Canadian Disability Studies Association Conference

Chelsea Jones, MITACS Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Regina, and Katherine Taylor, Program Coordinator at Astonished! will be presenting at the Canadian Disability Studies Association (CDSA) Conference ‘Circles of Conversation’,  June 1-3, 2019 in Vancouver. Their presentation Critical Community Reflections on “Giving Voice” in Research focuses on the process to date in the creation and use of the Voice Lab.

The Voice Lab is a studio space established in 2018 by a four-person research team. It opened in February, and currently hosts six core members. The name VOICE Lab is an acronym. It stands for Vocally Oriented Investigations of Creative Expression.

As Chelsea writes’ “I take up voice following the work of Meryl Alper (2017), who ties communication technology to digital equity and reminds us that voice “is an overused and imprecise metaphor—one that abstracts, obscures, and oversimplifies the human experience of disability” (p. 5). As such, I try make clear from the get-go that we not in the business of “giving voice.” And, to keep the work critical, we need to tease out the ways in which questions of “voice” and disability crop up at the intersections of class, race, and rurality among others. We also need to uphold “voice” as politically significant. Indigenous, critical race, and feminist scholars have cautioned against “giving voice” for some time.”

Thank you, Chelsea and Katherine, for representing us at this conference. We wish you all the best and look forward to the insights you will glean.

PHOTO: Katherine Taylor and Chelsea Jones

Welcome Dr. Chelsea Temple Jones

Dr. Chelsea Temple Jones makes her home between Regina and Toronto with family in both places. She is currently working at the University of Regina on a two year post doctoral project: The VOICE Lab (Vocally Oriented Investigations in Creative Expression) will be a studio space where people with disabilities can think about and develop methods of creative self expression while having the support of people and technology. The project is a partnership between the Faculty of Media, Art, and Performance (MAP); the Faculty of Social Work; and Astonished! Inc.

Originally from Regina Chelsea has a strong commitment to doing this research in Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan has historically been a place where there is under-funding of disability art and culture. The VOICE Lab will make a significant contribution to the art and culture knowledge that is created by people with disabilities.

Chelsea brings her background in journalism and critical disability studies to this research project, as well as her deep respect for including knowledge generated by people with disabilities in our public discourse. She teaches at the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University. In 2019 she will once again be teaching an online class, Research Methods in Disability Studies.

Welcome Chelsea. We look forward to learning together as we create knowledge and fun in the VOICE Lab.

Funding for this research project is through MITACS: Mitacs builds partnerships between academia, industry, and the world to create a more innovative Canada

The Strengths Perspective at Astonished!

Dr. Brenda Rossow-Kimball, Astonished! Board Chair, and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, brings together Strengths Perspectives theory, and conversations with the parents, founders,  and vision keepers who began Astonished!

She writes:

Historically, the dominant narrative in the ‘helping’ professions such as social work, disability studies, and medicine have taken a ‘deficits-based’ approach; a professional assesses an individual’s problems and creates an intervention to ‘deal’ with their inadequacies, illness(es), deficits, lack of achievement or functioning, and so on (Anderson & Heyne, 2012). The nature of the ‘helping work’ undertaken by professionals is situated in a negative state and defined by one’s problems. The strengths perspective is an attempt to write a counterstory of possibility, hope, expectation, and independence in response to a dominant grand narrative of inadequacy, hopelessness, underachievement, and dependence.

Saleebey (2009) writes that the incentive to develop a strengths perspective is a response to “our culture’s continued obsession with psychopathology, victimization, abnormality, and moral and interpersonal aberrations” (p. 2). For example, a deficits approach sees the person as a ‘case’ or ‘diagnosis’ whereas the strengths perspective sees the person as unique with talents and resources; the deficits approach creates an intervention that is problem-focused whereas the strengths perspective will initiate support that is possibility-focused; the deficits approach sees the professional as the expert whereas the strengths perspective sees that individuals, families, and communities are the experts; finally, the deficits approach aims to eliminate illness or dysfunction whereas the strengths perspective aims to enhance one’s well-being and quality of life (Anderson & Heyne, 2012).

“Families are the basic, foundational social units in every society (DeFrain & Asay, 2008, p. 2), yet research on ‘families’ has typically taken a deficits-based approach by emphasizing the problems or weaknesses in families or by highlighting the individuals in the family unit who causes ‘problems’ or stress. For families who live alongside a child experiencing disability, the dominant narrative is negative, citing the experience as stressful (Aneshensel, 2014), depressing (Emerson, 2003), hopeless, ‘copeless’, laborious, and burdensome, leading to family dysfunction and breakdown (McConnell & Savage, 2015).  However, “If one looks only for problems in a family, one will see only problems. If one also looks for strengths, one will find strengths” (Defrain & Asay, 2008, p. 5).

My thinking has been inspired by the initiative and ingenuity of the parents and vision keepers who began Astonished! many years ago.  Because little research focuses on the positivity and strengths within families when facing new and unexpected challenges, I thought the strengths perspective would be an appropriate framework in which to think about the lived stories of mothers and fathers who are parenting a family unit that is experiencing disability.

The strengths perspective suggests that when facing adversity, we ought to put the lens of focus on “what people want their lives to be like, and what resources and strengths they have or need to get there” (Saleebey, 2006, p. 12), I have learned that families, indeed, pull on their strengths and resources to regain and maintain the coherence that existed prior to disAbility. As one parent stated so well, “Everybody sets a bar for their family standards. Ours simply adjusted and now this is our normal. You readjust your normal.” For families experiencing disability, the framework of the strengths perspective may be a response to the longstanding dominant narrative that suggests the experience of parenting is primarily laborious, onerous, family-breaking, and dysfuntional. Families carry on [with] “one foot in front of the other”, “extreme strength”, and “no fear”.

