The Tea on Disability Studies

An image of the Accessibili-tea Podcast logoPodcast hosted by: Ashton Forrest and Jalesa Martin 

In this episode of Accessibili-tea, Ashton and Jalesa spill some tea with Rachel, a Disability Studies program graduate; they talk about research that is happening in the Disability Studies program, some interesting courses, and more!

Rachel shares what interested her about Disability Studies, and how she applies the things that she’s learned to her everyday life. More specifically, the role that society plays in disability, and the different models and lenses that are used in the field of Disability Studies. This helps to highlight the importance of prioritizing the voices of people with disabilities and the different ways in which societal and individual factors contribute to disability. 

Another interesting topic that Rachel discusses is a research project that is being undertaken in the Disability Studies program. Rachel worked with Dr. Pamela Cushing to conduct research that supports the current development of streams for the Disability Studies Program. She explains how she worked to develop an interview guide with various augmentative and alternative communication tools to talk with community partners regarding the development of an experiential learning course. It’s an interesting topic to consider, as it highlights the importance of negating tokenism by actively working with and providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities to contribute in an accessible way. 

To learn more about these topics in-depth, tune into the episode now! You can listen below or check it out on Anchor, Google Podcasts, Breaker, Radio Public, Spotify, or Pocket Casts. You can also access an accessible transcript of the interview below. 

To learn more about the Disability Studies program, you can join their Facebook page (Disability Studies at Kings) or go to the official program website by clicking here. If you have any questions about the program, you can also follow Rachel on Instagram.

Stay tuned for the next episode where Ashton and Jalesa will be talking to Lauren about the representation of disability in the media.

Take a listen or follow along with the accessible Transcript...

Accessible Transcript

Hi, I'm Jalesa.

Hi, I'm Ashton.

And welcome to this week's episode of Accessabili-tea. This week will be spilling the tea on the Disability Studies program at King's, and we'll be talking to Rachel, who just recently graduated from the program.

So sit back, grab your cup and get ready to step on some hot tea.

Hi, Rachel. We'd love you to introduce yourself to us.

Hi, everybody, my name is Rachel Reparon. I am a graduate now of the Disability Studies program at King's and I'm really excited to be here today.

Awesome, thank you. So we wanted to know what made you interested in joining the disability studies program at King's?

Yeah, for sure. So there's a bit of a story, and it started way back when I was in the seventh grade, so I started volunteering at my church in the Children's Ministry

And from there, after a couple of years of just volunteering, as like kind of assistant teacher in the classrooms. I started doing some one on one support with a boy who had Cerebral Palsy. And then, yeah, from there I also was a part of a summer camp called Forest Cliff just outside of London.

And I started off as a counselor there. And then I ended up doing one on one support with individuals with disabilities. That's kind of where I recognized in both of those places that I loved working with and spending time with people with disabilities, kind of understanding their perspectives on life and those were kind of also the places where I began recognizing the vast amount of environmental and attitudinal barriers.

Yeah. That existed and that were largely in the control of people like me and people like us. And so, yeah, like I hadn't even really recognized that before spending time with and working with disabled people.

So, yeah, that was that was really cool to kind of recognize those things and start to realize that, like, you know, we we kind of all play a part in an un-accessible world. So, yeah, I knew I wanted to work with disabled people for my career and I didn't really want to do like a DSW or a PSW because I wanted a bit more of like an academic and kind of critical thinking route with research opportunities, that kind of thing. And yeah, there's actually not all that many programs specific to disability, that kind of work. So when I heard about disability studies, I was like, oh, like, that sounds really interesting and something I might enjoy.

So I looked into it and then I toured Kings and I kind of always wanted to go to a smaller university or do a similar program with small class sizes, since I really enjoy, like discussion with classmates and professors.

And yeah. So the DS program really sounded kind of like a good fit for me to do that kind of work that I enjoy and also have some research opportunity while also being in like a smaller school in class.

