Category Archives: Toronto

Introducing Lauren Munro

Image description: Lauren, a fat white woman with long wavy brown hair is smiling with her eyes closed and head tilted slightly upward. She is wearing a leopard print sleeveless jumpsuit and a crescent moon necklace. She has on neon blue eyeliner and a ray of sun is hitting the top of her head. Various leafy green fronds crisscross the fence in the background.

Lauren Munro has been selected as the newest Limited Term Faculty (LTF) in the School of Disability Studies at X University. She recently sat down with Tiffany-Anne Stones to chat about her trajectory to Disability Studies and what she is looking forward to this year. 

While Lauren Munro may be unfamiliar to the core students within the School of Disability Studies, she has been an instructor in the department for the past two years, team teaching DST 500: A History of Madness. Lauren describes herself as “a mad scholar, an artist, an aunt, a daughter, a partner, and a friend,” prioritizing her relationships in the way she moves through the world. 

When asked about how she came to the field of disability studies, Lauren shares a bell hooks quote from Teaching to Transgress:

“I came to theory, when I was hurting, when the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living. I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend what was happening around and within me… I saw in theory then a location for healing.”

(p. 59)

Explaining how the quote “profoundly resonates with me in a kind of retrospective way,” Lauren confides that her discovery of mad studies in the early stages of her academic career – through the Mad Students Society – was a balm for the isolation and alienation she experienced related to her madness and her interactions with the psychiatric system. At the time, she was working on her undergraduate thesis in the psychology department at Laurier and decided to focus on mad students’ experiences with stigma and discrimination. She quickly realized that she “…wasn’t going to be theorizing or thinking this [topic] through in the way that psychology typically would.” This began her formal engagement with writing and theorizing in disability studies and mad studies – a passion that would continue to grow and inform her work moving forward. For graduate studies, she made her academic home in community psychology, which is an interdisciplinary field that takes a social justice-based approach to issues of community health and well-being. In addition to its social justice orientation, she was drawn to the field due to its emphasis on community-based research, compatible with the “nothing about us without us” ethos of disability activism.

Lauren has since been involved in a wide variety of projects focused on the health and well-being of 2SLGBTQ+ communities, body diversity and weight stigma, disability justice in arts-based research, transformative approaches to mental health, sexual health service access for women with psychiatric disabilities, centering service user epistemology in medical education, and issues related to sexual health and HIV vulnerability. Talking about the threads that connect her scholarship, she says her work “…interrogates the idea of there being an ideal body or mind.”

On the teaching side of things, Lauren has extensive experience in a variety of classrooms. Beyond teaching DST 500 at X University, she has taught courses on research methods and community partnerships, and how critical theories can be used to inform the development of social interventions at Laurier. She has also designed, developed, and taught a mad studies course to psychiatry residents at the University of Toronto for the past five years, alongside Lucy Costa of the Empowerment Council. She does this educational work with the goal of contributing to transformative change that tangibly benefits mad community.

I am passionate about teaching and learning and am really excited to get to know the students in the program, and to learn and work alongside them.

Reflecting on her life outside of academia, Lauren shares that part of what keeps her grounded is maintaining some sort of arts practice, whether its zine-making, mixed-media collage, gifts for her nibblings, or simply adorning her planner. Just as important has been staying connected to community, activism, and peer support outside of the confines of traditional medical and social service models. During the pandemic, her primary company has been her partner and a badly behaved cat named Stan. 

In her new position, Lauren is keen to connect with the exceptional scholars within the program. Looking ahead to the 2021/2022 academic year, Lauren will be teaching DST88 and DST99, in addition to DST500. When asked about her approach to teaching, she highlights the importance of “…making space for people who have been harmed by academia, who have been traditionally left out, or who have been taught that it is not a place where they can think, learn, and theorize.” She is looking forward to getting to know students in the program and finding ways to support them to do the kind of work they’re passionate about. While she doesn’t have a physical office at the moment, Lauren encourages students to drop by online, reach out to say hello or to share their curiosities. Acknowledging that academia can reinforce hierarchies that make it hard to send that first email, she shares her hopes around making connections, saying, “…whether it’s sending a late-night email, or really just pressing send on one you composed hours ago,” she can’t wait to hear from you!

Lonely Crane’s Mourning Song

Screen still from Hedy Ng's video "Lonely Crane's Mourning Song." An interior shot of a side table with a wooden top and metal legs and bars on the side is seen from the top down, at a slight angle. There are four folded white paper cranes resting on the table. The floor is brown carpet.
Image Description: Screen still from Hedy Ng’s video “Lonely Crane’s Mourning Song.” An interior shot of a side table with a wooden top and metal legs and bars on the side is seen from the top down, at a slight angle. There are four folded white paper cranes resting on the table. The floor is brown carpet.

The following is an excerpt from Hedy Ng’s DST 99 thesis work. It has been edited for clarity and length. In her words:

“I’m a little weirdo who has never belonged. The similarity of this theme of displacement has always resonated throughout the disability community. We have never really belonged. I wrote a long story about this and that is my thesis in a nutshell.”

Last year, when the global pandemic found its way to Ontario, our organization was hit really hard. Just before Easter Weekend, 2020, we went into an outbreak, and we had many front-line staff walk off the job. Only a handful of us were left to care for the residents of our facility, members of management, who all (including our executive director) took on front line roles, program staff like myself, who took on PSW roles, and a couple of PSWs. I left my autistic son in the capable hands of my aging parents and volunteered to work as a PSW on night shifts, because none of us wanted to leave our residents and our home in the hands of agency strangers. 

I actually had my tent with me and lived in an office space, serving on night shift for four weeks before I finally got sick and was sent to a hotel to recover. It was during this time I was off that I made a few videos and wrote the first couple of sections of my COVID story, trying to process my experiences. I was really sick for nearly two months, and still experience residual symptoms – COVID completely turned my world around.

That story of my experiences became the backbone of my final project. I extended my narrative to the end of 2020 and wove in disability studies commentaries throughout the paper as footnotes, where I analyze my thoughts, word choices, events, circumstances, and issues that came up. My final project became a short, critical novel. An autoethnography.

Perhaps the most meaningful outcome of writing in my journey has been to process thoughts and thought patterns, learn and understand, and begin a shift in thinking away from a purely medical-model-based type of processing. Covid and this final project changed a lot about me and my thinking: I used to be a very traditional, methods-based, give-me-an-outline-to-follow-to-complete-my-tasks-in-the-most-orthodox-fashion-imaginable person.

Many of the opportunities I have had to write more creatively in my academics, I have used to record different observations about power imbalances, oppressions, and ableism in the interactions I encounter each day (both in my work and in the larger society). In DST 99, I have finally used my writing to turn my observations inward, to myself, my thought patterns and behaviours, and my internalised ableism.

Here is one of my favourite excerpts, or a little story from my project, when I was at the hotel and feeling alone and struggling with my identity:

Over the next week, I fought with my body, desperate to be back at work. Sitting alone in the room, I felt impotent. I felt useless. I felt what I imagined wounded soldiers felt when they were sent home in the middle of a war, away from their brothers and sisters in arms. Like I was abandoning them. I felt beaten, like I had failed. I felt weak. I felt only brokenness. 

My pride was busted. My confidence was shattered. And I was intensely angry with my body – further incensed that even taking Tylenol did not always seem to help. 

I never medicated. 

