Abstracts – Paper Presentations

Abstracts – Paper Presentations
A place to call home:  Intellectual disabilities and residential services in Nova Scotia


Rachel Barken


Bridging the perspectives of disability rights organizations with government policies, my paper investigates the provision of care for people with intellectual disabilities in Nova Scotia. Although evidence shows that people with intellectual disabilities benefit from living with support in small community residences, over 700 intellectually disabled Nova Scotians currently live in institutions that house between 32 and 115 people (Report of Residential Services, 2008). In light of this situation, my paper includes an analysis of policies that shape the care provided for people with disabilities in Nova Scotia and observations from the meetings of disability rights organizations that I have attended. I relate these findings to socio-cultural theories that view the segregation of people with disabilities as a solution to the burden created by non-productive members of capitalist societies (Oliver, 1990) and that show how disabled people are treated as a perceived threat to the non-disabled (Shakespeare, 1994).



Nova Scotia Services for Persons with Disabilities (June 2008). Report of Residential Services.

Oliver, M. (1990). The politics of disablement: A sociological approach. New York: St.           Martin’s Press.

Shakespeare, T. (1994). Cultural representations of disabled people: Dustbins for disavowal. In  Disability & Society, 9(3), (pp. 283-301).



Rendering Bodies: Medical Aesthetics and Contemporary Art


Drew Danielle Belsky


The aesthetics of bodies in art and medicine, and the rendering of disabled bodies in particular, form what Jacques Rancière calls the “distribution of the sensible,” which includes or excludes certain bodies, with important political and social consequences.  Drawing on Foucault, Haraway, and Barad, I argue that the discursive constructions of The Body as whole, bounded, and ordered within science and medicine create the aesthetic milieux in which artwork is produced.  However, while both content and form are intimately tied to the aesthetic regimes that underpin them, the boundaries of artistic practice are by nature pliable and open to re-evaluation.  In this study, I explore the potentially productive gaps, intra-actions and liminal spaces in medical aesthetics and art.  While works by non-disabled artists Sophie Calle and Marc Quinn mark disabled bodies as Other while leaving the artist unmarked in the encounter, Deleuze’s treatment of painter Francis Bacon, Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes, and the work of disabled artist Caitlin Berrigan, provide intra-active renderings of bodies and ways in which artistic practice may influence the distribution of the sensible within science and medicine.



Work (in progress)


Chavisa Brett


This video is a text-based narrative about incurring a significant workplace injury in Canada.  In twelve minutes a seven-year span of injury is visually synthesized using a interdisicplinary approach.  Political economic structures, which inform the experience of employment and workplace disability, are interwoven within an autoethnographic account.  I believe, in order to understand personal experiences the broader social, political and economic forces must be understood.  I therefore analyze the events of a workplace injury using the social determinants of health and neoliberalism in order to allow a deeper level of narrative to emerge.  The video format offers a succinct medium to build and share a multi-layered narrative and ask pivotal questions about workplace injuries and Canada’s existing disability compensation systems. I aim to stimulate discussion, education and action about workplace injury as a social justice issue.


Media rarely accurately portrays living with a workplace disablity.  Video enables giving voice to this underrepresented experience.  Instead of video footage, the imagery consists of built up drawing and collages, which help to negotiate safety creatively and engage audiences beyond academia.  Particularly younger audiences who, in the early stages of their working lives, rarely consider themselves vulnerable to workplace injury.



As the Shoulder Heals:  One Woman’s Experience Surviving Two Car Accidents

Sandra Broekhof

This narrative analysis examines the barriers one woman experienced after surviving two motor vehicle accidents within two months.  It is the personal experience of the author as the nature of my identity changed.  Adaptations strategies included changes related to routines, social networks and recreational activities.

As well as adapting to daily life I also had to overcome many barriers to services and major systems that are maintained by the medical model of disability.  I was also able to maintain treatment and continue to negotiate further healing options with the hard work and support of a strong willed Family Physician whose beliefs were centred in the social model of disability.

