Advocacy or how it started …

This post was written by student Sharon Clegg-Lintner and Micki McIntrye.

“Well, Micki. What do you think??”

“That would be all right with me I guess. If it means a couple of extra dollars a month for me to spend, that would be okay.”

And that’s how it all started; the second half of taking a stand and pursuing a closure for all the lost opportunities in life and one that makes her feel more credible and dignified as a human being. Not that she ever discussed those twenty years of pain, abuse and hardship while living in four of Ontario’s Provincial Institutions.

Micki, whose birth name is Marlene McIntyre, had to re-live all those painful memories three years ago as we spent nearly seven hours with me and her Adult Protective Service Worker completing the most intimate details of her years of mental, physical and emotional abuse. She spoke of other horrors that had occurred to people she knew and lived with, surprised at herself for even remembering some of their names.

“You didn’t speak of those things when staff were around and you couldn’t help even if you wanted to. I did a couple of times and got smacked and locked in a room for it. Some people died, Sharon, and we didn’t know where their bodies went.”

I’m sitting here with Micki right now so she can be part of this submission, because that’s how it’s always been between her and I since we met. We share. I was redneck nineteen year old who got a summer job at the Ontario Hospital for Women in Cobourg. (Later known as D’Arcy Place) That was 1972. And we’ve been friends ever since. There are too many stories to elaborate on since then, but the most important aspect of our relationship was how hers, and others, humbled me into choosing my career path. She became family and the both of us struggled through many obstacles so she could obtain her freedom. I took on Community and Social Services in the late 70’s to get her released into the community of Barrie and she has lived a life to establish herself as a citizen there, not without consequences by any means, but as someone who always had a heart of gold, of which she gave while others took. But I was always there as her “protector”, providing choices and alternatives.

She eventually met and decided to live with her partner, Bob, and that was nearly over thirty-five years ago. She is quite emphatic to this day that she won’t share Bob with me! “You’re my sister, and he can’t come to our house to stay when I come home!” Even when Micki got really ill two years ago and I learned that her one leg had gotten so badly infected, she was hospitalized, she told me she didn’t want to worry me and that she had tried her best to do things on her own. That cost her the amputation of her leg, a decision she made by herself after we had tried for four months to save it. South Lake Regional Hospital in Newmarket sure got to know the both of us during those months, after they originally wanted to discharge her back to her apartment that was consumed with bed bugs! It wasn’t long before the medical professionals discovered that we were a team not to be pushed around because of policies!! We’ve come even a longer way since then. I was able to secure a place at a retirement home the next year for both of them and took on officials in Barrie. It hasn’t been a smooth road since then making sure she was getting the correct medical attention and prevention for her other leg. We learned of the first collective Class Action Lawsuit against the Province of Ontario and I made sure her name was on the list. The law firm of Koskie Minsky in Toronto were absolutely wonderful! Micki and I had to originally travel to Toronto for depositions, affidavits, motions and intimidating consultations with Ministry people. But Micki charmed them all! Her wit, humour and sincerity won them over. Plus, she absolutely looked forward to staying in the big hotels!

photograh of woman with santa hat on
Micki enjoying her stay at a hotel.

Micki received a substantial financial gift as a result of the first lawsuit. We were able to obtain a brand new electric wheelchair for her and as of last October, she and Bob have relocated to a geared-to-rent disabled unit apartment in Barrie. They had the most wonderful Christmas last year, with a proper Christmas tree, decorations and gifts. Although there have been some serious medical concerns with the both of them this last year, they are much happier.

Our final chapter enlisted by Koskie Minsky this past year, was Micki taking on the responsibility of being named as applicant for a second class action lawsuit, again against the Province of Ontario, for any and all survivors of the smaller provincial institutions before they were closed. We spearheaded this motion because Micki wanted to ensure that EVERYONE who was still alive and had gone through horrific experiences were also entitled to a better life. The day she had to appear in court this past April, she manoeuvred her wheelchair up next to the lawyer’s benches and got to speak to the Judge and let him know how grateful she felt and other survivors in the courtroom clapped when she did so.

photo of Micki and Sharon with a horse
Micki and Sharon at Sharon’s farm.

Micki’s life long wishes were to see Alice Cooper, which we have done twice now at Casino Rama and she wants to go to Santa’s Village this summer, which we are planning. Micki comes home here to my farm more often now, and it is our hope that with continuing medical assistance, we can get her one leg stable enough to warrant a prosthesis, because that’s Micki — she never wants to give up on any possibilities in her life and don’t anyone tell her she can’t do something!