I hated how long it took me to shuffle down the hall just to enjoy a few moments outside. 

I hated the short list of things I was physically allowed to do: 

Breathe. Walk. Hydrate. Sleep.

The only solace I found was that in spite of continually being told I could not quite return to work yet; I could still follow orders and not sneak in – though there was one morning I wrestled with the idea for over an hour before I convinced myself that being able to follow orders was all I had. 

I felt alone again. Alone, with my broken body that would not obey the orders my mind was giving. 

Video by Hedy Ng, titled “Lonely Crane’s Mourning Song,” music is “Brave” by Sara Bareilles.

Effects of Mandatory Online Learning on Single Parents

COVID-19, Online Learning and Impact on Single Parents  

By Pauline Wangari, January 2021. 

Image Description: A photo of a parent and their child working at a table together. The parent is covering their face with their hand, while the child is writing on a sheet of paper next to a laptop.
Source: Adobe Stock. 
Image Description: A photo of a parent and their child working at a table together. The parent is covering their face with their hand, while the child is writing on a sheet of paper next to a laptop.

This blog post was written in January 2021 during a wave of the novel Coronavirus. It has been edited for clarity and length.

COVID-19 numbers are on the rise with each passing day and so are the reported number of fatalities. More than 1.575 billion students in approximately 188 countries around the world are reported to have been affected by the closure of learning institutions due to preventive measures taken by countries against the spread of COVID-19 (UNESCO, 2020). Due to isolation, the use of technology has been considered the most appropriate (if not the only) alternative to keep educational systems functional in many countries during this period. 

In this blog post, I explore the mandatory online learning which has left single parents with  impossible choices in Toronto, Canada.


The pandemic has affected all areas of life, including education. As the situation worsened, the  global lockdown culminated in a lockdown of educational institutions. This closing of schools,  colleges, and universities resulted in a stressful event for educational administration with highly  limited options.  

The closure of educational activities around the world as a result of the ongoing COVID-19  pandemic caused an unplanned shift from traditional learning to a setup that almost exclusively involves digital teaching and learning.  

Image Description: A photograph of an empty classroom with childrens art on the walls and many unoccupied desks.
Source: World Economic Forum 
Image Description: A photograph of an empty classroom with children’s art on the walls and many unoccupied desks.

Online learning has been widely promoted to replace traditional face-to-face learning during the  COVID-19 pandemic. This shift has an immediate and long-lasting effect, particularly for more vulnerable and  disadvantaged communities. In my research, most parents generally had negative beliefs about the values and benefits from online learning and preferred traditional learning in early childhood settings. They tended to resist and even reject online learning for three key reasons: the shortcomings of online learning, young children’s inadequate self-regulation, and their lack of time and professional knowledge in supporting children’s online learning. The implementation of online learning during the pandemic has been problematic and challenging for most families as they were neither trained nor ready to embrace online learning.  

Covid-19 Impact on Single Parents 

Source: Canadian Women’s Foundation  

The pandemic has intensified the economic barriers that women are already facing throughout  Canada as research suggests that pandemics can take a higher toll on women’s income as  compared to their male counterparts. 

Women constitute up to 60% of those in Canada that are “economically struggling,” meaning  that they report difficulty in affording their basic needs. Following the travel bans, layoffs have predominantly hit industries with a greater proportion of female workers. These include those in the hospitality and travel industry. In Canada, 80% of single-parent households are led by women, who are overwhelmed with  working and taking care of the children at the same time. 

Covid 19 is a disaster for feminism. Most likely, the partner who makes the least money, generally women, will absorb most of the caregiving. 

Some of the challenges single parents are facing include the following: 

1. Economic Strain  

There is an additional economic strain on single mothers in the move to online learning. Many of these parents are not able to afford the devices and internet that their children require so as to be able to participate in online classes. Some of these parents have had a change in their employment status where some were laid off and others furloughed. Without expensive high-speed internet, they simply aren’t able to support video calls on programs such as zoom.

“Classes are conducted on specific timings, so we have to be available with the internet at any cost, it’s  difficult when we have more than 2 kids at home going in the same school having classes at the same  time.” 

COVID-19 crisis has reinforced social inequality in education as represented in schools. 

2. Priorities and Balance  

Even though parents now have more time with their children, the pressure to juggle multiple  tasks is stressful. Mothers felt overwhelmed by having to help in their children’s education and at the same time manage house chores.

There is a notable struggle to balance parent employment demands and learner needs while struggling to assist multiple children in the home with learning. A lack of personal, work, and parenting balance has turned out to be overwhelming.

3. Balancing Multiple Levels of Learners in Home  

It is difficult to  balance multiple child learners in the home. As one mother described this struggle, “try to help 2 kids at once with different subjects and who are at different grades.”  

4. Insufficient Space  

Homes now have to function simultaneously as schools, offices and living space. A  single mother may not be able to afford a large apartment and may live in smaller, more affordable spaces. This has left them in a bind.  

5. Difficulties in Keeping Children On Task  

Many children are considering this time as a vacation from school, and they want  nothing to do with a normal school-like routine. Instead, they want to sleep and wake up  according to their own wish and spend the rest of the time playing video games and watching  cartoons/movies. It is difficult for many parents to keep children focused on their educational tasks, which can have repercussions on their social, educational, and physical development.

6. Disability Accommodation Challenges  

Another barrier that has been cited by single mothers was supporting disabled learners. There is a struggle to meet the disability-related needs of their children during COVID school closure. A parent of students with learning disabilities shared the following: 

“My  biggest struggles have been in working with my daughters (grades 3 and 5) who struggle with  learning disabilities (dyslexia and ADD respectively). I am not equipped to try to teach them  material and both struggle with organization and focus. This has resulted in several long days  when the guidance from their elementary school has been that work should take approximately 1  hour to complete daily. In reality a normal day is 3- 4 hour and some are 7-8” 

What then needs to be done?  

Parents, especially single parents, need the right kinds of support from teachers and schools. They need teachers and schools to realize that they are barely able to make it through each day and are doing their best to support students. Without support and even acknowledgment of their feelings, they will not be able to maintain a healthy mental and emotional status or support their children to do the same. 

This pandemic will soon pass. The true test however is how mothers, and parents in general, are able to navigate around it and help their children remain positive and healthy. This is a time for love, care and support as parents strive to help their young ones grow. 


CDC. (2020). Stress and coping. Retrieved from – ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.

Chang, G. C., & Yano, S. (2020). How are countries addressing the Covid-19 challenges  in education? A snapshot of policy measures. Retrieved from World Education Blog: addressing the-covid-19-challenges-in-education-a-snapshot-of-policy-measures/ 

Dai, D., & Lin, G. (2020). Online home study plan for postponed 2020 spring semester  during the COVID-19 epidemic: A case study of tangquan middle school in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, China. Best Evidence in Chinese Education, 4(2), 543- 547. 4. Women’s Worry Work in the Covid 19 Pandemic 

Black, E. W. (2009). An evaluation of familial involvements’ influence on student  achievement in K-12 virtual schooling. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. 