The analysis took the perspective of the changes to the quality of life experienced by people with episodic disabilities. This analysis moves to the objectives of ensuring the provincial act the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) will enable all people in society become more inclusive with the removal of barriers.  The relationship between physical health and quality of life is complex.  The implications on accessing supports are places for further discussion for the removal of barriers.


Too Much Has Happened That Will Never be Told: 

Lesbian Madness Narratives Since the 1970s


Alisa Das


Feminist historian Nancy Tomes (1994) states, “Most of the history supposedly written about ‘women’ and madness has in fact been only about white, upper middle-class, heterosexual women and madness” (p. 375). The intention of this paper is to give voice to the unique aspects of lesbian women’s experiences of madness. After a brief overview of the history of psychiatric heterosexism and homophobia, this paper will explore oral and written narratives of psychiatrized lesbians published in Canada, the United States, and England since the 1970s, which predominantly describe lesbians’ experiences with psychiatry from the 1940s to early 1980s.  These narratives reveal how many lesbians enter the psychiatric system as a result of homophobia and heterosexism, systems of oppression that pervade their experiences of psychiatric treatment such as through the enforcement of female gender norms, denial of women’s lesbian identity, assumption of lesbians as sexual predators, devaluation of lesbian relationships, and perpetration of sexual violence by professionals and patients. Lesbian madness narratives are often a form of ‘coming out’ story and political awakening, illustrating how, as a result of experiences with psychiatry, authors of lesbian madness narratives often challenge oppression by coming out, connecting with community, developing a critical consciousness and engaging in activist work.



Tomes, N. (1994). Feminist histories of psychiatry. In M.S. Micale and R. Porter (Eds.) Discovering the History of Psychiatry (pp. 348-383). New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.



The Ashley Smith Tragedy: Reconsidering the Mental Health Needs

of Women and Girls in Custody


Christina J.  Hollingshead


On October 19th 2007 nineteen-year-old Ashley Smith committed suicide inside her segregation cell at the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ontario.  Instructed to curtail overwhelming red tape from the girls’ previous self harming attempts, and warned only to enter the unit once she had stopped breathing; prison guards watched outside her cell as she asphyxiated herself with a ligature tied around her neck.  Initially convicted of minor crimes like shoplifting, public disturbance and throwing crabapples at a postal worker, once in the system, the teenager’s mental health quickly deteriorated as she found herself in daily brawls with the prison guards. Instead of receiving the care her family was promised, the teen never received a comprehensive psychological assessment and was instead transferred nine times between six facilities,  almost five years of which she spent alone in “therapeutic quiet” (segregation).  This case spotlights the need to reform legal policy to protect the human rights of criminalized women and girls in this country, especially now that the number of those who are incarcerated for relatively minor offences is increasing. This paper explores some of the issues raised in this case (Ashley Smith) such as the exacerbation of mental health conditions by segregation and the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among female inmates.  It argues that this case serves as a backdrop to reclaim the discourse of women and girls in prison and calls for a gender-appropriate response to mental health issues in custody, the need to examine the impact of imprisonment on at-risk juvenile offenders, provide efficient assessments, interventions, and adequate treatment and arrange for appropriate placements for at-risk juvenile girl and women offenders.  It also calls for providing correctional officials with well-formulated Crisis-Intervention Training (CIT) to minimize the instances of their use of force on female offenders.



Debating ‘care’: Attendant relationships and language


Christine Kelly


Disability scholars and activists grappling with language have reclaimed a number of words including ‘independence’ and ‘crip’ as a form of symbolic politics that transforms our understandings of disability. Yet other words and concepts remain taboo within disability studies, for example the term ‘care.’ In this paper, I explore whether it is possible to salvage ‘care’ from its oppressive medical and charitable legacies, or whether such an endeavor is politically and symbolically counterproductive. Further, if ‘care’ is indeed unsalvageable, does this mean the entire body of feminist literature addressing care work and care is also? Drawing on feminist disability theory and the feminist political ethic of care, I approach this discussion through the lens of personal assistance. I explore the nature of personal attendant relationships and attempt to understand how they resemble and differ from other forms of ‘care.’  I argue that feminists working in care theory need to listen more closely to disability scholars and activists and must address the oppressive legacies of care in their work, while disability scholars need to consider the possibilities of engaging more deeply with feminist care literature.