Photograph of woman using a wheelchair in a crowd
Micki at an Alice Cooper concert.

To read more about the settlement read Survivors of 12 Huronia-style institutions will split $36M class-action settlement in the Toronto Star.

What Can I Do? The Makings of an Accessible Playground!

This post was written by  student Cheryl Saccardo.

Playgrounds provide opportunities for children to play in a diverse, safe environment along with allowing them to grow to create and pretend while interacting with their peers. Playgrounds are meant to provide children an exciting, diverse environment to play. Authors; Yantz, Young, & Mckeever (2010) maintain “by providing children the opportunity to play together is an important step in redressing discrimination,  marginalization, and exclusion, inclusive play spaces help to promote and create an inclusive community” (pg.76). The purpose and goal of my community project are to create an accessible play environment that meets the needs both of the children disabilities who attend the school and everyone within the community. My paper focused my narrative, of my journeys as I worked on two projects one being changing the existing playground in making it accessible to everyone within the community. The second project is participating and working with school committees and stakeholders in designing and creating an accessible outdoor play space in the school’s courtyard. My motivation:  As an Educational Assistant I am required to supervise the students I support outside during their morning, lunch and afternoon recesses.  However during this time, I often see the students isolated playing on their devices because there is no equipment or other students to play and or socialize with. The students sit in their wheelchairs alone watching the other children play soccer on a field that is not accessible or safe for them to maneuver their wheelchairs, children building castles, holes, imagining that they are going to China or in the sandbox that has borders that allow able-bodied children in and children in wheelchairs out. I see children playing on the playscapes that has slides and or fireman poles, but no ramps for children in wheelchairs and opportunities to explore, imagine or play.

Children with disabilities are often marginalized and excluded on school playgrounds often because their abilities are unappreciated. I believe one of the effective ways to encourage such a change is to provide opportunities for them to self-advocate and be included in the decision-making process by providing the tools and resources necessary to express their wants and needs.

I held a learning circle including the children I support to provide them a means to express what they felt about the school playground. The students expressed they felt isolated, frustrated, mad, unvalued and sad. Expressed the basketball nets were too high and were afraid of getting hit in the head by a ball. They wanted to play in the sand with their peers, however because the sandbox is sunken in the ground,  has high borders, and not entirely accessible, the students with physical disabilities are unable to gain access to the sandbox.  In other instances, students were unsure of what to do when they wanted to play soccer because they felt they couldn’t ask their friends to stay with them to play. They didn’t want to prevent their peers from doing things they were able to do such as playing in the sandbox, practicing gymnastics on the grass or playing on the playscape. It also assisted in deciding what equipment the children felt was missing from the playground. The students shared that the most accessible equipment such as an elevated sand table and adjustable basketball net to accommodate their wheelchairs would be beneficial. The students expressed they felt comfortable playing with other students in the Intensive Support Program because they didn’t feel they would be judged. They didn’t want to leave other students alone without anyone to play with and because sometimes other students didn’t understand them or have the patience to wait for them to respond whether it is throwing the ball or responding to a question.  I have also found that because of differing maturity levels from that of their grade peers they do not have much in common. For instance; one student is 14 years old, and her favourite television shows are not age or maturity appropriate for younger children. The other children watch television shows that contain content that some other students do not understand or watch.  Having an opportunity to engage in a circle dialogue with the students, allowed me to hear the accounts first- the hand of the students’ experiences firsthand.  It also allowed the students to express their feelings and suggestions regarding what they want and need to be changed, so they feel more comfortable and inclusive with their peers. How those changes and express can be included in the design stage of the Courtyard Revitalization Project is vital and allowed the student an opportunity for them to feel comfortable in a situation and which other students may have felt the same way.      

A photograph of a wooden barrier preventing access to a sandbox
This image illustrates the school sandbox. The high wooden borders prevent access to children who use a wheelchair or walker.


A photograph of children playing on a raised sandbox
The elevated sandbox is similar to the elevated sand and water table the school parent committee purchased for the school playground.

I did not include children in the photographs that illustrate barriers children with disabilities face on the playgrounds. I wanted the main focus to be on the barrier not on the child.

I was able to gain funding from the parent council and the principal to purchase an elevated sand table, as well as an adjustable basketball goal. It has been very exciting for both the students and I; the elevated sand table is in the process of being installed. The children love playing with the adjustable basketball goal. The students with the class I support are beginning to enjoy the school playground and are beginning to feel included within the of the school community.  Currently, I am still an active member of the in the school Playground Revitalization Project steering committee. The revitalization project is going well.  We have created our designs and are in the process of working with the board in finalizing our design and develop strategies on how to gain extra funding.  Although this began as my DST 99 final project, I am in the long haul!!

