsettled in a job where disabled students are denied the meaningful learning experiences. A 2017 graduate of our program, Alisha’s final independent study painted portraits of inclusive education based on accounts of actual practice provided by inclusive educators.
Ryan Mcinally is filling the routine periods of unemployment that he experiences in his job with courses towards his Disability Studies degree – which he expects to complete by 2019. He works in an alternative classroom supporting at-risk youth, many of who have mental health labels. In our program, he is thinking about the contradictions of his own role, and using those reflections to develop strategies for improving the lives of students. This award supports Ryan’s educational aspirations, and his growing advocacy as an educator.
Ronnie Samarita: As a high school student, a co-op placement in an adult day program for labelled people sparked Ronnie into a Developmental Services Worker program and from there to Disability Studies. As an Educational Assistant, speaking up for students is a daily part of practice. Ronnie is grasping the complexities of the “support worker” role and looking to broaden his work into a range of age groups and school settings.
Nabella Siddique is of Pakistani origin but was born on the tiny Middle Eastern island of Bahrain where she perceives a powerful need for disability rights activism and the voices of disabled people. Taking up disability from a Canadian perspective has caused her to think about marginalization and discrimination as a global issue. As a teaching assistant with the Peel school board, she can feel the impact of Disability Studies in the way she deals with her students. As the twin sister of a disabled woman, she has a personal stake in inclusive education, human dignity and peace.
Megan Suggitt (unable to attend) is a first year student in our program who reports that she is already perceiving the world around her in ways that are more culturally alert – whether it is to Indigeneous people in Canada, the Hearing Voices movement or students with learning disabilities in educational settings around the world. Her studies with us and with Child and Youth care inspired her to start a non-profit business which offers support services to disadvantaged youth.
Sophia Owenya is a teacher and educational assistant from Windsor Essex who has spent more than 20 years providing support to children and adults with intellectual disabilities. Involved with charity organizations locally and internationally, she has done volunteer work in Rwanda and Tanzania. She is passionate about Disability Studies and determined to complete the program on schedule. This award upholds her hopes.
Nicole Cadwallader: In her application, Nicole tells us that Disability Studies has shaken her world. She started this program with zero knowledge about disability as social and political – but after three years, she is critically examining the world through potent new theoretical lenses. She works in the educational sector where disabled children and their families are still fighting for their rights. She knows what it is like to question the programs and systems that employ her but this program has given her tools to analyze how those systemic issues are being created. This award supports Nicole’s refusal to accept educational gaps as “normal” – and her pursuit of purposeful education for disabled students.
Melissa Rideout: For the past four years, Melissa has worked as a Teaching Assistant for the Peel District School Board. She came to Disability Studies to increase her knowledge and become a better advocate, to know how to speak back to demeaning comments in the face of the powers that teachers wield in classrooms. As her course work deepens, she reports that she is “gaining backbone”, getting fueled up to be the advocate she wants to be. She has learned that being a disability advocate means you are an advocate for every race, class and gender. She writes: “The job I may get after this program is not as important as the knowledge I foster and the leader I become.”
Francis Pineda: From first-hand experience as a racialized student, Francis can testify to the barriers that students face in completing post-secondary education – starting with high tuition fees. For several years he has been active in student politics and marked his third term with the Continuing Education Students’ of Ryerson by being elected its president. Through a range of collective projects, he tries to center marginalized voices such as those of disabled students. In Disability Studies, Francis finds support for deconstructing, challenging and unpacking the dominant system. His engagement in this program is shifting the pathway he will take after graduation.
Darlene Murrain: Darlene has always wanted to be involved in community organizing for the inclusion of disabled people. Her final independent study was about placing disabled people in the anti-black racism movement. But Darlene’s big aha! moment was learning about Inclusive Design from Charles Silverman in DST 614. “That was it”, she writes, “I had found my calling!” Now, as a graduate, she feels that she has tangible ways to apply her learnings. Her aspiration is to follow her passion by pursuing graduate studies in the field of Universal Design and education.
After a decade in the sector, Meghan Hogg is grounded in a feminist social justice approach to counselling and support in response to violence against women. In 2009-10, for Nellie’s Shelter, she co-researched and wrote a position paper on the intersections of trauma and violence, picking up on the ways that women’s voices and experiences are pathologised through systemic medicalized responses to trauma. In conference presentations and training workshops she draws upon the work of Mad activists/scholars, and describes the conversations that ensue as “sticky, profound, emotional, illuminating and deeply relevant” for professional practice.