Two Cultures, One Programme: Deaf Professors as Subaltern?


Campbell McDermid


Deaf instructors of American Sign Language have taught ASL in formal institutions of higher learning for several decades now, yet little is known of the challenges they face within those contexts. In this study, interviews with instructors of five ASL — English Interpreter Programs (AEIP) and four Deaf Studies Programs (DSP) in Canada identified a number of common themes in particular to the intersection of culture, power, and identity. Within a post-colonial framework differences were found in the discursive practices of the participants as Deaf or non-Deaf individuals. Evidence of systemic audism experienced by the Deaf staff was noted at a number of levels, perhaps due to the existence of a ‘Grand Narrative of Hearing’ and a process of ‘Worlding’ based on the ideology of the hearing majority. As a result perhaps some of the Deaf instructors were ascribed or adopted the role of subaltern, where they should have instead experienced substantial social capital.



Journey Toward Empowerment: Perspectives of a Disability Rights Activist


Julia Munk


When I was in the fifth grade my teacher asked the class to draw pictures of what everyone wanted to be when they grew up.  My best friend drew a teacher and the boy next to me drew a firefighter.  I drew a stick figure holding up a sign on a stick and wrote across the top of my page, “When I grow-up I want to be a protester.”  My teacher asked me why I wanted to be a protester and without a second thought I responded, “so that I can change the world.”


To this day I have dedicated much of my life to this goal.  Social movements and the activists that work within them are often conceived as merely “protesters” that come together in opposition to dominant political authorities.  Through my experience as a disabled woman working within the disability rights movement I have come to understand social movements as material and discursive spaces that mean different things to different people. This paper will explore academic debates related to socials movements and how I have come to understand the disability rights movement as a social, political and cultural space that transcends my fifth-grade understanding protest and social change.



(Mis) Perception of Change: Education opportunities at the

Toronto District School Board 40 years later


Gillian Parekh


After 40 years of data collection in the Toronto District School Board, the disparity between specific student demographics and program placement continues to exist. Effects of parental occupation, income and education levels continue to impact academic opportunities for their children. Despite the numerous board and ministry policy amendments addressing this issue, the disparity of opportunities and outcomes persists and is, arguably, growing. To test the current situation within the Toronto District School Board, we explored the educational opportunities available to secondary students using both Board and Ontario’s Ministry of Education data.  The student demographic variables of special education, family income and parent education were correlated with services and programs provided (Gifted, French Immersion, full-course offerings, OSSLT opportunity, OYAP, and SHSMP). Overall, each of the variables showed significance. There were inequitable opportunities for programs and services available to students receiving special education. Students from low income households and students whose parents do not have postsecondary education are more likely to be found within schools with fewer marketable program options. Work place programs were more likely to be situated in the lowest income neighbourhoods suggesting that social reproduction of marginalized groups is embedded within the fibre of Canada’s largest public education system.