Annual Student Awards Ceremony

photograph of flowers
Flowers reminding us of those in the disability community who are no longer with us.


Photograph of Melanie Panitch, Megan Elms and David Pollock.
Inaugural David and Sylvia Pollock Entrance Award winner Megan Elms.
Photograph of Melanie Panitch, Maverick Smith and David Pollock.
Inaugural David and Sylvia Pollock Entrance Award winner Maverick Smith.
photograph of Melanie Panitch and her father David Pollock.
Melanie Panitch and her father David Pollock.
Photograph of Paris Master-McRae and Christina Devlin.
Harry E. Foster Award winner Christina Devlin.
Photograph of Paris Master-McRae and Chellephe Gayle
Harry E. Foster Memorial Award winner Chellephe Gayle.
Photograph of Paris Master-McRae and Rukiyah Ghani.
Harry E. Foster Memorial Award winner Rukiyah Ghani.


Photograph of Paris Master-McRae with Melissa Hummel.
Harry E. Foster Memorial Award winner Melissa Hummel.
Photograph of Paris Master-McRae and Amanda Lin
Harry E. Foster Memorial Award winner Amanda Lin.
photograph of Kathryn Church and Amanda Chalmers.
M.K. Chant Disability Studies Award winner Amanda Chalmers.
Photograph of Kathryn Church and Thalia Bullen-Rutherford.
M.K. Chant Disability Studies Award winner Thalia Bullen-Rutherford.
Photograph of Mary-Teresa Korkush and Mr. Foulkes
Beth Foulkes Award in Community Living winner Mary-Teresa Korkush.
Photograph of Peter Tench.
Karen Tench Memorial Award in Community Inclusion and Advocacy presented by Peter Tench.
photograph of Peter Tench and Adriano Aguiar.
Karen Tench Memorial Award in Community Inclusion and Advocacy winner Adriano Aguiar.
Photograph of Winnie Ng.
The Jake Edelson Award in Community Organizing presented by Winnie Ng.
Photograph of Winnie and Heather-Ann.
Jake Edelson Award in Community Organizing winner Heather-Ann Mesquita.
Photo of Maggie and Ron in the audience.
Maggie Redmonds and Ron Goldsmith present the Bill and Lucille Owens Award in Public Policy.
photo of Maggie, Brandon and Ron.
Bill and Lucille Owens Award in Public Policy winner Brandon Arkinson.
Photograph of Xavieer, Netisha and Melodie.
Malcolm Jeffreys Memorial Award Leadership Award winner Netisha Edwards-Ragguette.
Photograph of Danielle Landry, Adrienne Margennis and Joyce Brown.
The David Reville/Working for Change Course Bursary for ‘Mad People’s History’ winner Adrienne Margennis.
photo of Lindsay and Robin.
Robin Kellner winner of the Inaugural Helen Henderson Writing for Disability Activism Award with Lindsay Campbell.
photograph of Robert and Heather Hardie with Heather Norris and Cole Bonathan.
Heather Norris winner of the Emma Hardie International Disability Award pictured with Emma’s parents, Robert and Heather and Emma’s son Cole Bonathan.
photo of Kathryn Chruch, Jessica Doberstein, Kelly Smith, Carolyn Lee-Jones, Nicole Meehan and Melanie Panitch.
Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award winner, Jessica Doberstein, Kelly Smith, Carolyn Lee-Jones and Nicole Meehan. Not pictured is Amy Beckett-Woodrow.
Photograph of Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith delivering her student perceptive at the annual student award ceremony.
photograph of students
The 2016 Annual Student Award Winner.



A student perspective

This was written by graduating student, Kelly Smith.

Photograph of Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith delivering her student perceptive at the annual student award ceremony.

Good afternoon,

First I would like to congratulate all of the award winners that are here today.  It is a true representation of the hard work and commitment that each of you.r have put into your studies and your work.  I would also like to thank the donors for their generous contributions without which we would not be able to recognize the work that students are doing.  Thank you!

I would also like to say thank you to the award committee for presenting me with the Nancy C. Sprott Disability Studies Award.  When Kathryn contacted me to let me know that I had won the award for excellence in my thesis I was truly surprised and deeply honoured.  I almost felt like it wasn’t really fair since I had such a great time working on my thesis.  Not that it wasn’t a lot of work, which it was, and it was certainly stressful at times but I really enjoyed the process as a whole.