So yeah, that's kind of why I went into it. Also, when I toured Kings and met some of the professors beforehand, all the profs were like amazing and like so welcoming. So yeah, that that just like, affirmed my choice to go into it.

That's awesome. I know you talked about just the concept of disability being in society, and I know in the Disability Studies courses, I've taken a few, they talk about the social model and the medical model. So I was wondering if you could explain that for someone who has never heard of those terms?

Yeah, definitely. That was actually kind of like I would say is one of my biggest takeaways from Disability Studies and like that program. Yeah. It's just like the dichotomy between kind of like a social model versus an individual model.

And there's like so many models of disability, like I like I can't even tell you the exact number because there's just so many and more will be created just as we think critically about disability. But in general, like in the first year class, you'll learn there's kind of an individual model versus social model of understanding disability.

And so the individual model that's more of like seeing the disability as a problem located within, within the individual's body and the individual's mind, that kind of thing. So, yeah, that's not always a bad thing, but that can lead to some kind of problems and inaccessibility in the world.

And yeah, it can cause like kind of shaming against people with disabilities. So we have to be careful about how we conceptualize disability. And then yeah, that was individual model. Social model is more the disability is kind of the problem is located within society.

And so that would be kind of inaccessible spaces, not having accommodations readily available. And that's like recognizing that the problem isn't necessarily just the person or isn't the person at all, but instead it's it's in the environment. Yeah.

And so, again, like as you go through this program, you learn like this isn't like kind of the gold standard. We should always be thinking of disability this way. There's complexities and problems with both models and then there's good things about both models.

But that's just kind of a snippet of what they both are.

So you mentioned that the difference between the individual model and the social model is one of the takeaways that you had from the Disability Studies program. Are there any other takeaways you have?

Yeah, I would say, like, it's short and it's sweet, but like my biggest takeaway would definitely be to prioritize the voice of disabled people in kind of everything that you're you're doing, any major decisions that you're making that will impact disabled people.

Yeah, definitely like include them in conversations. If you have questions about disability, ask them, like, you know, directly and get those answers from the people who will be able to give you those answers. But yeah, definitely prioritizing their voice in in everything that you are doing when it's about them.

So I know you talked about earlier just the component of research in the program. So what exactly does research look like in the Disability Studies program and how do you work to prioritize the voices of people with disabilities?

I got into research through Pamela Cushing. She's the chair of the department. And so, yeah, she just kind of, you know, since it is a smaller program, she got to know all her students quite well and the professors get to know their students quite well.

So she knew that I was interested in research. And yeah. So she approached me asking if I would want to do a research assistant position. And so that's how I kind of got into it in the program. And so my research.

So basically Disability Studies as a program is in the process of kind of being split into specific streams. And so there would be like a stream. I don't know them exactly, but there's one kind of like about media and representation and there's one about kind of like health and maybe one about education.

I'm not sure exactly what they are, but yeah, they're kind of in this process. And one of those streams is an experiential stream in which King's students gain kind of more real-world relationship-driven hands-on experience through collaborating with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

And they're known as community partners. And yeah, so then the students would collaborate with them in some of their courses. So I did research to help develop this intellectual developmental disability stream, and my research focused on centering the voice of intellectually and developmentally disabled young adults who had been in some of these classes as community partners.

And so I just kind of chatted with them and kind of like in an interview style. Yeah, I kind of got their thoughts on how their experience was in the classes, what we could do better, how we can keep moving forward, kind of like I said, like prioritizing their voice and saying, like, what do you need?

What do you want from this? How can we make it accessible to you? Work better for you? What kind of things do you want to get out of this experience? So, yeah, that was kind of what my conversations were about.

