A Different Spin on Disability Studies
March 14, 2014
Story by Cody Howe
King’s has created an educational program challenging students to both re-think and question how society has been conditioned to view people with disabilities and illness. “What could society do differently to lessen the impact of being atypical? People with a disability generally say that it isn't just the condition, but the stigma, the stares, the discrimination, the inflexibility of institutions and policy makers that can make it so hard for them to live the full, meaningful lives,” explains Dr. Pamela Cushing, a professor in the program. Combining Dr. Cushing’s beliefs and educational background has and will continue to open up many doors for students interested in changing the way society views people with disabilities. Disability Studies at King’s is unique in this discipline because of its focus on the social-structural, cultural, legal and economic challenges of living with disability, chronic illness, or mental health issues, rather than studying the bodily aspect of different conditions.
Students will discover an exciting and broad range of different courses including Rethinking Disabilities, Narratives of Disability, Kinship & Care, Exploring Disability, Representations of Disability & Madness and The Social Construction of Disabilities.
One of Dr. Cushing’s recent class assignments involved students participating in five interactive field trips that illustrated the creative ways people with disabilities adapt to daily life.
Students attended Amethyst School for Learning Disabilities to learn about the ways that people with disabilities learn, such as integrating them with typical students during their school experience. However, there are some challenges with this approach; some students with disabilities would rather be surrounded by other students who have the same disability or who understand the emotions they’re going through. As a school tailored to students with disabilities, Amethyst opens the doors to those who want an environment that allows them to learn and grow comfortably.
The students who attended Woodeden Camp learned that the voices of people with disabilities are being heard. Some students with disabilities may feel left out or isolated when exposed to activities that only typical students can enjoy. Woodeden is a fully incorporated camp that erases those negative feelings, allowing students to be involved in activities and make friends with people in similar situations.
King’s students visited Boler Mountain in London and learned that having a disability does not hinder the adventurous side of people with disability. The students learned about adaptive ski equipment for people with disabilities. Having a morning off to hit the slopes, and try out the equipment, was also an added benefit to the field trip experience. After the ski trip, students visited the Thames Valley Children’s Centre where they were exposed to the latest technology accessible to people with disabilities. Going beyond the advanced assistive devices, each student with disabilities also receive specific resources accordingly to their needs. The students report that participating in this experiential learning trip opened their eyes to the support and care provided at the Centre.
This type of experiential learning makes King’s a unique experience. Kelly McGill, a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Cushing, says these experiences bring the classroom and real world together. “To move with such ease and speed, to feel the wind on my face, to remember what it felt like to ski and be an athlete prior to disability... I haven't felt that kind of freedom, except in my dreams, in more than 25 years. I'm grateful to the Track 3 ski club for an amazing opportunity for myself and for others who face similar barriers."
For more information on this amazing opportunity, visit www.kings.uwo.ca/academics/disability-studies/