I was also very honoured to have been asked to give the Student Response speech today.  It has meant a lot to me. Thank you again.

A little about me:

I was first accepted into the Disability Studies program here at Ryerson in 2002.  I had been scheduled to start in the fall but lost my job during the summer months and had to withdraw from the program at that time.  While my living circumstances changed, I always knew that I wanted to complete the Disability Studies program.  So, fast forward to July 2013 and I finally, after many years, got the chance to start the program!  

When I started DST 501 with Kirsty Liddiard, I came into the class feeling as if I had a pretty good foundation to start from.  My experience in the field of Disability had started at age 12 when I began working with a running coach at Variety Village.  At a young age I was exposed to an environment where I could ask questions and experienced so much diversity that it just became a natural part of life for me. I started working at summer camps with Variety Village when I was 16yrs old and at that time I was also training with a coach who was a paraplegic and the other athletes that he coached were all wheelchair racers.  I continued working recreation programs for kid with disabilities through Toronto Parks and Rec (as it was called back then) in evening and summer programs for many years.  I graduated from the DSW program at Centennial College in 1995 and up until the time that I stepped back into the classroom for DST 501, I worked many different jobs within the Disability field…from working in group homes and supportive living environments, teaching life skills at Bloorview MacMillan Centre (again dating myself), providing behaviour management training to people with acquired brain injuries, managing an Employment program for people with disabilities, as  well working as a Sign Language Facilitator with the Toronto District School Board.  With my background and experience I wondered just what new things this program would or could teach me.

Well, it taught me a lot and there’s still so much for me to learn.  I remember having my world shattered to some extent in that first class, having things that I had learned and believed in thrown on its ear.  One example is the use of “people first” language.  For as long as I can remember it was something that I had always done and taught others to do as well, so to learn in that first class that it was not always supported….well, it really shook things up and made me second guess all that I thought that I knew.

I was one of those people who took a long time to really assimilate what I was learning in my classes.  Logically I knew the answers to the questions and how to respond to my instructors but it took me a long time to be able to really understand, internalize and to formulate my own thoughts and understandings that were in line with the program, so if you’re a new student or even have been in the program for sometime and haven’t reached that point yet, don’t worry, keep working and critically questioning the information that you learn and it will come.

As a recent graduate I have some advice to offer to new students.

The first is that it is really important to keep yourself organized and disciplined with the classes…and I say this as someone who was at times taking 3 courses and working full time.  I don’t really recommend that though!   Treat your online courses like a job.  Schedule the days that you will complete your readings, go online and post your responses and complete assignments into your week.  It’s much easier to develop a schedule that can be flexible, rather than leaving everything to the last minute or not having a plan at all.  I actually used to take the TTC to work instead of driving to give myself 45min in the morning and 45mins in the evening each day to complete my reading….and I might have fallen asleep at times but….I did try!

Secondly, I highly recommend taking some courses from other departments when possible for your electives.  There are a few reasons that I say this.  One reason is that people are made up of many different parts, and for those of you who have gotten this far, it’s what we refer to as intersectionality.  People are never just read by one part of themselves, such as their age, culture, sex, economic status or disability but instead are read at different times by their different intersections together.  Taking courses from other departments help us to learn about different aspects of people.  For example, I took Sociology of Food and Eating and in it I learned how a person’s socioeconomic status can affect their access to foods not only through cost but also through the area that they live in which might be a food desert and food swamp. This is something that I had never thought of before and would certainly impact many of the people that I work with.  I found that there was some unexpected cross-over in what would seem like unlikely places as well.  For example, in Geography of Recreation and Leisure I saw how the “rupture” had taken place and influenced research in Geography just after I had learned about how it had affected the field of Disability studies in DST 88.

Some classes can also offer insight into how society works.  For example, in Pop Culture I learned about the power that the media plays in social construct and used ideas from this class as well as Eliza’s class as a jumping off point for my thesis.  