Giannini, S., & Lewis, S. G. (2020). Three ways to plan for equity during the coronavirus  school closures. Retrieved from  25/three-ways-to-plan-for-equity-during-the-coronavirus-school-closures 

Hasan, S. (2020). Schools close, children free -parents face a new conundrum. Retrieved  from new-conundrum  

Jinshan, H. (2020). Parents grapple with e-learning as Chinese schools stay shut.  Retrieved from grapplewith-e-learning-as-chinese-schools-stay-shut 

Mehmish, Z. A., Ahmed, Q. A., Schlagenhauf, P., Doumbia, S., & Khan, A. (2020). No  time for dilemma: Mass gatherings must be suspended. The Lancet, 395(10231), 1191- 1192. doi: 

Welcome Dr. Idil Abdillahi, Assistant Professor at the School of Disability Studies

Image Description: A photograph of Idil taken outside in front of a building wall of cement blocks painted purple with street art of a racoon reclining on top of a car holding a bat. Idil, a Black woman, leans against this wall, one leg bent against it. She is wearing a wide brimmed black hat, large black sunglasses, dark red lipstick, gold earrings, a black dress with a ‘V’ neckline, and black shiny leggings. She has on tan heels that match a rich tan coat with her hands in the pockets.
Image Description: A photograph of Idil taken outside in front of a building wall of cement blocks painted purple with street art of a racoon reclining on top of a car holding a bat. Idil, a Black woman, leans against this wall, one leg bent against it. She is wearing a wide brimmed black hat, large black sunglasses, dark red lipstick, gold earrings, a black dress with a ‘V’ neckline, and black shiny leggings. She has on tan heels that match a rich tan coat with her hands in the pockets.

The following conversation took place in September 2020 between Amanda Lin, Student Engagement Facilitator, and Idil Abdillahi, new School of Disability Studies faculty member. It has been edited for clarity and length.

Amanda: Idil, welcome to the School of Disability Studies! Congratulations on your success and becoming the Advisor to the Dean on Anti-Black Racism in the Faculty of Community Services. I’m super excited to get the opportunity to interview you and introduce your work to our students, alumni, and readers. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your life.

Idil: Thank you, I used to work in the School of Social work and now work at the School of Disability Studies. I am cross-appointed in Social Work but my ‘home’ is here in Disability Studies.

To introduce my work to students, I would like to say that I have always been part of a care community and that this community is very important to me. I have been a practitioner and a person who works and supports people for almost two decades. This work has been in a wide range of services and supports, including hospitals and larger carceral institutions around ‘care’. Furthermore, my work is and has always been located in grassroots activism.

Over the years I’ve worked extensively with mad identified people, primarily in the carceral system. I come to Disability Studies with a particular kind of expertise around understanding the Ontario Review board, issues around the title of Not Criminally Responsible, and discourses in both criminality and madness. In particular, I’m interested in the ways in which these systems are deployed against Black people, either by overuse or abusive-use.

Amanda: I think you’ve touched a little bit on this, what led you to your academic work? And can you tell us a little bit about your academic journey or background that led you to disability studies?

Idil: While I continue to develop a background in socio-legal knowledge, I am interested in legal issues for mad identified people as they pertain to sentencing, the securitization, and the ‘management’ of mad identified people within institutions. I want to pay particular attention to the way these issues affect the people who we do not see, the people that are left behind and locked away, who activism and activists cannot readily access unless you are within those systems.

My journey to disability studies does not begin in the context of the academy. For many of us who are on the peripheries of formal education, we do not come to these places by just learning about them. We actually come to them by virtue of something else, that has been lived through, known. Oftentimes, we are already doing the work but just need that piece of paper to be really clear. I come to the university by virtue of the realities of BlackLife, one word, not two, [laughs] my BlackLife and that of others, who I’ve had the privilege of living and being alongside.

Editor’s note: In their book BlackLife: Post-BLM and the Struggle for Freedom, Idil and Rinaldo Walcott define the term BlackLife as words necessarily joined, saying “living Black makes BlackLife inextricable from the mark of its flesh, both historically and in our current time.”

Disability studies cannot be separated from BlackLife in my work. I’m a Black Canadian studies scholar and being a Black Canadian scholar ultimately is a direct challenge to ideas of discipline rigidity. My writing and research is not just within social work or disability studies because BlackLife cannot be contained within any one discipline. BlackLife happens everywhere and all the time and part of my work is challenging discipline rigidity in these fields [while some white mad scholars want to debate this].

Therefore, I do the broad work of Black Canadian studies and within that work there are multiple prongs including disability studies, policy, and issues around the sociopolitical legal system, women, systems, and institutions. Even some of my writing work, where I am starting to write about art, television, and music, is within Black studies. This is to say that as a Black scholar, I entered disability studies by understanding the ways in which disability has been mapped onto Black people and ‘bodies’, regardless of formalized ideas of being disabled.

Ultimately, I come to disability studies with a commitment to the freedom of all of us. I also came to disability studies by way of interacting with my colleagues in the School of Disability Studies working at Ryerson (DST). I have been observing the scholarship of Eliza [Chandler] and Esther [Ignagni], and the work of several of our staff and postdocs, for some time. I felt an alignment in seeing and interacting with the School. Over the last few years, through interacting and getting to know the people working in DST, I felt a real value for the scholarship and activism I was creating within my previous School of Social Work. More so, DST does not just visibilize the importance and worthiness of my scholarship but provides tangible support by examining its meaning in their own work. From my perspective, the people at DST are interested in doing this work alongside me.

Amanda: My understanding is that you are one of the founders of the Black Legal Action Centre, can you tell us about your work there? And can you tell us a bit about your podcast work?

Idil: Yes. I am one of the founding members of the Black Legal Action Centre, the only legal clinic in Canada that works and focuses on the issues of Black people, specifically issues of anti-Black racism in the context of larger policy related cases.

As for podcasts, a colleague, Prof. El Jones, and I developed a series during Covid called No Life Left Behind. This podcast, like anything else I do, was born out of a gap. In my ‘work’ with lifers in prison, many of us across the country were doing advocacy at the provincial level around releasing incarcerated people during Covid. The podcast is attempting to complicate questions around abolition and defunding. All of the podcasts were co-hosted by lifers who participated along with academics, activists, scholars, and researchers across Canada.

Amanda: How are you going to bring all this work to your new role as the Advisor to the Dean on Anti-Black Racism?

Idil: [laughs] It’s not lost on me that institutions often have neoliberal responses to sociopolitical circumstances and/or often to critique. I need to be able to name that while also being excited and looking forward to this new role. However, people have to understand the limitations of it, as a one-year contract position. Given the mechanics of the way the academy, or any institution, works, we all have to be realistic about what can be expected and accomplished in a one-year period of time. In terms of what it means to be an ‘advisor,’ I am not changing anything about what I was doing prior to this role. I will continue to be the person I was before and have the same investments towards BlackLife and freedom. This role doesn’t change my commitments, the person that I am, my comportment, or the way in which I challenge the institution. Perhaps, all it does is acknowledge my time for doing this work and all the suffering that I endured and continue to endure as a result of this role.

Part of my role within the next year is to support and challenge FCS in their anti-Black racism work. I’m not and have never been known to be a quiet person or a person who is afraid. I believe that some of our most meaningful changes and relationship building can come out of conflict.

I think that part of what this new role offers are possibilities for particular kinds of access for students, faculty (who decide to participate), and for FCS to make relationships with community members. Now that Dean Barnoff has announced she will no longer be dean moving forward, my hope is that this work continues regardless of who is in that role. As such, a part of this work is to register my concern around the lack of sustainability for this advisor role. I implore FCS and the institution to think about what this lack of sustainability means for completing the current FCS action plan, and how that work should not end with the tenure of Dean Barnoff.