Marsha Ryan: Originally from Moldova, Marsha brings to Disability Studies a political consciousness drawn from the confluence of Romanian, Ukrainian and Russian identities, languages and cultures. In Canada, Disability Studies has become her second home – a place where she encounters people who demonstrate leadership around injustice in a complex world. Last year, for her final independent study, Marsha spent most of the winter shadowing AODA activist David Lepofsky in his relentless pursuit of a provincial Educational Accessibility Standard. Using visual mapping, word walls and Twitter analytics, she teased out the ways that he builds community, shapes and disseminates ideas towards a more inclusive society.
KATHRYN: Disability Studies has an active Student Advisory Committee working with Kim Collins, our Student Engagement Facilitator to demonstrate community engagement strategies for/amongst part-time learners at a distance. This year, the committee wishes to recognize Paris Master-McRae for her powerful contribution to their work and the life of the School. Marsha Ryan will speak for the committee.
MARSHA: Paris Master-McRae is the gold standard when it comes to the School of Disability Studies. She knows the system from within. She knows it both as the Student Affairs Coordinator and as a program student, now Graduate and Alumni, Class of 2015. She is also an award winner, the recipient of the Malcolm Jeffreys Leadership Award. To Paris, “disability studies is not just a job or a program it is a community, a family.” She is a change-maker and a tireless advocate for values of the school, faculty and university. Guided by the Disability Studies motto “Vision. Passion. Action” her day-to-day work propels the work of equity, inclusion, and diversity. She will do whatever it takes and more to support staff, faculty and students, to offer encouragement and to explore new ideas. Paris’s welcoming smile, infectious laughter and open door create an environment that cultivates collegiality, camaraderie and solidarity in seeking disability justice.
Rukiyah Ghani: Rukiyah is a first generation post-secondary student whose experiences reflect the challenges and joys of both immigration and disability. Close in age, Rukiyah and her brother navigate their community together, as he faces both discrimination and institutionalization. Much of her knowledge and skill in disability advocacy is gained from this lived experience. An accomplished student, she makes powerful links between the classroom, community and professional practice. Described as “exceptional” by her instructors, she is serving as a member of School Council where we benefited from her gentle intelligence.
Laura Mele: Laura’s application came in with two shining letters of reference: one from the mother of a young woman who is designated Medically Fragile and with whom Laura has worked for 18 years. The other came from Dr. Chelsea Jones, an instructor in our program who writes that “Laura’s work revolves around the task of improving the lives of others – from small gestures to large strides in various fields of study.” A resident of Sarnia, Laura identifies as a disabled rural woman, and often pulls the geographic peripheries into class discussion. She is making her mark through participation on the Student Advisory Committee and relationship-building in its many projects.
DAVID: In its attempts to “change the conversation” around mental health, Disability Studies at Ryerson links social movement issues and actions with the fresh scholarship of Mad Studies. To mark my 70th birthday, some friends paid the tuition fees for someone to take Mad People’s History – the course that I helped to create and taught here for many years. That gesture has become a yearly ritual as has the involvement of Working for Change, the community organization from which the recipient is selected and where I am pleased to be a member of the board.
We regret to tell you that last year’s recipient, Adrienne Mageenis, passed away this year. Adrienne was a graduate of the Women Speak Out Leadership Training course at Working for Change and a passionate advocate on issues related to mental health. She participated on numerous committees and Boards of Directors for non-profit mental health agencies. She was very committed to furthering her education in the field of mental health. Our community misses her strong voice, perspectives and wisdom.
This year’s recipient is Desiree Bowen. Desiree is a graduate of En Route to Employment and is now working as a Program Assistant at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health CAMH. She has a keen interest in Peer Work. Mad People’s History will provide her with a strong background and understanding of the history of the survivor movement.