“It’s just ordinary life.”

Lois Adams and Astonished! Student Research

When Lois Adams completed her long and successful career at the University of Regina she developed a generous, thoughtful, forward-thinking way to direct the funds remaining in her Accountable Professional Expense Account (APEA). Lois requested that an Astonished! Student Research FOAPAL be created. FOAPAL is the acronym used to identify the Fund, Organization, Account, Program, Activity and Location of U of R funds.

The purpose of the Astonished! Student Research FOAPAL is to support research and develop competency in research activities that enhance knowledge specifically in the study of inclusion and diverse abilities.

At a recent Astonished! Program Advisory Committee meeting Astonished! agreed to offer partial financial support to one Astonished! Student Researcher, and one U of R Student, to co-facilitate with Dr. Randy Johner at the Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity, October 9-11, 2017. They will be presenting the research video ‘Inclusivity Unmasked’.

This support was made possible through the Astonished! Student Research FOAPAL

When an individual leaves the University, their remaining (prorated) APEA balance is returned to a central pool of funds for APEA budgets unless Financial Services is otherwise directed. Prior to leaving the University, an employee with unused APEA funds now has the option to request their APEA balance be transferred to the Astonished! Student Research FOAPAL.

We encourage employees at the University of Regina who are close to retirement to consider directing their remaining APEA funds to the Astonished! Student Research FOAPAL, or consulting with us about  funding research opportunities.

Thank you Lois Adams, you inspire us, we are indeed Better Together!

Learning Through Research

Research can be a way of turning the gaze, with curiosity, toward some specific experience. Rhea Boysen is currently a graduate student at the University of Regina. As an undergraduate student in Kinesiology, Rhea did her mini practicum placement with Astonished!, and post graduation she was the Astonished! Interim Manager covering our Executive Director’s maternity leave. Over the course of four years Rhea established comfortable and trusting relationships with the A! Student Researchers, A! Board, and A! Staff. This comfort and trust is an important aspect of the research Rhea is currently doing with Astonished! When Rhea enters the room of the Yoga for Every Body project she enters as a welcome friend, not as a stranger. She brings a gaze that is accepted and welcomed.

As part of her Research Methods class Rhea is using the case study method to research the experience of young adults with disAbilities who are participating in the Yoga for Every Body project. Rhea says ‘My initial perceptions have all changed, I thought I had a pretty good idea of the lived experience of the Student Researchers but I realize there was so much I did not know and took for granted. For example, how sitting in a wheel-chair can create a sense of disconnection from the ground, and how the practice of ‘bone on bone’ can stimulate the bones, calm the body, and give a sense of connection and groundedness.’

We are all learning new things through this research project. As participants in the research A! Student Researchers are learning to turn their gaze with curiosity on their own inner experience as well as on their experience of being in the group. These are some things they have noticed:

  • This is my exercise/practice, it contributes to my physical wellness.
  • I had some concerns before trying yoga, I wasn’t sure how my body was going to do yoga.
  • I have a busy mind and yoga helps to quiet the mind.
  • Ruth and Rebekah are creating a supportive safe space.
  • I like the group aspect
  • I like the silent support and to be together and comfortable in silence.
  • This yoga is calling on and expanding the capacities in everyone’s bodies.

Each week Ruth and Rebekah do one hour of planning in preparation for the yoga class. They are guided in this by the work of B.K.S. Iyengar. Ruth says to Rebekah ‘I can’t do Yoga for Every Body without you. You give me the authority. Everybody in the room is doing yoga, even though there are some assistants, this is a yoga practice for all, not a therapeutic session for some. Over time I can see everyone is moving into the ‘yoga zone’ more quickly.’

Thank you, Rhea, for doing this research with us, you are honouring each persons experience, acknowledging the expertise of the participants, and sharing this expertise with a wider community.

PHOTO: Rhea Boysen, Rebekah Lindenbach, Ruth Blaser

Strengths Perspective

When I first joined the Astonished! Team in December of 2012 I was in the middle of my Master of Science Degree in Kinesiology and Health Studies.  I had completed all of my course work and recently proposed my research study which focused on organizational effectiveness in municipal recreation provision.  Upon starting with Astonished! I quickly became immersed in ‘all things’ Astonished! and lost interest in my original thesis work (thank goodness).

In early November 2016, Astonished! Board Chair, Dr. Brenda Rossow-Kimball and I had the opportunity to travel to Tampa, Florida to share the work of Astonished! at the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport conference.  Here we drew parallels between the work of Astonished! and the Strengths Perspective which demands a non-traditional way of working with people with disAbilities.  Instead of focusing on medical diagnosis and deficits, the Strengths Perspective encourages seeing people “in the light of their capacities, talents, competencies, possibilities, visions, values and hopes” (Saleebey, 1996).

Attending the conference and reflecting on the work of Astonished! has awakened something inside of me. We do things differently at Astonished! – something I am confident that we are all proud of. In the coming months I will be reapplying to the Faculty of Graduate Studies with the intention of changing my research project.  Under the supervision and mentorship of Dr. Brenda Rossow-Kimball I hope to engage in Narrative Inquiry to co-compose narratives of strength alongside adults experiencing complex physical disAbilities.

Bonnie Cummings-Vickaryous, A! Executive Director