Another important aspect of being Advisor to the Dean on Anti-Black Racism is to be clear that Black studies is not specific to a discipline. Issues of Blackness and race cut across disciplines, and we need this scholarship to be able to do this work. In Black studies, we are creating the ways in which having an analysis around Blackness, anti-Blackness, capitalism, colonialism, imperialism, and every other form of interruption can create possibilities. These learnings enrich our classrooms and the social world through our graduating students. They have not only had an excellent experience within the institution but have learned the critical content that is required to make shifts within their respective fields of the nine schools in FCS.

Amanda: Can you tell us about some of your interests and inspiration?

Idil: I am hugely into TV and pop culture. I watch horrible stuff and I love it. I am interested in writing about ideas of ‘reality’ in reality television and the ways in which we engage ‘reality’ in the context of surveillance. In particular, I want to examine how surveillance and its interactions with lust, desire, relationships, Blackness, and queerness are all taken up in these contexts.

I am a big music fan, and I love old school R&B and hip hop. I am also inspired by many Black Canadian artists who are doing amazing work.

A colleague of ours at Ryerson, Prof. Abdi Osman, creates work that is phenomenally reflective of my own kind of living, personhood, and aesthetic around Black Queer Muslims.

Abdi Osman’s website and twitter.

[In September 2020], a song just came out by Toronto-based artist, Mustafa, called Air Force.  Mustafa is an artist and public intellectual who creates radical music of love that centers a Black critical Muslim perspective.

Mustafa’s twitter and instagram, and his new song, Ali.

I also want to draw attention to another young Black woman, Farxiyo Jama. She uses her radical artist practice and work around mental health to center Black women. I continually learn from her courage and creativity.

Farxiyo Jama’s twitter and instagram.

Eliza Chandler, a white disabled woman with short brown hair, sits smiling, looking down at a laptop on a table, holding a microphone. She appears to be in a classroom with people out of focus in the foreground.

Catching up with Dr. Eliza Chandler

The following interview took place between Amanda Lin and Eliza Chandler in September 2020. It has been edited for length and clarity. The interview begins with a discussion of Eliza’s newly awarded SSHRC grant on accessibility in the arts and then we get to hear about her recent Royal Society of Canada appointment.

Researching Accessibility in the Arts

Eliza: Yes, absolutely. The question we’re asking is how does access change, specifically in the arts, when we start with the expertise, experience and politics of disabled people? 

It’s wonderful to see so many arts organizations begin their journey towards making their programing accessible and showcasing disability artists. But for all kinds of reasons, the ways that organizations approach accessibility is through what we so often refer to in disability studies and activism, as a checkbox approach of, ‘ok the show’s in two days, what ASL interpreter is available?’ Increasingly, what we’ve heard from the crip communities of artists and arts audiences is that this approach does not work and that there is knowledge in the disability, Deaf, and mad community that is not being resourced. 

“how does access change, specifically in the arts, when we start with the expertise, experience and politics of disabled people?”

I did a series of mini-consultations before putting together the grant and we heard a sort-of annoyance, for lack of a better word, or curiosity perhaps, at how arts organizations put together their access plans. Oftentimes they invest a lot of resources and work with skilled access providers. But still, their access plans aren’t as effective as they could be. For example, there might be a whole theatre festival of programming and only one play on one night has ASL interpretation. Respondents considered that it might be too costly to have ASL interpretation for every event but questioned why non-disabled theatre producers are choosing which show becomes interpreted, when that show is, and who the interpreters are? So, in this example, working with Deaf people to design your access would be really beneficial. They can create a team of skilled ASL interpreters, make sure the interpreters have the script well in advance to properly rehearse, consult with the Deaf community to choose a particular play of interest, and ensure that the performance date and time doesn’t conflict with another (or many other) Deaf and/or ASL-interpreted cultural events. This narrative highlighted for me that when you have Deaf, mad and disabled people creating and enacting access plans, you arrive at different, more effective, practices. 

In another consultation, Alex Balmer, a blind theatre artist, talked about how, for her, wanting to go to theatre shows might require someone to come to pick her up at her house and bring her to the show. We’ve heard similar what we might call ‘access dreams’ from other people that might be unfamiliar with theatre culture. For those people, someone accompanying them to the theatre can then help them navigate those awkward moments in between arriving at the theatre and waiting for the show to start. I think it can be ableist to assume that everyone can easily navigate social spaces, that they know where to hang up their coat, who to chit chat with, and all the rest.

Inspired by these consults, this project is interested in how access practices change when they centre disabled people and politics. This grant will work with people from our Deaf, mad and disability communities in co-design workshops focused on developing practices for putting together access plans around what we might call ‘crip cultural practices. We are also trying to figure out how to put in place accreditation so that participants receive a certificate upon completing these workshops demonstrating that they are trained in disability-centered designs for accessibility. Our hope is that such an accreditation will be useful in finding employment opportunities to do this work across the arts and cultural sector. 

Amanda: Who are your partners in this grant?

Eliza: Creative User Projects, a disability arts community organization with whom I work quite closely. Creative Users has started a new digital strategy project wherein they are building a digital platform, a website, called Accessing the Arts. This website will connect people from disability, mad, and Deaf communities with calls for participation, training, and networking opportunities, and accessible arts and culture events in Canada. Right now they are piloting this project through their Connector weekly listserv. This is my go-to source for all things disability arts and culture. I’d encourage everyone to sign up through this link!

The work that Creative Users is doing shows how important communication is to the effectiveness of accessibility and access plans. For example, if you’re a blind person and there is offered audio description at a theatre performance, you might not find out about this event because of the theatre company’s historic lack of accessible practices; it might not be part of your weekly routine to check their listings. Creative Users bridges connections between disability, Deaf, and mad communities and creative opportunities through newsletters and online communities, like their new project, Network Connector, and eventually the Accessing the Arts website and search engine. In attending to their community consultations that inform their work, I’ve noticed that there are so many other access practices that Deaf, disabled, and mad people are imagining that organizations aren’t considering.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the ways we are trying to bridge this gap is by training Deaf, mad, and disabled people in creative, diverse, and non-conventional access practices, and then have this group of access facilitators partner with organizations to program a festival. We can then show other festivals and art galleries that this is what access can look like when you work with disabled people.

The other part of this project would be to work with lots of different disabled people as event participants, including DST students if anyone is interested. In this role, you would attend some of the events for which our project has created an access plan (likely via Zoom) and then attend a focus group wherein you would give feedback on your experience. You don’t have to be an artist to participate, you can simply be interested in attending art events. 

Royal Society of Canada Appointment

Amanda: That’s amazing! This is going to be a really great opportunity for a shift in thinking. I also want to congratulate you on being named a member of the 2020 class for the college of new scholars, artists, and scientists by the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). I’m super excited to learn about what that means.