Erin Poudrier: Erin graduated this Spring. In reflecting on her time in the program, she is most proud of her development as an academic writer. Her application included course papers on cultural representation, and bioethics, as well as her final independent study titled Precarious Terrain: Narratives of American Sign Language Interpreters. She explained that her disability consciousness “did not happen overnight. Rather it was a journey through reading and writing about learning” with feedback from professors that overcame her skepticism and uncertainty. Erin had the pleasure to get to know Helen in the summer of 2014 when they both took the community building course.” I am thrilled to accept”, she wrote. “I feel truly honored to receive this award in Helen’s name.”
Maria Teresa Larrain: A mature student in our program, Maria Teresa is a Chilean Canadian film-maker and community organizer. She has just released Shadow Girl, a film that follows her journey into blindness and her encounter with a group of blind Chilean street vendors from whom she learns a different way to look and to see. Maria spent several years making this film – some of it shot on the Ryerson campus during one of our summer institutes – and much of the past year in its international promotion. The film has been recognized by the Circle of Chilean Art Critics (Best Documentary), DIVA Film Festival (Best Film, Best Director, Best Sound), FEDOCHI Film Festival (Best National Documentary), DocsBarcelona Valparaiso Festival (Best National Film Audience Award), FIDOCS Film Festival (Audience Award) and the Vogyakarta Film Festival (Special Jury Award). We are so pleased in Emma’s memory to recognize Maria Teresa and to support her ongoing work.
Jerusalem Bete: A recent graduate of the Developmental Service Worker program at Centennial College, Jerusalem is looking to increase her knowledge and her impact as a worker. Member of a family who migrated from Ethiopia, she and a brother who is autistic grew up in the diverse Toronto neighborhood of Flemingdon Park. She knows the many challenges that racialized disabled people face in life. With educational challenges herself, she is keen to expand her capacities to support others.
Hedy Ng (not present): Resident of Markham, Ontario, Hedy works as an Adult Education Literacy Program Assistant. Unable to complete her early studies, she is now a single parent raising a son who has been diagnosed with ASD. She regained her educational pathway by taking any seminars or class she could find. Her path to our program began with the Accessibility Practices Certificate which, after seven courses, she used as a platform for launching into program admission. Great stamina, Hedy.
John Okot: Following his completion of the Developmental Service Worker diploma at Fanshawe College in London, John comes to us with a strong desire for further education and a broader range of job opportunities. Prior to returning to school in 2013, he drove transport truck for almost eight years – which was a living but one that did not allow him to make the kind of difference he wants to in other people’s lives. One of his long-term goals is to use the skills he develops to educate young people in his country of origin, South Sudan, Africa.
Ann Beatty: With connections to disability in her personal life and her job as a support worker, Ann enjoys learning new theoretical frameworks, risking challenging topics, connecting her coursework with her personal life and generally thinking through the complexities of how disability is understood in society. Since 2005 when she started the program, she has completed nearly all of the DST courses and is poised to begin her final independent study towards degree completion in April 2018. Having faced challenges as a working student, this award will provide very meaningful assistance to her in completing her studies.
Christina Devlin: Christina started her Disability Studies program in 2014 as a self-advocate who was running a support group for Autism Ontario (London chapter). Being a co-researcher on Esther’s parenting possibilities research introduced her to Disability Studies and this program has given her greater confidence as an autistic person living in a neurotypical-dominated society. Christina draws direct connections between course materials, assignments and her growing activism including leadership with a grassroots, intersectional, user-led, peer support and advocacy organization that is run collectively by autistic people. She is headed into Research Methods this fall, pressing towards degree completion and savoring a dream to work for the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
Adriano Aguiar – Life measured in feet: An arts-informed inquiry
Linh Chau – Illness and disability in the workplace: Living the organizational experience
Nadia Lembo – Disability as a story that connects us: Exploring the impact of narrative moments
Karine Roy – (not present ) Critical Discourse Analysis of InVitro Fertilization (IVF): “Your embryos are not grade A”!
Brittany Van Beilen – ABLLS-R Activated: The invisible connections within ABA: An institutional ethnography
This post was written by graduating student, Darlene Murrain.