The Ethical Integration of Brain Machine Interfaces:

Towards the Cyborganization of Disabled People


Stella Palikarova


This theoretical analysis takes up ethical considerations of Brain Machine Interface (BMI) communication and mobility technologies as “treatments” for disability. To this aim, the binary stance emergent from critical disability discourses and transhumanist, or post-humanists, theory are thoroughly explored using the consequentialist philosophical ethical framework. Within transhumanist discourse, bio-technological modification is regarded as a positive outgrowth of self-guided evolution. Consequently, proponents of transhumanism argue that the restricted use of scientific knowledge toward improving the human condition is essentially devolutionary, irrational, and irresponsible. Conversely, many direct and indirect criticisms of biotechnology emerge from Critical Disability Studies discourses, which frame such modification as a societal imposition of control, and unrealistic standards of normalcy, on any social group embodying and/or exhibiting difference from the status quo. In my discussion, disability is observed as a human condition requiring a new socio-medical model perspective that makes room for technologies facilitative of greater individual autonomy and societal participation. I thus, take the controversial position that cybernetic, bionic human modification is not only a morally acceptable choice, but is also highly desirable toward enabling and empowering human potential and improving life conditions (physical, mental, material, social, cultural etc.) of all people with disabilities.



More than an Accomplishment: Deaf Education in the Maritimes, 1856 – 1892


Joanna L. Pearce


Unlike schools in the United States, the Nova Scotia School for the Deaf and Dumb was founded and supported by deaf and hearing educators from Scotland.  As a result of this, the school developed a unique Maritime Sign Language that was used throughout Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick.  However, this was not merely a difference in language, but also a difference in pedagogical approach.  While schools and educators in the United States were quickly embracing the “oralism” method championed by Alexander Graham Bell, by teaching students to speak and lipread, the Nova Scotia School for the Deaf and Dumb continued to emphasize the importance of Sign Language for students, using oralism only when the student demonstrated a particular aptitude.  This paper highlights the founding and development of the Nova Scotia School for the Deaf and Dumb, emphasizing the residential school’s differences from French-influenced schools in the United States.  It also demonstrates the need for further research into the Deaf Residential School experience in Canada, as current research has focused almost exclusively on the deaf experience in the United States.



Mad People in Academia


Jenna Reid


Mad is a political way in which psychiatrized students can take back language that has been used in the past to oppress them. My experience as a Mad student, Mad lecturer and a Mad researcher has informed my critique of the reliance on the biomedical model in dominant discourse taught within social work education in regards to practice with the Mad community. Working on a pilot research project at Ryerson University’s School of social work, a project that asked if Ryerson’s progressive anti-oppressive school is really ‘open’ to Mad students, I recognized the significance of my own experience as a Mad student. In this paper I introduce a critical auto-ethnographic study, which highlights my experiences in the classroom and in the social work field. Through this study I remind others that Mad people are in the classroom and are impacted by the way in which madness and practice with Mad people are addressed, discussed or approached in classroom simulations. In following critical and anti-oppressive approaches to social work, I believe that what we teach about madness, how we facilitate discussions about madness and how we support Mad people in academia needs to be informed by Mad people themselves.



The Power of the Music of the Night: Alterity and Resistance
Through Gothic Subversion in the Phantom of the Opera


Sarah Sackville McLauchlan


At first glance, the story of the Phantom of the Opera would seem anathema to the goals of Critical Disability Studies due to its portrayal of the isolation and suffering of the deformed/disabled person.  And yet, this story, especially in its rendering in the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage-musical, has resonated deeply with its fans, many of whom are people with disabilities or have experienced other forms of marginalization.


I believe that this is so because Phantom does more than simply restate the all too familiar narrative of the pain of exclusion.  It also opens up a space of alterity and of resistance.  By taking the tropes of the Gothic Horror genre and giving them new, subversive meaning, Phantom deconstructs the conventional, triumphalist narrative of that genre.  And in doing so, it opens up the space of the dark and of physical difference, those things traditionally used to connote evil, as a space of alterity and creative resistance rather than one of inevitable damnation.  It is this space of alterity and its creation that I wish to explore, as I believe that this is key to the lasting cultural impact of the Phantom story.