Eliza: Thank you. I, myself, am just getting acquainted with what it means. I’ve just started reading about the history of the RSC. It’s quite an old organization; it was started in the 1870s under the leadership of the Governor General of Canada. The RSC was established to formalize a relationship with the academy and social issues and current debates. This relationship is an effort towards public scholarship, which is something we’ve long cultivated in the School of Disability Studies. It’s interesting to think about how public scholarship is shaped by whoever is leading the initiatives. For a long time, like most academic institutions, there wasn’t much diversity in who was leading the charge at the RSC, which shaped the kind of public scholarship that the organization produced. I think the RSC is currently reckoning and reconciling with the role the  organization played in perpetuating inequity – again, like a lot of academic organizations are now doing. For example, in 2017, the RSC established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Task Force to respond to the TRC’s call for institutions to “examine the RSC’s historical role in the Indian Residential School System and academia’s larger role in the marginalization of Indigenous knowledge.” And the establishment of the RSC’s College of New Scholars, which I’ve just been inducted into, is part of the organization’s effort to bring new people to the table, so to speak; people who haven’t been recognized by these kinds of scholarly institutions, historically. I think the hope is that by continuing to induct scholars that represent a range of disciplines, methodologies, and communities will change the kind of public scholarship the RSC can produce.

You have to propose what public issues you might engage with when you apply for RSC membership because they’re very clear that it’s not simply an honorary nomination and title. It’s a working body, it’s a working institution. I proposed to think about the implications of the first federal accessibility legislation, the Accessible Canada Act, for higher education. I think it might be an interesting case study for members of the College to think about and to evaluate, particularly in regards to disabled, mad, Deaf students and students with accessibility barriers, as well as faculty and staff. How does it change experiences for everyone at the university? 

You can meet Eliza in classes DST 508 and DST 501!

"Thank You" is written in purple on card sitting next to purple flowers, a pen and wrapped gift.

Farewell and Best Wishes to Kimberlee Collins

The summer often brings many quiet changes to the School of Disability Studies. This year, amidst the realities of working from home and navigating the remote university, transitions can slip by entirely unnoticed. We wanted to pause for a moment to acknowledge Kimberlee Collins’ departure from the School in early July. She moves on to further graduate work, pursuing her PhD at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. 

Kim’s affiliation with the School has spanned over a decade. Kim began working in our school as a student engagement facilitator while she was enrolled in the program as an undergraduate student. Never one to resist a challenge, Kim showed up in the director’s office, with a plan to reanimate the student facilitator role in the School. In those early days her job seemed to include a dizzying array of tasks – student mentoring, organizing bar nights, conducting an analysis of Canadian Disability Studies programs. setting up clothing and book exchanges….it’s unlikely she was bored. And she probably worked beyond the limits of ‘official’ job description often.

As the student facilitator, Kim has worked closely with the School directors and Paris, the program coordinator, in welcoming and orienting new students to the School and university life. Because of her own experience in the program, Kim brings a passionate commitment to deepening student connection with the School and university, in a way that both acknowledges and is grounded in their complex social positioning. You could count on Kim to bring the student perspective to School decisions. Faculty are often inspired by new scholarly and activist initiatives, but students could feel confident that Kim would offer ways to keep this ‘real’ and relevant to students. Through Kim’s role in communicating student experience to the School’s administration and faculty, she has fostered an overall sensitivity to students. 

During her tenure as the student engagement facilitator, Kim developed a strong social media profile for the School. Our school’s social media sites serve as an important touchstone for our students who are working across the province, sometimes in isolated remote or rural communities. Managing these sites almost single-handedly, Kim used them to educate and support student organizing around social and disability justice issues both within and outside the university. Over the last several years, the sites have been used to help students (and the broader disability justice communities) learn about and organize around diverse issues including: the violent deaths of disabled and Black, Indigenous, people of colour at the hand of the state, the segregation of people with mental health diagnoses within Canadian prisons, the exclusionary actions of NIMBY movements against group homes or the passage of the Medical Assistance in Dying legislation. Within the university, Kim helped students become aware of changes to OSAP, particularly as they relate to disabled and part-time students. When students have local EDI issues, Kim supported their efforts to gain a larger audience and pool of potential allies through the School’s social media sites. This included work to organize for better labour conditions for Educational Assistants or the enhancement of educational and personal care supports for disabled children and their families. Taken together, this work enhances student and community learning around EDI, raises the Canadian and international profile of the School and University, establishes the School as a concrete resource for our students’ employment and community activities and helps foster the conditions for EDI beyond Ryerson’s walls.

Kim was a crucial advocate and organizer for students., She supported students in accessing the university and higher education. She developed Ryerson ‘road-maps’ that help our part-time, geographically dispersed student body understand both Ryerson and downtown Toronto. She created a system that regularly links our students with information about grants and bursaries to offset the cost of education. This is particularly important given that our students are often excluded from those chances promoted by the university due to their part-time learner status. Significantly, Kim also facilitated opportunities for students to access scholarly prizes, travel grants and paper competitions – a rare opportunity for undergraduate students that raises the scholarly profile of the School and the Faculty of Community Services.

Space precludes us from sharing all of Kim’s achievements. However, we want to give a final mention to the way Kim encouraged student writing in its myriad forms. For Kim, finding a voice through writing is crucial to student engagement in that it helps students articulate their views and develop a sense of ‘being heard’. To this end, Kim created a School blog and a newsletter; both which prominently feature student contributions. She elicited and fostered professional, activist and literary expression through her mentorship, training workshops, extracurricular activities and the organization of student conference panels. We hope this is a lasting contribution to the School!

In her final year at the School of Disability Studies, Kim divided her time between providing access coordination, research and teaching. She reprised the student engagement role briefly last March and April to mentor Amanda Lin (welcome!!). While we miss many things about gathering in the office, the DST team and our visitors will surely miss Kim’s early morning chats in Paris’ office, her windowsill garden, her insights on environmental justice, grief and vegan cooking and her capacity to turn to the internet to solve any problem. We wish Kim all the best as she moves into the next exciting phase of her academic journey. 


The School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University

A black and white photo of a fist with the words "Black Lives Matter" written on the fingers.

School of Disability Studies is in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Toronto Protesters

The School of Disability Studies is in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Toronto protesters and their actions on Saturday, July 18th. Through artistic intervention, they drew public attention, once again, to the colonialist, racist and ableist values celebrated by the statue of Egerton Ryerson and similar monuments in the City of Toronto. We share their critique and we defend their right to engage in peaceful protest always.

As a School, we represent students and disabled constituents who have asked us to work to decolonize the university and dismantle its anti-Black racism. Our efforts are supported by the Faculty of Community Services and its strong commitment to action against anti-Black racism. They are supported by Ryerson University as evidenced by the recommendations of the Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Report, and the gains made by student and political action to reverse the presence of on-campus security. The protesters have given us an opportunity to powerfully acknowledge the university’s readiness to implement recommendations which were made on behalf of students, staff and faculty. Safety cannot be realized through containment and the dampening of creative and peaceful protest.

The statue of Egerton Ryerson symbolizes an approach to education that promotes obedience, compliance and control. His legacy includes contributions to the residential school system, to racially segregated schooling, and to the systemic institutionalization of disabled people. A constant reminder of the shameful history of eugenics in Canada, the statue’s ‘watchful presence’ at the centre of campus tells Black, Indigenous and disabled students that they do not belong at the university. 

Black disabled detainees are particularly vulnerable at a time of high public health risk from the double pandemics of COVID and systemic racism. The deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Ejaz Choudry, Christopher Reid, Ian Pryce, Andrew Loku, Clive Mensah and many others have taught us that racism, ableism and sanism conspire with deadly consequences when disabled people interact with police. Our communities need systems of safety, well-being and investments that do not further harm Black, Indigenous, disabled and mad people. In this regard, and in the spirit of collegiality, we are particularly concerned by reports that one of the protesters did not receive their medication for much of the 15 hours they were detained.