And yeah, in an effort to kind of ensure that conversation was as accessible as possible, I spent a couple months prior to these interviews researching augmentative and alternative communication tools and methods like that. And then I created an augmented communication binder that was available throughout the interview if any of the people wanted to use it to assist them

in communicating fully, since I wanted to kind of get their full thoughts. And yeah, after the interviews were complete, I was able to kind of consolidate these answers and use them as valued feedback as that stream of Disability Studies continues to be created.

That's a lot of research that it sounds like you did. I'm kind of interested more in those communication tools that you developed. Could you explain what they are and how they work?

Yeah, that's a really good question. Yeah, so basically it is a binder and each page had kind of an interview question on it.

So, yeah, all the questions were kind of like predetermined and so but they were just like kind of a basic question in plain language just to be intellectually accessible to them. And so I was able to read the question to them and then they were also able to read the question on paper in plain language.

And yeah, some - most of them were accompanied with, like visual or pictorial images just to kind of visually assist with that. And yeah. And so some of them were kind of like interactive just because the interviews can get long.

And so just to help with engagement, they were able to like move some of the photos or like the kind of answer options to different locations on the page based on their answer. So some of them were kind of like, oh, like Likert scale style.

They were able to pick like a smiley face on the scale, whether they really enjoyed an experience or didn't enjoy the experience, they were able to choose that way. And then from there, I was able to kind of ask some more questions and just like dive into deeper conversation after we had established, like, oh, we really enjoyed this experience. Like, can you tell me a bit about that? So, yeah, in that way, like it was less of like what they picked in the binder was exactly like what we took as the hard truth and more like this is a good conversation starter.

You picked this image like what does that mean to you? Can you tell me about why you picked that image? Some of them we even did. Kind of like how did you feel about this? Can you either pick an emoji like smiley face type style thing or pick a color?

And if they picked, like, red as the color, you know, that would it doesn't really mean a whole lot to me. But then that would be kind of a conversation starter. Like why did you pick the color red? Just to kind of get something going.

But yeah, I actually didn't find the colors all that helpful, which is another part of my research is like a lot of it was like trial and error. And so the colors weren't super helpful. But I found the emojis did work quite well since they yeah, seemed pretty clear like emotion on them as to like for the questions when I asked, like, how did you feel about something? So yeah, that's just like a little bit about how the binder worked. There were some like pages that I had an envelope filled with kind of like cue cards with different courses that we might potentially offer in the future.

And each of the course titles had a photo on them kind of to accompany the the title of the course to help with understanding. And yeah, I just had them order them like what's most interesting to you, put this area of the table and what's the least interesting to you

Like what course would you not want to take in the future put on this side of the table, that kind of thing. So yeah, that's kind of how I, I tried to make it as accessible as possible. And yeah, it was it was really cool to see kind of what worked and what didn't work and yeah.

That's awesome, and I like that you tried out colors, but, yeah, colors can be difficult because purple makes me feel very happy. But for some people, it might be something that's really relaxing and cooling. So I can imagine that, you know, colors might be a hard thing to interpret across the board.

I'd also like to know, like, what were the results of your research? Like, what things did you discover from it?

Yeah, great question. Yeah. So essentially I was just asking them kind of how they felt about their experiences in the course or the courses that they had taken previously and just kind of how we could do better.

Overall, like we got positive feedback from them saying that they really did enjoy the course, that it felt like meaningful to them. Yeah, we didn't get very much negative feedback at all. We did get some kind of like here's how we could move forward better.

But yeah, for the most part, like people found that it was the people that I interviewed found that it was good for like building relationships and getting kind of life experience, good experience for a resume. And then, yeah, we just got some good feedback about kind of like where to go next, which courses we should offer.

So, yeah, I'm excited to kind of see how how the stream develops and how that all that feedback is implemented in the development of the stream.

That's awesome. So if someone was interested in taking a Disability Studies course, which one would you recommend?

OK, that's that's a hard question. Yeah, I think. Oh my goodness. Disability Studies 1010. That's just like the introductory course. It's the first year course that you would take and it is a pre-req for most or some second or third year classes.