Another reason is that in taking these courses we become, as Paulo Freire suggests, co-creators in our education.  We have the chance to share the information that we learn in our core courses with other student’ and instructors from different departments.  As we learn from them, they are learning from us at the same time but it also gives us the opportunity to learn how to share our learnings with others who don’t have a Disability Studies background.  I found that after taking a few classes, and many of you may have experienced the same things, that I would want to come home and share this new way of thinking that I was learning with my friends, family or co-workers, only to be surprised that they didn’t agree, didn’t understand or at times even become defensive about what I was saying. I had some good conversations about this with my mum while working on my thesis and I found that it this because in our program we use specific word and phrasing and are taught to critically think about things in different ways than we did when we first came into the program.  So while we can hold conversations with those who have taken or who teach the classes, we sometimes struggle with how to put our new perspectives into different words.  I think that taking a range of classes from various departments can help us to learn how to have these conversations and say the same the things that we need to but to do it in ways that invite conversation and understanding.  This is an important skill to have when going back to our communities and workplaces with new ideas and philosophies that we learn over the course of our program.   

Finally, I would just like to say that the instructors and other staff in our program are truly amazing.  They come from diverse backgrounds and are great resources and a wealth of information and are willing to help whenever they can.  We are truly lucky to have them in our department!  On behalf of the graduating class, I would like to thank them for the help, support and commitment to us throughout our time in the program.  Without you, we would not be able to reach the heights that we have.

To end, I would like to say to all students: throughout the rest of your time in the program I urge you to ask questions, critically examine with passion, create your vision and take action!


Convocation 2016

Congratulations to the class of 2016!

Photograph of students getting into lines.
The procession is about to start.


Photograph of students lining up.
Netisha Edwards-Ragguette and Lorien Mead.


3 students standing together.
Brandon Walker, Kelly Smith and Nina Alhambra.


2 students standing together.
Beverly Atkin and Kelly Smith.


3 students standing together.
Carolyn Lee-Jones, Heather-Ann Mesquita and Nicole Meehan.


Two students standing together.
Beverly Atkin and Amy Beckett-Woodrow.


Group of students standing together
Laura Rickards, Tarra McPhail, Brandon Walker, Kelly Smith, Heather-Ann Mesquita, Nina Alhambra, Carolyn Lee-Jones and Nicole Meehan.


3 women standing together
Eliza Chandler, Chels Jones and Kathryn Church.
group of students
Momentary stop in the procession.
four people standing together
The cheering section.
group photo
Class of 2016!


group photo

To watch the archived live stream of convocation please go to RyeCast videos.

Incompletely Secure

This post was written by graduating student Amanda Ackerman.

A photograph of a smoke detector with smoke.

Hello. My name is Amanda.  For my DST 99 paper I chose to go out of my comfort zone and research a topic that has not had much attention, but one that looks at a specific service that is offered to all people both in their homes and in their work places.

The focus to my research was to inquire about accessibility in the alarm industry. This research was completed through a qualitative ethnographic study.  It was based on field work including interviews, a questionnaire, literature review and object analysis.  My literature review included topics such as the social model, universal design, adaptive technology, home automation and the alarm industry.

I based my research on the  following question:  Does the alarm industry have alternative adapted equipment and or devices to provide equal security through alarms to all people in society?

I wanted to learn more about the inside workings of the alarm industry. Like who benefits from alarms, how to go about getting one, what is offered and who it is offered to?  Does the alarm industry provide inclusion for all people or are there groups of people missing within the industry?   Is the alarm industry designing devices and equipment based on universal design?  In this paper while looking through a social model lens, I explore these burning questions and issues to determine if the alarm industry has built its services to provide equitable services to all people in society.

I unpacked this through interviewing people who have disabilities, family members of people who have a disability and individuals who work with people who have a disability to gain access of first hand knowledge, experiences and stories surrounding the alarm industry and the services it provides.  I also spoke with  individuals in the alarm industry, taking concerns to them and seeing when and if the alarm industry is able to provide more inclusive equipment.  Upon my completion, I found that the alarm industry provides equipment to some groups of people with disabilities but not all.

There were many different responses I received from individuals I spoke with.  For example some barriers include the in/ability to arm or disarm their alarm either from the alarm panel or from the key fob.  Some respondents highlighted difficulty communicating through the use of the alarm panel as it is not effective for all people and the in/ability to control the smoke detector when it has a false alarm.  Although there is some adapted equipment that the alarm industry can provide, it is not sufficient enough to provide full inclusion.  For example, someone who has fine motor difficulty and cannot push the button on the panel or use key fob has the option of a touch screen. However, the touch screen is very sensitive and requires one to be accurate, which can be difficult for someone with fine motor difficulty.  Although there are iPhones and tablets, not all security systems are equipped to work with them.  I learned that the alarm industry does provide  safety and security for most people, but basis their services on the average person in society.  There is a lot of adapted equipment available but designed for the older population.  They do provide some adapted equipment but with a great deal of limitations.  Through my contacts in the alarm industry, I feel that continuing to identify and collaborate with the professionals, there is a way to enable a more inclusive service.  One that doesn’t separate “us” and “them”.