As an important hub of disability scholarship, the School of Disability Studies is committed to identifying and resisting systemic ableism and sanism wherever it occurs. We support the call by Black Lives Matter to remove the Egerton Ryerson statue immediately as a step in beginning to tear down all that it symbolizes and upholds. We support the request from lawyer Saron Gebresellassi for the Crown Attorney’s office to drop the charges against the three protesters. We call upon our legal, political, community and academic leaders to do the same. We urge all who are able to donate to Black-led organizations and communities that are doing the necessary hard work in the fight against anti-Black racism.

Black Lives Matter Canada:

A large group of students wearing black robes are tossing their black graduation caps into the air in celebration.

Congratulations DST Graduates! – Part 2

The School of Disability Studies celebrates its graduating class. Congratulations on completing this stage of your learning journey. Wishing you the best of luck for your next steps.

Abigail Buist

Throughout her time at the School of Disability Studies, Abbey worked as an Early Childhood Educator in London, Ontario. Her passion about inclusion for all children led her to work as a research assistant with Dr. Kathryn Underwood on the Inclusive Early Childhood SSHRC Partnership Grant. Abbey’s affirmative approach to learning, equity and justice was reflected in her unique research design for her final independent study. Where most research approaches seek to identify problems or gaps, Abbey embraced an appreciative inquiry, striving to tease apart what could be learned from an esteemed research and education mentor. Abbey looks forward to pursuing graduate school at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. This summer she is busy planning her upcoming wedding!

Tonika Jardine-Laborde

In every class Tonika has taken, she has paid close attention to disability as an intersectional experience. She is skilled at applying the theoretical concepts she learned in the classroom to her own experiences, the experiences of those who are close to her, and interactions between social service frontline workers and disabled people in her professional life. Noticing an opportunity for social change, Tonika created a workshop to teach social service workers about white privilege, intersectionality, and disability justice for her final independent study project. Tonika delivered her disability justice workshop in her workplace with great success. In fact, she was asked to continue delivering this workshop as a regular complement to her agency’s professional development programming. We are confident that disability justice will continue to be introduced to new audiences and influence change under Tonika’s leadership.

Chantelle Farrugia

Chantelle is deeply committed to disability advocacy. Professionally, Chantelle supports young disabled people in their transition between high school into their next stage of life.  With strong personal connections to the spinal cord injury community, Chantelle is dedicated to making leisure and recreational activities more accessible and inclusive. Chantelle turned her passion for access and inclusion into the focus of her independent thesis project wherein she explored the physical and attitudinal barriers disabled people face at gyms and fitness centres with an aim to make these facilities more inclusive. Chantelle hopes to advance her career further by pursuing her graduate studies in education and behaviour analysis.

Kerielle Moore

Kerielle came to the program with deep roots in municipal social service provision and accessibility policy. In her written work and class participation, Keri demonstrated a strong understanding of various iterations of provincial accessibility acts and an immense respect for the disability activism which led to this legislation. Throughout her time in the DST program, Keri became increasingly frustrated by what she characterized as the public sector’s “loose commitment” to upholding their obligations to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarioans with Disabilities Act. Motivated by what she identified as an issue of disability inequity, Keri dedicated her final thesis project to exploring how the City of Toronto could create more accessible workplaces and more inclusive workplace policies in order to facilitate the hiring of disabled people in all levels of social service work. We are filled with a sense of hope knowing that Keri will continue to advocate for employment opportunities for disabled people throughout our city.

Mandeep Sandu/Toor

Mandeep came into our program with ties to inclusive education and the disability community. Early on, when she was a student in secondary school, Mandeep noted a disparity between the educational experience disabled students received compared to their non segregated peers. This sense of inequity motivated Mandeep to begin to volunteer as a teacher’s aid in the “contained classroom.” This early work led Mandeep to a career in inclusive education and a personal dedication to disability advocacy. In her final thesis, Mandeep offered a creative approach to enhancing inclusive education informed by disability culture. Beginning with the assumption that the representation of disabled people and disability culture in curriculum was key to the delivery of inclusive education, Mandeep created a learning module that introduced disability culture to elementary students. A proud mother of a new baby boy, Mandeep’s success in this program is a true testament to her dedication to her studies and her time management skills!

Andriana Manojlovic

Andriana came to us with roots in the Ontario Track 3 Program as well as developmental service work. Andriana has fully dedicated herself to all aspects of the program, consistently engaged in the classroom, offering critical analysis, and remaining abreast of current issues. This ongoing engagement with all the School has to offer is reflected by the fact that Andriana holds the highest GPA among the Spring 2020 graduates. Andriana graciously credits her time in our program as being fundamental to shifting her worldview: her intersectional understanding of disability and its social justice issues as well as her professional practice as a Speech Language Pathologist. She is already a month into her Master of Education studies in Behaviour Analysis at the University of Minnesota! 

Christine Munro

Christine has always been the ‘classic’ Disability Studies student. She worked with disabled people for more than 25 years, having served in a variety of roles within her local Community Living agency. She arrived in her first summer institute with a strong understanding of the day-to-day realities of labeled people, the institutional structures and processes which shape these realities and a passion for making a difference.  She has balanced work, a lively home life, and a keen sense of responsibility to course work, producing strong and well-crafted work throughout her program.  We wait to see where Christine’s studies take her next.

Daniela Dinardo

Throughout her time in Disability Studies, Daniela worked as an educational assistant. She has mobilized her academic work by taking every opportunity to engage in framework-changing conversations that could transform learning for students and those who teach them. She believes that these small scale interventions are as important as wider platforms, and that they are up to disability scholars and advocates to initiate. At university, Daniela’s love of writing has become a means to find her voice as an advocate. She has merged her ambition to write about meaningful, complex issues with her desire to write passionately for social justice. Daniela aspires to complete her MA in Critical Disability Studies at York University.

Lindsay Hoegy 

Lyndsay has a complicated history with the education system rooted in her own efforts to navigate its barriers.  She brings a fresh perspective on different models of accessible education and the possibilities of building solidarity with disabled classmates. Faculty members recall her compelling account and analysis of Amethyst Demonstration School, later explored in greater depth in her final independent study. If you haven’t read her 2019 contribution to the School of Disability Studies blog, Vision, Passion, Action, check it out here: here: Voting Rights for Disabled Individuals. We send Lindsay our best as she continues her education in the Master of Professional Education Field of Applied Behavior Analysis at the University of Western Ontario this Fall.

Sharon Mulrain

Sharon was a lively presence in the classroom from her first day in DST 501 Summer Institute. Always asking the questions her classmates harboured but were too shy to ask, Sharon had all the markings of a fine advocate. Her final thesis project built on her experience working as an educational assistant. This work took interest in how parents advocate for their disabled children throughout their education and how, throughout this process, they worked with their children to develop self-advocacy skills. Since coming into our program, Sharon has begun approaching her EA work differently and has recently secured a permanent position.