So I would definitely recommend that one and that kind of just kind of lays the foundation of like you would learn about the social model and the individual model, the pros and cons. And those models are like really kind of essential for understanding the rest of disability studies.

So I would definitely recommend taking that one first, if you can, and then in second year or I guess any other year, I think it's 2202 - Rethinking Disability. That's also a really good one. Just really critical thinking and just seeing - seeing disability in a different kind of lens than we're used to.

It kind of goes against the kind of the cultural norms or goes against the grain of society in helping us kind of like really like- like it says rethink disability. And yeah, DS 2285 is the community based experience, one which I was talking about in my research.

So that's the one where you get paired with an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability and then you'd collaborate with them for the whole semester, or whole year, and just kind of like learn together and go on like field trips and that kind of stuff.

So that one is like really, really unique and really fun and like a really excellent experience as well. And then also here's my last recommendation. Any of the special topics courses that look interesting to you. I took so many special topics courses in my undergrad, and I loved all of them.

So I just kind of like look through every semester and was like "what's being offered?" And yeah, I just kind of read the titles and was like, this looks interesting. And I took it. And every time it was so interesting.

But yeah, I've honestly loved every single course I've taken without fail, so I would recommend literally any of them.

So it sounds like you really enjoyed your studies at King's. Do you think all students should take Disability Studies course?

Yes, I think so. I mean, I know that, you know, people have different kind of niches and different interests and people only have like a certain amount of space in their in their undergrad and all that. But, yeah, definitely like if anyone's looking for an elective or. Yeah, if you have space, I would recommend it. They are like really, really interesting. And I think just like really important information as well. But yeah. And they're also just like fun, like they're just like really fun courses with like really understanding and kind professors.

So yeah, I would definitely recommend it. I don't know. Yeah. I don't know if it would have to be like I would say it's like a mandatory course, but I in my eyes like absolutely. If you can take one do it.

Awesome, so I know you've graduated from the program. So what do you hope to use your disability studies knowledge for in the future?

Yeah, so next year I am starting a program at Western, a postgrad and a Master's of Occupational Therapy, combined with a PhD in Occupational Science.

And so I'll kind of be continuing not my exact research, but research in a similar field in my PhD studies. And I'm super excited to go into occupational therapy because it's I mean, I think it's a fantastic field and I'm really excited to serve in that field.

But, yeah, there are so many streams of occupational therapy that focus on working with the disabled population. So I plan on continuing in that kind of direction for my career and being able to apply the various things that I've learned about to that work.

And yeah, also, just like coming from a DS background, I know that like occupational therapy, since it's in the medical field, it can be like very like medical oriented, which often like just based on history, like medical field is often very individual model, like I was talking about before. And so it can often like pathologize, or kind of see the person of the problem. And like that's where a lot of therapy stem from, is just like wanting to fix the person, which definitely isn't always a bad thing.

And with medication and therapies can be like a lifesaver for sure and like really, really necessary. So that's kind of where the complexities, kind of like the individual model, definitely isn't always all that. So, yeah, but just like knowing that, being able to bring in some more social model and kind of like critical ideas from a disability studies background and kind of questioning the status quo in the medical field a little bit to just do things, you know, a little bit better, hopefully. I mean, I'm not there yet, so I don't even know what there is to to do better yet.

But, yeah, just bringing those critical ideas. And then also, like in my PhD studies, I yeah, I would hope to bring in kind of like my background from DS and my research background and those critical ideas. And in that research I'll be focusing on like social norms and narratives that influence young people's relationship when augmentative and alternative communication is relied on or used. So yeah, that will give me the opportunity to look into things like representation and learn more about young people's perspectives on augmentative and alternative communication. So, yeah, I mean, I guess it relates in a lot of ways to what I'm doing in the future and where I'll kind of hopefully be going with for a career.