How a counter-discourse to the psychopathology of ‘obsessions’ departs from the trope of ‘Mad genius’:  An autoethnographic study of relationality from ‘local to universal’


Louise Tam


A range of thoughts and needs pathologized as Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders are vastly underrepresented in Mad movement narratives. In this interdisciplinary study, I explore how I have used autoethnography as a methodological tool for practicing “active disloyalty” against totalizing psychiatric and Mad paradigms (Mohanty, 2003, p. 504). I discuss how my situated epistemology of morbid thoughts—graphic thoughts that are taboo/aggressive against loved ones or the self—can critically/credibly provide a counter-discourse not only to ‘OCD’ as irrational and meaningless, but to tropes of the mad person as genius or an artistic spirit. I seek to demedicalize without romanticizing through using the complexity of embodied narrative from the standpoint of an anti-racist feminist student scholar.


From selected memories conjured through analyzing my patient records, I reveal how sense-making is mediated by ruling relations, in particular the economics of understanding how we are ‘irrational’ and how we must self-survey. I consider how my family’s history as working and middle class immigrants reveals the racial and class dimensions of psy discourse. What follows is a consideration of how embodied narrative can be used not as individualized therapy, but as a rigorous, collective consciousness-raising practice around psychiatric disability as a socially significant sign.



Everyday Monsters:  Assuming the Threat of the Black Disabled Feminine Subject


Onyinyechukwu Udegbe


This paper along with the 7 minute short video “Everyday Monsters,” explore the embodiment and representative symbolism of diasporic blackness, femininity, and queer subjectivity. As both the Actor (subject of the short video) and Director of the video, I use personal narrative to explore the potent possibilities of change and activism in an effort to challenge and illuminate the intelligibility of black, female, disabled monstrosity.  The work of personal narrative in “Everyday Monsters” enables my retelling of experience as “critical for anyone who is black, or who belongs to any marginalized category, for historically we were seldom invited to participate in the discourse even when we were its topic.” (Morrison, The Site of Memory, 1995)


Ato Quayson’s important contribution to literary Disability studies opens space for a postcolonial reading of disability. Through an application of Quayson’s (2007) concept of ‘aesthetic nervousness,’  and David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder’s (2002) concept of ‘narrative prosthesis’ I explore the violence and erasure that characterizes the meanings and associations made about the black, disabled queer body and her subjectivity.


Trinh. T.Mah’s (1989) concept of “gossip” initiates my discussion on the characterization and imagery of the black disabled female body as an excessive subjective that ought to be a site of discipline through a fantastical, disciplinary exercise of colonization. I link historical popular characterizations such Saarjite Bartman, the hottentot Venus, to expose and bridge the gaps of both the African and diasporic black female body through “metanarratives of loss” (Mbembe, 2002).  I offer a contemporary, personal and public alternative reading to the black disabled female body within a feminist transnational postcolonial conversation about race, gender and disability.



“If I Had A Normal Job I Couldn’t Do This”: Exploring The Economics of Disability Advocacy Motherhood and Inclusive Education


Samantha Walsh & Elisabeth Harrison


In the current moment, mothers of disabled children are often expected to be their children’s full-time advocate. This is particularly true with respect to the education system: Even where policy acknowledges students’ right to accessible and inclusive instruction, in practical terms, funding shortages and resistance from education professionals  often necessitates parental involvement in order to ensure that disabled children’s needs are accommodated and their rights respected. In the overwhelming majority of these situations, this advocacy work becomes the mother’s responsibility. The paper seeks to explore the role of cultural and social capital as theorized by Pierre Bourdieu in mothers’ advocacy on behalf of their children with disabilities in the education system. The paper will be grounded in Walsh and Harrison’s lived experiences as they reflect on the advocacy work that their own mothers did in negotiating access to education for themselves and their siblings in the Ontario school system from the early 1990s until the late 2000s. Walsh and Harrison wish to further explicate the role of access to economic resources in the mother/advocate role. We seek to problematize the current acceptance of the mother/advocate role, highlighting its inaccessibility to those who lack cultural, social and economic capital. As such, the paper will explore opportunities for coalition building in advocacy for inclusive education, as well as considering strategies for mobilizing other key parties.

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