Jennifer Mosley 

Jennifer is proud to be the first person in her immediate family with a university degree. We celebrate this achievement alongside her husband and two children. In all of her courses, Jenn has approached her work with dedication, sharp critical thinking skills, and a high regard for ethical research. Throughout her time as a disability studies student, Jenn has remained closely connected to her role as an Accessibility Lead for Lambton College, focusing on the accessible delivery of online education. As Ontario, and the rest of the world, begins to recognize the importance of the virtual delivery of education, we are glad to have Jenn leading the charge. She brings her unique combination of in-depth knowledge of online accessibility standards, high regard for the user experiences of disabled people, and an understanding of disability rights and justice into this work. 

Lauren Alguire

Lauren is a developmental and social services worker whose interests have extended to history, artifact based research and even architecture. Lauren grew up in a family whose relationship with long term care is complicated: once owning and operating a Long Term Care Home, but also leaving that work to foster the independent living and community integration of a labeled family member. Lauren’s independent study, titled the Architecture of Fear, was a mixed methods study that started in her curiosity about the brick, chain link, wrought iron and barbed wire walls surrounding the Brockville Mental Health Centre. Stay tuned for more on Lauren’s work in the School of Disability Studies’ blog.

Allison Correia

Working as an Educational Assistant in a variety of settings, including Community Living Centres and adult education, has given Allison a keen awareness of inequities in the education system. Allison’s professional experience has motivated her course work throughout this program. Excelling in disability studies and mad studies classes, Allison has a developed understanding on how legacies of institutionalization have helped shape the ways in which disabled and mad students are treated in schools. Building on this understanding in her independent study, Allison carefully analyzed how historic and contemporary educational policies affect how students, teachers, and EAs interact with an interest in how more just educational practices could be facilitated. We are confident that Allison will continue to fight against ableism in education in all that she does.

A large group of students wearing black robes are tossing their black graduation caps into the air in celebration.

Congratulations DST Graduates! – Part 1

Today the School of Disability Studies celebrates its graduating class. Congratulations on completing this stage of your learning journey. Wishing you the best of luck for your next steps.

Nabeela Siddique

Nabeela is committed to fighting injustice in education, employment and social support. Having faced both institutional barriers and personal loss throughout her time in the program, she is carrying a deeper understanding of systemic discrimination into communities and situations where disabled lives are still not valued. As a proud disabled woman, Nabeela supports her family and has graduated on the Dean’s list. There are many reference letters waiting for when Nabeela is ready to move on to further her studies.

Andrew Day

With an extensive job history with Community Living organizations, Andrew currently manages a team of ten workers supporting 250 diabled people to gain competitive employment. In the opening paragraphs of his final capstone independent study, Andrew thanks his grade 8 teacher.  He has spent the intervening years proving her discouraging words wrong!  Andrew is now turning his efforts to applying to the Masters program in Critical Disability Studies.

Amy Morden

For Amy, her academic journey is still really beginning. In her DST 99 project, she explored the debilitating relations of the dancer’s pointe shoes. Uniting her passion for dance and disability studies, Amy looks forward to one day opening an inclusive dance studio that welcomes disabled children. This fall, Amy is moving on to pursue her Bachelor of Education at Niagara University. She hopes to go on and pursue her Masters of Arts in Critical Disability Studies at York University.  

Tamika Walker

Tamika Walker has just embarked on a new position as a child and youth advocate at Empower, working with marginalized youth. Starting the first Monday of the pandemic measure in Toronto, Tamika has appreciated putting her online expertise from Disability Studies in practice right away as her position went unexpectedly virtual. Between supporting her mother over these last few months, supporting youth to respond and reflect on local and international Black Lives Matter actions and finding her way in a new organization, Tamika has used the time to slow down and reflect on where she wants to go next.  In the short term, expect to see Tamika involved in the Black, Indigenous and Student of colour caucus activities associated with the School.

Christina Willilams

Christina is a residential support worker for Community Living – Toronto. She wrote her thesis on how developmental service workers facilitate the autonomy of people living in group homes by focusing on how food and diet choices of residents are respected. Throughout her time in the School of Disability Studies Christina demonstrated the importance of mutual aid and interdependence as she travelled with her comrade Ambika throughout their learning journey. 

Ambika Thusu

Like other students in the School of Disability Studies, 2020-21 has been a challenging final year for Ambika. She has been caught up in what Nataleah Hunter-Young (2020) has described as the “white supremacist violence against Black people—prominently staged in policing, health and labour”. Ambika works as a residential counselor in several different long-term care facilities. We can imagine her working conditions in recent months.  She also works as a supply educational assistant and has been caught in the labour struggle facing that sector. Her rich but complicated work experience informed her independent study of how aging disabled people’s shifting care needs are communicated and met in long-term care.

Melissa DeSousa

Melissa’s final year in the program has been eventful, transforming into one of the most  interesting periods of her life as she creates a ‘new normal’ with her family. Working in long-term care until late April, Melissa stopped work to complete her final independent study and have a baby! His name is Jaia and he arrived on the 22nd of May, well overdue and needing persuasion. Melissa is feeling renewed right now and just trying to enjoy the extra home time. 

Melissa and her partner in coats smiling at the camera. She is also wearing a white toque and a scarf. They are in front of the Toronto city skyline at night.
Image Description: Melissa and her partner in coats smiling at the camera. She is also wearing a white toque and a scarf. They are in front of the Toronto city skyline at night.

Nicole Castle

Nicole writes “It feels strange to be moving on from something that I have been working towards for the past 6 years.  I remember well the first day that I walked into the DST 501 classroom where you were asking us to Rethink Disabilities.  I am a new person after these past 6 years.  I have learned so much about myself and I have also been humbled with all that I do not know.” Nicole continues to work, enjoy her family, cultivate her garden, nurture friendships and make art in Killaloe in eastern Ontario.

Nicole Cadwallader

In Nicole’s words: “This final year fills my heart with so much joy. I will be finishing off my final course in the fall, leaving me in a position of uncertainty, but I remind myself that this uncertainty is what led me to apply and start Disability Studies here at Ryerson 5 years ago. Over these years I have shifted tremendously in who I am as a person in this world, but also how I chose to participate in the world. I have worked in various settings in the field of human services; residential, education, private, treatment and I have even left the field due to internal discomfort with my roles.” Most recently, Nicole has assumed a position as a child and youth mental health worker. She hopes to re-enter the education sector in the future, bringing insights she’s gained from her time in Disability Studies.

Laura Mele

Laura is a familiar face around the School of Disability Studies, taking many courses on campus and serving on the School’s student alumni advisory committee. Distinguishing herself as a hard-working and dedicated student, it is unsurprising that Laua works remotely in her position at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and at her family’s restaurant, Salvatore’s, in Point Edward, Ontario.  We look forward to witnessing the changes she will make in her home community of Sarnia.

Lisa Nelson

Lisa lives and works in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband and children and has most recently been juggling the demands brought by remote learning and employment. Day by day they are embracing the change. Impacted by the funding and service changes to developmental and autism services in 2019, Lisa has reconstructed her work life. She gained a first hand understanding of how neoliberalism contours and constrains the lives of those who work in and use social and community services. 

Aisha Thomas

Aisha’s final independent study beautifully sums up her time at the School of Disability Studies and her engagement with what the program offers. Grounding her work in mad studies and the organizing work of her professor, David Reville, Aisha created a transformative photography exhibit, re-presenting the faces of those whose lives and bodies are caught up in psychiatric institutions. We know her aspirations were truncated by the pandemic, but we hope this meant she spent more time with her other lovely creation, 8 month old daughter, Danika Lillian.