From the beginning of my scholastic career in Disability Studies, I always looked forward to the Major Research Thesis Project. As I navigated through the core courses of the program, I became more and more intrigued with various schools of thought around inclusion, intersectionality and activism. I knew that I wanted to carry these themes into my final project. Choosing a topic for my final project was a daunting process but thanks to my supervising professor Esther Ignagni, she helped me narrow down my topic in a way that brilliantly captured all of my interests: Placing people with disabilities in the movement against anti-black racism movement using a Disability Justice lens. The aim was to look at various local activist organizations (e.g. Black Lives Matter Toronto) whose missions seek social justice for black people and to determine how disability is addressed in their organizing efforts. With approximately 60-80% of state violence victims being black people with disabilities, I felt committed. So my research question became: “How is disability taken up within the movement? This meant to explore representation, ableist assumptions about disability embodiment, the vulnerability of differing bodies without perpetuating that vulnerability, internalized attitudes of ableism within the black community, inclusive spaces, and creating alternate ways for people with disabilities who cannot take to the streets. During the research process, I had to be intentional about not criticizing or assessing the efforts of the community organizations to determine if they were successful. I just simply wanted to see how it was done.
The research methodologies I used were Ethnography and Discourse analysis. It was impossible not to place myself in the research as I am a black woman and there were moments when I experienced a wide range of emotions, especially when reading newspaper articles about state violence and discrimination against black people. I used these moments to interact with the material from a personal perspective as well as a researcher’s perspective. Ethnography permitted me this opportunity since it’s a research method that respects the research’s subjectivity and does not make the assumption that the researcher is separate from the research. Discourse analysis helped to complement Ethnography through exploration of discriminatory language and social concepts, which I did by locating our cultural understanding of the word “normal”.
I used many sources to collect information. I collected data not only from scholarly articles and informational interviews but I also read blogs, followed social media accounts, visited visual art exhibitions during Black History Month and attended community speaking engagements. Looking back, I believe I was quite over zealous because the amount of information I accumulated became really overwhelming at one point. However, I recognize that I did this because I had so little in terms of scholarly research explicitly on disability inclusion in the modern movement against anti-black racism. I really had to process and organize the data in a way that made sense to my research. I accomplished this by focusing on the shared experiences of black people and people with disabilities. Three concepts that stood out to me in this area that I would like to share are Consciousness, The Weather and Internalized Racism/Ablesim. They are defined below: Consciousness: This is idea of a social movement group and it’s members adjusting its way of organizing or its “conscious” to address the changing ways of systemic oppression. An example of this would be taking up an intersectional approach to black issues that include various identities, because not every one who identifies as black faces the oppression in the same ways.
The Weather: This is a concept shared by Canadian Poet and Documentarian Dionne Brand who has written about racism and state violence in Canada. She describes racism against black people as “the weather”. It is anti-blackness rooted in white supremacy and it is accompanied by the glance and the stare. She says just like the weather, racism is constant, casual and happens every day.
Internalized Racism/Ableism: This is when the individual feels inward hatred and inadequacy because of how society discriminates against them based on their identity. Also media representations can have a negative effect on the individual’s perception of self and contribute to their feelings of internal discrimination.
So back to my burning research question: Is disability taken up in the movement against anti-black racism? Absolutely! How is disability taken up? For the sake of this post, I will not go into extensive detail but from the articles I read, the organizations that I interviewed and the events and art exhibits I attended, serious considerations are made for black people with disabilities, whether visible or invisible, to participate fully in the movement. This can be anywhere from the frontlines to leadership roles to social media engagement to adding disability-related issues to the agenda. My analysis revealed that in order for the movement to be successful on a political front, the organizers had to consider the intersectionality of the multiple identities that claim blackness within the movement itself. Space is the top consideration when inviting people with disabilities into the movement, making sure it is accessible, inclusive and safe.
Black Lives Matter Toronto advocating for queer-disability rights is an example of the intersectional shift of consciousness to bring to the forefront the issues that affect everyone, not just people of colour. At the 2016 Pride parade, BLM-TO halted the parade to present a list of 9 demands to the head of the parade. Although the backlash from the media focused heavily on BLM-TO requesting the removal of police floats, what they failed to acknowledge were that 2 of the demands were requesting improved accessibility for queer people with disabilities and hearing impairments, which is awesome!
To conclude, I believe that the modern movement against anti-black racism has done a great job of being a intersectional model of inclusive and safe spaces as well as a platform for black people with disabilities.
I want to end with a quote from Feminist and Civil Right Activist Audre Lorde that says: It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those other identified as outside the structures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make the strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.