Tag Archives: Critical Disability Studies

My Graduate School Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



5 Helpful Tips to Improve your Education Experience

This post was written by alumni, Donna Mullings

A yellow sticky note which reads "Helpful Tips"

1.  Breakdown an article. This can be done by looking at methodology, research, discussion points, main-point and most importantly, what is left out and who is left out and for what reasons. It doesn’t matter if you are reading an article about Critical Race Theory or Foucault. Is the author polarizing disability, using it as a trope, or connecting it to wider and broader issues and how is it being done. Certainly everything cannot be included in any one article, but articles tend have an invisible underline postulation, which is neither right nor wrong, but where does it fit in, how does it fit in and for what reason/s. So as you read and participate in class discussions, I found that engaging in this particular dialogue, internal or external, can evoke and bring about some type of critical thought.

2. Make a theory and methodology chart for quick referencing as you go along.

3. Create a vocabulary list and definitions as it will be very helpful.

4. If you like a particular scholar, this is also the time to read more and incorporate his/her analysis into your work and the work of others.

5. Make this your time. While you are learning, questioning, writing, and participating, swim in your own mixture. Unfortunately we are governed by academic protocol, and it does get stressful at times, but don’t lose the reason as to why you have chosen to embark on this particular journey.

Thinking about Sex

This post was written by alumni, Jennifer Paterson.

A purple comment bubble which says "Sex, worth talking about"

I think about sex a lot. Luckily, I get to do this as a paid job as a Sexual Health Promoter. I often think about how people define sex? Who gets to learn about sex, who doesn’t and why? How can I teach people with disabilities about their sexual rights, the joys of sex, and the detriment of focusing on sexual abuse? How can years of sex negativity and shame be undone? What are the ways sex education be accessible and nuanced to be inclusive of a variety of people, bodies and identities?

Many years ago when I was employed as an Educational Assistant (EA), the young disabled people I supported were denied access to sex education. In the five years of being an EA, one teacher I worked with taught a short class about sex education — a class that was awkward, abstract, inaccessible and boring.

I saw teachers’ shame children and young people for touching their genitals. I struggled to learn how to intervene and talk back to teachers in these situations. I ached to find the language and tools to advocate for sex education.

During my studies in the DST program, when I had the choice, I learned about sexuality. I wrote my DST99 paper on sexuality and went to graduate school to focus on sexuality and disability issues.

During graduate school, I realized I wanted to become a sex educator with a critical disability perspective. I sought out sexual health educators who advised me to get a volunteer job to provide me the training and experience to become a sex educator. I then got a part time job as a sexual health counsellor and then finally landed a full time sexual health promotion position which I am very fortunate and excited to have.

My job is one example of how a degree in Disability Studies can be used to get a job outside of the disability field. Disability work needs to be done in all sectors and fields.

Health promotion is exciting and sometimes challenging. There’s a lot of work to be done from a critical disability perspective. Along with my critical disability tools, I am learning about the social determinants of health and how that intersects and departs from a disability studies perspective.

My job involves helping plan and deliver sexual health education to people receiving services through agencies and schools and to support staff and teachers to enhance their capacity to deliver sex education. I love facilitating sex education classes but I am also very passionate about educating service providers and teachers to develop their skills to be more sex positive and to deliver sex education. There are often bigger issues at work – institutional and socio-political issues that are more difficult to tackle but necessary to keep in mind. As we know from a disability studies perspective, it is critical that we strive to change structural issues that prevent access to accessible and sex positive sex education. As a community of disability advocates, I hope you’ll join me to address disability and sexuality issues. Sexuality is a very important disability issue.

If you would like to contact me, I can provide sexual health consultations and services to people who are in Toronto. For folks outside of Toronto who would like to contact me and share ideas about success and challenges of sex education, please contact me at: jpaters@toronto.ca

And then there was light

This post was written by Ruth Ruth Stackhouse. She graduated from the Disability Studies program in 2011.

light streaming through some clouds

When I entered the Ryerson School of Disability Studies back in 2006, it was just to take one course, having a learning disability, I believed that would be as far as I could go, but at least I would have done that.  On the first day of the program , however, the great Catherine Frazee, herself a wheelchair user, proclaimed to the students “My problem is not that I cannot walk, my problem is that I live in a world that insists that I walk’  …and then there was light in that dark area of my heart and mind, still from neglect, frightened to move for fear of self doubt.  All of a sudden it occurred to me that I was not the one who had a problem with learning, rather the system of learning had failed me.

Making this epiphany even more profound was the realization that I was not alone.  Indeed many of my fellow students were becoming liberated with the new knowledge of Disability Studies, brought to us by passionate activist teachers who encouraged a major paradigm shift toward equality and human rights.  With the confidence and strength given to me at Ryerson School of Disability studies, what began with one course, turned into an Honours BA, and later an MA in Critical Disability Studies.  But more that academic credentials, our school opens the door to self acceptance, and justice.

Women’s Creation

This poem was written by Graciela Bordon. She is an alumnus of the School of Disability Studies, class of 2008. She composed this piece during her graduate work at York University. This is from her collection of fourteen ethnodrama-conversations which she constructed for her MPR. It depicts disabled women’s self representation, the freedom to explore, expand and re-create with art and reclaiming the act of looking and making meaning in the cultural production of “ourselves”. The works of Frida Kahlo were the inspirations behind this piece.

The painting, The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo
(oil on canvas, on masonite, 15¾ x 12 inches/40 x 30.7 cm).
Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño, Mexico City. http://www.abcgallery.com/K /kahlo/kahlo61.html


Women’s Creation

Woman’s own message…
Life and art with “Latinas’ ” essence and roots
Emancipation, subversion and survival
Passion and love
Paintings with palpitate heart
Reasons of life
Paintings and writings
Furtive art
Gestated in women’s entrails
Razón de vida
Reason for creation
Reason for sharing
Reason for gestation
New beginnings of life
Dreams of maternal relations
Dreams and offerings of love
For the fruit of the earth womb
The milk that drips from the earth
Nourishes the earth’s sons
Women weeping…
About the death of your land’s children
Children, creations of life
Creation compelled to desist
Mirror, mirror…
Who Am I?
The monster of the white scrubs
Accused me of
A lack of capacity
The danger of proliferation
Risks of disease
Transmission from heredity
Creation of a monster child
Every night, under twinkling stars
I create a new life
Fluttering in my womb
The child, fruit of life
What I yearn for so much
Mirror, mirror…
Who Am I?
The monster with the white scrubs
Wrote indifferently
In the medical report:
A bad leg A broken column
33 operations
Father suffers from epilepsy
Mother is native Oaxaca,
With similar symptoms of epilepsy
Five sisters
Three miscarriages
A number of surgical abortions
Great tolerance for pain
Low energy
Lack of appetite
Sexually active
Suffers from depression
Every night under the twinkling stars
I created a new life
Fluttering in my womb
The child, fruit of life
What I yearn for so much
Mirror, mirror…
Who Am I?
The monster with the white scrubs
Experimented on my body
He amputated my leg
Enslaved my desires
Every night under the twinkling stars
I created a new life
Fluttering in my womb
The child, fruit of life
What I yearn for so much
The monster with the white scrubs
Inflicted many torments upon me
In the name of medicine
He killed the fruit of my life
He vanquished my hopes
And he shattered my wish to live
He couldn’t destroy