On my mother’s couch

This post was written by graduating student Kelly Smith.

The idea for my DST99 project came from my mum.  On days that I would have dinner with my mum we would chat about our day and watch some T.V. Over time I started noticing some of the shows that she was watching.  Little People, Big World, The Little Couple, My 600lb Life to name a few, and I want to be clear that these are not the only shows that my mum watches but these were the shows that would engage my attention critically whenever I saw them.

  Around this time, I took several classes that also made me look critically at these shows and I started feeling like TLC (the channel) had their very own Modern Day Freak Show.   

I know many people watch these shows which makes me wonder 2 things: why people watch this shows and what it is that they get out of it?  As the scope of this question was far too large I decided to use the question “How do these shows clarify disability”?

To start I chose to focus on 3 shows mainly:  Little People, Big World, The Little Couple, and My 600lb life.  I used the term “little people” as this is the term that the people on the shows that I watched used to refer to themselves and their families.  I am used the term “fat” when speaking about the people on the show My 600 lb Life and Skin Tight because that is the term used in the Fat Acceptance Movement.

 Some of the most interesting parts of my research came from the informal conversations that I had with my mum.  When I first explained what my project was going to be about, I remember my mum saying, “you know, until you mentioned it I never thought about the people as having a disability before.”  That surprised me as I had thought that would be the point for people to watch to see.

What  I discovered through this exchange was, that although shows like Little People, Big World do show the people on the shows in very normative ways, in doing so there is a danger that people will no longer see the systemic issues which people with disabilities do face, and while we definitely want to see people with disabilities in roles that they aren’t typically seen in on television, when we only show representations which are hegemonic and perpetuate neo-liberalist ideology, that says that anyone can rise from nothing to achieve great wealth through hard work and determination. 

Instead we should be showing different lived experiences to dismantle this idea of “normal” and create a place where difference is valued and where people are shown with all of their intersections.  

 Another interesting conversation we had was around the show Skin Tight.  One week my mum told me that there was a new show called Skin Tight that was about people who had lost large amounts of weight and as a result wanted to have surgery to remove the excess skin.  I asked why she didn’t like watching that show and she told me that it was because when she watched it she felt like she was watching something that she shouldn’t be.  We had further conversations like this and didn’t come up with a definitive answer but thought it was interesting that when someone weighed 600lbs they almost become objectified and un-human as we see them naked and by somehow losing the weight their humanity is returned to them so we aren’t comfortable seeing them in their “less than perfect” state.  

I also found that the framing of these two types of shows were vastly different.  On the one hand, the shows about little people were very positive, disability was mainly only shown incidentally.  The same family was followed each week so viewers get to learn a little more about the individuals.

In my 600 lb life, however, embodied difference was the only topic of each show, there was a new person featured each week, and the entire show was very medically focused.  Each week the show started with a new person shown naked with their private areas only covered with folds of their skin….for some reason that I cannot really understand except to allow the viewer to see all of their fatness.

The framing theory would say that media frames people who are fat in such a way because they are seen as being culpable for their stigma (Backstrom, 2012). Because it is acquired, fatness is seen as being within the control of an individual.  Programs such as this one perpetuates and legitimizes already held beliefs to reinforce social reality for many people.

 One last insight that I would like to share is around the Para-social Contact Theory.   This hypothesis relates to the idea that through repeated ‘interaction’, people may feel that they come to know the individuals on the shows that they watch, much in the same way that we may feel that we know the ‘Kardashians’ or the President of the United States although we have never personally met them.  Schiappa et al (2005) believes that this contact can lead to reducing prejudice, especially if the audience have not had much interaction with the minority group members 

 I was surprised that in the end I do feel that there is some value to these types of reality shows but that we must be cautious.  I feel that we must be cognisant and show a range of stories so that people can join their voices together and be heard because disability does not occur in isolation and instead is always read with all of its intersections such as race, age, gender and sexual orientation.

Representations should be different.  They do not need to be normalized, but they do need be authentic in their telling and it should be those who own the stories that tell them in the way that they want them to be told. 

Welcome to the South Korean Classroom

This post is written by alumni, Cherish Picklyk.