But yeah, also just in everyday life, like the knowledge gained from Disability Studies is so applicable to just living life alongside people of any ability, really. So, yeah, I think lots of ways that it'll be applicable for my future.

Yeah that's super exciting. I love how you mentioned bringing the disability studies perspective into OT because we interviewed someone last week and she was just talking about how it's very medicalized and a lot of times the voices of people with disabilities are not prioritized.

So I think it will be very interesting to follow up and see how you shape that field up. So in terms of our next question, we wanted to take it back to Western and Ashton - Did you want to follow up with that?

Yeah. What recommendations do you have for Western based on your experiences with the program? What can Western do better? Policies? And in parts of Western, doesn't have to be the institution as a whole. But are there things that you would recommend to Western in general that could help improve things for people with disabilities or to make campus more accessible?

I don't I honestly don't know main campus of Western all that well, because I've been at Kings for four years and I've been mostly there. I've also been in Brescia as well. But yeah, I guess kind of as a whole, kind of like what I was saying earlier.

One of my biggest takeaways is just like prioritizing the voice of disabled people and like really asking what they what they need. And and I think we do we do a fairly good job from from understanding of just like having accessibility surveys and that kind of stuff of at least trying to to hear their voices and get their perspectives. So, yeah, listening to their voices, man, what else? I I've talked to a couple of people who have like struggled with like accommodation services at Western. So that may be kind of an area for growth that Western.

Yeah. Just kind of getting accommodations for exams and just the process of that and how much self-advocacy that takes. And I know like the changing the self-reporting to like having a couple more self-reports this year.

I know that was like a big step for people to not have to work so hard just to kind of breathe a little bit and kind of get the get the access that they need for their education. But yeah, just like more steps like that of making it less a responsibility of people with disabilities to really fight for just like, you know, getting those that same like fairness almost in their education and just kind of like thinking about what that means and what kind of. Yeah, what kind of accommodations that they would have to make for that and then I guess just like for students and staff as well, to just kind of educate themselves

I think one of the one of the biggest things with inaccessibility, at least from just like my learning, I can't say I experience inaccessibility all that much as an able bodied person, but just from what I've learned in the program.

Now, I lost my train of thought.

Well, if it helps, you know, as a person with a disability, you don't know what you don't know. So we don't know what resources are out there. And sometimes even when you're looking for things, you need people to help you guide them where it needs to be very clear where to access those supports. You don't even know you can ask for something as an accommodation because you don't think it's something that can be accommodated. So if things were made very clear and easy to find, getting self-educated would be so much easier and we wouldn't have to run around and be confused.

And this person told me one thing and somebody told me something else. So yeah, yeah, I get what you're saying. Like, they need to be able to self-advocate or take away the burden of self-advocacy, but also having some responsibility and learning what our rights are and how to access things because it takes two to tango sometimes.


I was wondering because the question was mostly focused on Western, you said you're basically from Kings and had some experience with Brescia. Is there anything specific about Kings you'd like to recommend or change?

I mean, I'm sure there are many, many things.

I feel like there's always room for improvement, but overall, I feel like Kings actually has done quite a good job with accommodations and accessibility. And I think part of that is just like having a disability studies program and having so many people at Kings that are really like advocating for this and don't really tolerate inaccessibility all that much.

I know. Yeah, a lot of the professors are very passionate about accessibility and also just like many of them are disabled themselves. And so they also require accommodations to even just work there. And so, yeah, and also we have many students, as does Western, that have disabilities.

And so, yeah, it's kind of like we have to have those accommodations and accessibility and so. Yeah.

I think that's a great point. I think that's one thing through this journey of our podcast, even though we haven't done many episodes, just hoping that the culture changes where and inaccessibility isn't tolerated and - and accessibility just becomes the standard.

So, yeah. Do you have any final words or thoughts that you wanted to share?

Oh, that's a good question. Um, I don't know. I guess not really. I don't know. It's not really a word, but more just like a shoutout to like the professors in the program.