Four racially diverse individuals stand, wearing blue protective masks and white shirts

COVID-19: Race, Discrimination, Stigma and Impacts on Health

This piece was written by current Disability Studies’ student, Pauline Wangari.

Stigma and Discrimination

The Coronavirus is associated with racial stigma and discrimination. Stories and stereotypes have already had a major impact, specifically on Asian populations. Most countries, if not all, have imposed travel bans and restrictions on Chinese nationals and non-citizens to the area. Discrimination has manifested in the form of evictions, cutting off of business ties, bullying, as well asphysical and verbal altercations. 

The phrase “We’re all in this together” has become a rallying cry during this pandemic. Although the Coronavirus has affected most everyone in some way, regardless of race, gender, age and even socioeconomic status, the magnitude and nature of the impact has been anything but global. Instances of racism fuel the risk of perpetuating stereotypes and triggering health inequities. This is particularly true for female healthcare workers. Evidence now points out that Black and Latinx workers face much more economic and health insecurity from COVID-19 as compared to their Caucasian counterparts . 

The impact of the Coronavirus will leave a lasting mark on society for years to come. The disparate racial impact of COVID-19 comes as no surprise, given the ongoing legacy of racism that continues to produce inequities affecting nearly every aspect of life, particularly in the US.There is a notable racial impact of the virus in our social and economic aspects of life. Persistent racial differences in regard to health status, healthcare accessibility, wealth, employment, wages, housing, income, and poverty all contribute to increased susceptibility to the virus – both economically and physically.

Racialized healthcare workers face greater underlying pre- and post-pandemic health insecurities making them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Some of the challenges include a heightened risk of contracting the virus, increased workplace violence, underpayment, being under-valued, pre-existing health conditions, lack of health insurance, housing conditions, shame and stigma.

Increased  Risks

All frontline healthcare workers have an increased risk of contracting the virus. However, as women are predominantly  tasked with the role of providing care, they will be disproportionately affected. Gender and power dynamics  increase the likelihood that men will be prioritized over women, or male-dominated roles such as doctors prioritized over female-dominated roles such as nurses in distribution and decision-making around personal protective equipment (PPE). Given women’s additional gender roles as primary caregivers in their households, a ripple effect of increased risks will occur. 

From a recent incident in Ontario, Canada:

“Over 1675 troops have been deployed to five long-term care homes in Ontario and a further 25 in Quebec over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ontario officials were notified of the report by the federal government in a memo citing concerns on deficiencies in home care infrastructure for example PPE’s.” 

“Nurses/PSWs were often observed not changing PPE for several hours while moving between numerous patient rooms. Equipment is seldom ever observed to be disinfected but is used in between patients.” 

Wage Differences-Underpayment

Female workers are often paid less than their male counterparts. This inequity in pay can also be seen in healthcare workers. Additionally, racial inequities in pay also exist causing Black workers to face significant pay penalties., Black workers face significant pay gaps in the labor market, and research has shown these pay gaps have grown since 2000 and in the decades before (Gould 2020a; Wilson and Rodgers 2016). 


We have witnessed severe restrictions in day-to-day activities due to the  lockdown associated with the pandemic in hopes of  “flattening the curve”. These measures may lead to particular safety concerns for women going to and from their places of work, given that they are also constrained by part-time employment. Drastic changes have disrupted the normal protections afforded in typical daily life–such as the presence of other people, well-lit transport routes, variety of options for travel times, etc.— and leave women vulnerable to violence, including sexual violence. In some contexts, where workers regularly commute across national or state borders, take an example of Swiss healthcare workers commuting to northern Italy, more stringent restrictions on movement may also increase vulnerability and risk for women such as getting stuck on the opposite side of the border. Women frontline healthcare workers will need to continue to reach their jobs each day, despite the risks, and with fewer options available. 

Prior to the pandemic’s onset, research from northern Italy found 45% of healthcare professionals reported workplace violence. This research found that men were more likely to commit physical violence than women, and that assaulted professionals were more likely to be female.Already, there are reports of violence against healthcare workers during the COVID-19 outbreak in numerous countries, with the majority of  victims being women. 

As fright of the pandemic spreads, so does panic and panic behavior. Women frontline healthcare workers are at an increased risk of shame, discrimination and stigma from their community and family members for their perceived role in managing the pandemic. Additionally, there may be fears that these individuals are also spreading the virus within the community.. Examples of this were drawn from the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where health workers were expelled from their homes because landlords feared they would transmit the virus. There may also be unintended consequences to sudden upswings in community health workers or volunteers, who may also face shame, discrimination and stigma based on their involvement with the response and/or bending of traditional gender roles.

Lack of Supports

In times of crisis, care and wellbeing for ourselves, staff, volunteers and others tends to get overlooked for the more ‘urgent’ work of ensuring lives are saved. This results in fast burn out, a decline in the quality of healthcare being provided, stress and can have long-term harmful effects for frontline workers.

We have already witnessed many equity and justice challenges that need to be looked into before further damage is caused. We mustrecognize and stand up against racial discrimination and stereotyping. Our federal, state and local governments have to ensure that necessary policies and practices are implemented, so that needed information, training, resources, and care are equitably available to all people and communities. As we think about the upcoming Census and elections, the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the ongoing need to push for affordable and quality healthcare coverage. Workers must be well-trained and have a diverse understanding of healthcare and medical research. Healthcare and healthcare resources must be accessible to all,regardless of race, gender, age or other differences.

What can be done?

To mitigate the risks  to healthcare workers with regards to the virus, certain measures need to be put in place:

  • All health care workers need to be given adequate PPEs;
  • The needs, risks and concerns of the healthcare workers must be heard and communicated up the chains of command;
  • Gender and equity policies need to be put in place to ensure equity in the workplace;
  • Female healthcare workers need to have representation in decision-making; 
  • Supports in the form of  increased wages, promotions and leaves should be given to healthcare workers; and 
  • Higher ups need to facilitate the movement of healthcare workers in contexts where movement restrictions have been imposed.


  • China Labor Bulletin (5 March 2020). Women workers on the frontline in the battle against the coronavirus. Retrieved from
  • Gould, Elise. 2020b. “The Unemployment Rate Is Not the Right Measure to Make Economic Policy Decisions Around the Coronavirus-Driven Recession: Policymakers Should Use the Employment Rate to Continue or Stop Economic Assistance.” Working Economics Blog (Economic Policy Institute), March 20, 2020.
  • Gould, Elise, and Heidi Shierholz. 2020. “Senate Coronavirus Bill Is Crucial—But It’s a Fraction of What’s Needed.” Working Economics Blog (Economic Policy Institute), March 18, 2020. Rho, Hye Jin, Haley Brown, and Shawn Fremstad. 2020. A Basic Demographic Profile of Workers in Frontline Industries. Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 2020 Meepagala, Shawn, and Carl Romer. 2020. “Mapping Racial and Ethnic Differences with COVID-19” (interactive data tool). Center for Global Data. Accessed May 29, 2020. 
  • WHO. COVID-19: Operational guidance for maintaining essential health services during an outbreak [Internet]. Geneva; 2020. Available from: file:///C:/ Users/ebarasa/Downloads/WHO- 2019-nCoV-essential_health_services-2020.1-eng (2).pdf
  • Wilson, Valerie, and William M. Rodgers III. 2016. Black–White Wage Gaps Expand with Rising Wage Inequality. Economic Policy Institute, September 2016.