Photograph of 5 people standing outside a pub.
Some of us teachers after a day of judging open classrooms


I wanted to open up a discourse on the representation of special need students in South Korean schools. As a foreign language teacher, I noticed in the professional trainings and interactions with my colleagues, little was mentioned to me about working in our English classrooms with special needs. The absence of any discussion about special needs students made me wonder why.

Specifically, the English Program in Korea (E.P.I.K) affiliated with Korea Ministry of Education hires native English speakers to develop English speaking abilities and the cultural exchange between Korea and abroad. However, there is no mention of integrating students with special needs into the English classroom under the teaching guidelines section on their website.

Furthermore, as I continued to build connections with other English teachers, I heard the common theme of special education being an ambiguous, obscure subject. In particular, we were not all on the same page in our expectations for inclusive teaching practice, creating modified lesson plans, and using accommodations.

I had to find out more.

Narrative Inquiry

(“It is a form of qualitative research that involves the gathering of narratives—written, oral, visual—focusing on the meanings that people ascribe to their experiences, seeking to provide “insight that (befits) the complexity of human lives” (JOSSELSON, 2006, p.4).)

One sunny day in France, I sent out surveys to seven foreign language teachers in South Korea. I wanted to gather some experiences and frame this information in a narrative inquiry paradigm.

Three Men and Four Women aged 23-45, were interviewed about their knowledge of special education in their workplace setting in schools. These experiences from teachers are from diversified backgrounds who have been teaching in Korea from a span of one year to eight years. Most importantly, all teachers that participated in this survey are working within various cohorts of classrooms: private and public, and rural and urban settings across South Korea.

Let’s hear what they had to say.

What About Special Needs Students?

The Interview: 

I was wondering about your opinion as a school teacher in South Korea. In your school, what learning structures are put in place for students with special needs: including behavioural, learning, or physical challenges? How are these children being integrated into English classes academically and socially?

Are they equally participating in the classroom?

Do teachers or parents show shame or pity in discussing children with special needs?

Any other thoughts?

Meet the Teachers

Keith – 8 years working as a foreign language teacher across South Korea, currently in a private academy in metropolitan city, Seoul

“I have seen and also been told how kids with special needs are treated in the classroom. They are usually included in the classroom with kids their age, but they do not always get the attention or help they deserve.

I feel that teachers in the classroom are not given the tools to assist these special students to succeed and flourish. Classroom teachers have deadlines to meet and cannot provide what these students need. Therefore, they become sort of babysitters for these students and sometimes have other students looking after them when they (teachers) are occupied.

In my years of teaching in Korea, I have had these types of students in my classrooms and have heard horror stories about how they lived at home and see their behaviour at school. But, I feel that when they come to school it is kind of a safe haven for them and makes them feel like a normal child when they mix with other kids. It probably takes them away from what negativity they encounter at home (physical, and/or verbal, neglect, malnourished, and so forth).”

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Gabrielle – 1 year working as a public, middle school teacher in the city of Goesong

“In regards, to children with special needs they are not challenged at all in my English classroom to learn. They are actually ignored and I am encouraged to ignore them by my Korean co-teacher. I was told to focus on the ‘normal’ children because they are seen as more capable of learning. The are also bullied in the classroom and the Korean co-teacher ignores the bullying.

I’ve never personally interacted with a parent of a student with a disability, but my Korean co-teacher showed pity, not shame. As time progressed I showed these students more attention and began to change my lessons and teach them separately when I got the chance; as well as, pairing them with a stronger student in the classroom who can translate or help them personally as the lessons progressed. I also gave them different work tailored to their learning needs to better enhance their learning as well as their understanding of English.

There’s my experience in a nutshell!”

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Chris- 1 year working as a public high school teacher in rural Gyeongsang-do county.

“I am sorry but I don’t have any input. I have never come across any students with special needs.”

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Jeff – 5 years working in 3 public schools as an elementary, middle and high school teacher in rural Gyeongsang-do county

“I have special needs in all three of my schools. In middle and high school, they are treated wonderfully. They have a teacher who is trained for special needs and their own fully decked out rooms. They do most of classes with the other students and then have review classes. Even things like cooking and basic finance, general life skill classes too.

I see that the other students are really nice to them in class, no one is rude or talking down to them. But, who knows what happens outside of class though but to me everyone gets along. Teachers are all really nice to them although the special needs students are super quiet in class, not sure if it is because they or shy or what? Even when I put in extra effort to encourage them to participate they are usually very low level or shy about their skills.