And yeah, I just think they're doing really, really good work there. And yeah, they're honestly just like some of my favorite people, they're like very friendly and just very kind and care so deeply about their students and like that their students are learning well and learning in ways that work for them.

And yeah. So just to show it to them I guess. And oh maybe my other words, for anyone listening to this, if anyone is considering going into Disability Studies or like is in the program right now, I think there can be concern with social science or humanities or interdisciplinary programs like things like this that it's just like, oh but like what do you do with a degree like this, like that kind of thing. And I think there's like even some, like, stigma around it in a way. But yeah, I just like I guess my final word would be that, like, this program can really open up a lot of doors for you.

So, yeah, there's like although it doesn't necessarily have like a clear like once you finish this degree, you go do this job like some programs do. There's still so many options and so many paths. You can go at the end of the program.

And I almost felt like a little overwhelmed with like all the different ways I could go and all the different ways I could use this degree. And also just like the fact that, like, it does. Yeah. Like impact your personal daily life as well.

So like even outside of just like the educational and career side of things like just like personally, it is a really great program for that. So yeah, I guess those are my final words.

You're completely right about like just for the everyday aspects of life, I learned to stop making assumptions because I get tired of people assuming things about me, even though I'm relatively young, I get older people saying, well, why aren't you walking faster when I can't or while I'm sitting in the disabled spot on the busses when I really need to be there.

So having that awareness just makes how we interact with our community a lot different. And you're also right that there are not really like you go into this career, you take this program going to this career, but having that Disability Studies education, I think right now is super key. There are so many government organizations that are now putting a huge focus on accessibility, whether it's online, their events, even the province is coming up with their education, like their draft education standards for K-12 and post-secondary. So for people that already have this education, this is just going to be an easy step into places looking to hire people with that knowledge. So, yeah, extra bonus for Disability Studies. And yeah, I'm really excited. So where can we find out more information about you and the Disability Studies program?

So I am on Instagram, but I'll say that very lightly because I, I'm really not on there often.

I'm not a huge social media person these days anymore. The past year or two I've just kind of withered off social media. But that's probably the most UP-TO-DATE place to find out more about me and follow along with me.

I do also have Facebook, so if anyone ever has questions for me, I'm always open to messages. I'm not like weirded out by people like messaging me about the program. People do that sometimes and I love it. Like I love talking about the program.

I love answering questions. So, yeah, you can always message me on Facebook or Instagram, so. Yeah. And then to find out more about the Disability Studies program on the King's UWO website, there's a section for that department, all about the program courses that are offered professors, everything like that is on there.

So that's probably the best place. And then also on Facebook, the Disability Studies at King's Facebook page. It's a great thing to follow for more information on the program, but also just for some, like a conversation about disability and accessibility.

Sometimes people will just like post something on there. And in the comments, people just like talk about it or like messages each other talk about disability accessibility. And it's awesome. So, yeah.

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for chatting with us today about the program.

Yeah. We'll be sure to post the links and the sources in the description below and yeah. Just thank you again so much for just raising awareness about this topic. And we just wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Thank you so much. Thanks for having me!

Thank you for listening to this week's episode of Accessibili-tea, all of the links can be found in the description below.

Join us for our next episode as we interview Lauren Sanders and her description of how people with disabilities are portrayed in the media.


Check out more Accessibili-tea episodes:

The Tea on OT

Ashton and Jalesa sit down with Sarah, an occupational therapy student here at Western, to talk about her experience being a disabled student in a health-related program.

The Tea on Project Echo

Ashton and Jalesa sit down with Adam Denise from Project Echo. Project Echo is a research initiative focused on studying disability in sport.

The Tea on The USC Accessibility Survey

Ashton and Jalesa spill some tea with Emily and Sophia, members of the USC Accessibility Committee. In the episode they talk about what the committee does, the results from this year's survey, accessibility recommendations, and more!

Published on