There was one student in my middle school who had a hard time speaking Korean which was affecting all of her classes obviously since teachers could barely understand her. The school paid for a speech specialist for a few months and her speaking ability in Korean and English is ten times better now. It must have been expensive to have a specialist come in for one student but they took great care of her and she is much happier and well behaved now.

In my elementary school there is no special needs teacher. My elementary school only has about 50 students and maybe 2 or 3 special needs kids so they are just in class like everyone else. This means they are way behind and the teachers just don’t have enough time to teach the class and give the time to the students to keep up. The teachers are usually frustrated with the students because they get bored and have behaviour problems.

Overall, I am really happy with the middle and high school treatment and set up. But kind of disappointed with the elementary support. I know the school is on a small budget and likely can’t afford a teacher and room for 2 or 3 students. I would like to see what it is like at a larger elementary school with more funds.”

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Elizabeth – 1 years working as an elementary teacher in a municipal, public school in Jinju

“Well, I don’t know much, but I do know that we have a special needs teacher specifically who works with them in a pull out setting. My classes are levelled and the bottom 25% don’t take classes with me, which I think most of them fall into this category.

A couple special needs students have been recently integrated into my classes. I don’t see them often, but there was one particular student who has a bunch of pencils and just plays with them all throughout class.

So, I asked the teacher about it. He told me to engage with him and to try and get him to do whole group responses. And encouraged me to push him and “not leave him alone.” And then the next week he addressed the faculty saying this same thing. I thought that was really good and pretty progressive for Korea. Except, to not expect accommodations.”


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Lynda – 1 year working in a municipal, public all boys middle school in Goesong

“I think students with special needs or behavioural challenges aren’t properly acknowledged. They were usually in low level English classes and not given the adequate attention to get ahead. I feel if my co-teacher facilitated more care to them they could advance, but instead she ignores their issues. I feel that there is only so much that I can do. I call on them for answers, play games, and doing more active activities. After a while the games become to rowdy so my co-teacher got upset and cancelled them. We then returned to rudimentary work.

I don’t feel that my co-teacher shamed or pity them. She just didn’t motivate them or care to teach. I heard that she is quitting so we will see if improvements come. I never interacted with parents so I cannot comment on that.

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Susan – 1 year working in a rural, public elementary school is Gyeongsang-do

“I think it depends on the school and especially with the teachers. Like for Danseong working with one teacher, she neglects and ignores on of the special needs students. Upon asking her why she replied: ‘He’s not capable of learning English and doesn’t have the knowledge.’

I was literally SHOCKED because back home in Canada we are taught that every student is equal and should be treated the same. So, because it is her classroom, I don’t want to cause any trouble so I just let things be. Sometimes, I do try to work with the students one on one. But it’s hard enough when he has a learning disability, let alone trying to communicate with him in another language he has no idea.

But then in my second school……. I see my co-teacher treating two students with learning disabilities just the same as students, giving extra time from the teacher. For example, when students are asked to read a word, I would whisper in the student’s ear and he/she would read it out loud versus other students we would push them to figure it out themselves.

Also, for the school festivals, there is one student in a wheelchair and the school included that student in the play, even though it was only for 2 minutes. But it was nice to see the smile on that student’s face being apart of the show.

I don’t really interact with the parents as much, but I think the education system here can do so much better incorporating students with disabilities. I just think that there’s not enough funds delegated into special education.   

There You Have It

A few perspectives on the current state of teaching English in Korea, and some of the realities of providing English education to students of all abilities. It should be noted to bear in mind the language barrier between the English and Korean teachers in the schools. It was difficult to communicate and find out further information within our schools directly.

If you have any other thoughts or further information, please comment below.

Thanks for reading.

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Photograph of Cherish Picklyk.

You can find me, Amanda Teacher, making new friends with neighbourhood cats and dogs, getting lost in foreign countries, swimming in crystal blue waters, or sampling new coffee roasts. As a disability studies alumni, I strive for disability rights in whatever part of the world and work situation I find myself in.

Currently, happily existing in France enjoying baguettes, learning French and finding beauty in everyday things around me.

Clearing a Path: A Psychiatric Survivor Anti-Violence Framework

This post was written by instructor Danielle Landry.

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

Launching the Final Report

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

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

– Lucy Costa, December 10 2015 PDAC Report Launch

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

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

“Redignified lives. Now that’s a revolution”

– Lisa Walter, December 10 2015 PDAC Report Launch

Working with the Coalition

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

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

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


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

Using the Anti-Violence Framework

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

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

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

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

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



Label Jars Not People

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

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

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

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

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