Calls to integrate Disability Studies into McGill’s curriculum will be heard this week at the “Disability on Location” symposium, the first of its kind, running today through Wednesday.
The event – organized by a partnership of SSMU, QPIRG, and the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) – will bring together academia, cinema, and comedy in order to draw attention to an area of study which, according to the organizers, is largely overlooked in many university curriculums.
“[Academia] hasn’t really studied this…and it’s glaring in its absence,” said Roshaya Rodness, co-organizer of the event and a U3 Cultural Studies student. “These issues have been on the radar since the seventies, but the academy has been a little slow to pick them up.”
The event is co-organized by SSMU’s Equity Commissioner Iris Erdile, and held in conjunction with the student society’s Social Justice Days
Erdile emphasized that integrating Disability Studies into McGill is crucial to sensitizing society to the daily realities faced by disabled people.
“It has to start with [academia],” Erdile said. “People come here to become leaders, so what better place to begin this process?”
The event will include a keynote address on Wednesday from Lennard J. Davis, a prominent Disability Studies professor from the University of Illinois. The symposium will also feature lectures from a variety of McGill professors shown in conjunction with disability-themed films.
Tuesday night will feature the “sit-down” comedy of Ottawa native Alain Shane, who delivers his routine from his wheelchair.
According to organizer Rodness, Shane’s comedy brings a human face to disabled people.
“The great thing about having a disabled comedian is that they make you laugh at them, which is in many cases is a cultural taboo. It really makes you think about your own assumptions about disabled people,” she said.
In the past, the administration has been largely skeptical of integrating Disability Studies courses at McGill, citing their inability to offer courses in all areas of academia. Rodness, however, compared this attitude to that toward Women’s Studies when it emerged in the 1970s – saying that eventually the University community will feel a responsibility to engage in the issue of disability.
The organizers were largely critical of the administration’s current policy toward people with disabilities on campus, and called on McGill to improve transport for disabled students to the inaccessible classrooms on Peel street. However, they praised the work of the OSD in implementing accessibility programs at McGill.
According to Rodness, while sympathy for people with disabilities is admirable, programs like those offered by OSD must be expanded.
“When it comes down to implementation, people’s feelings change, and they have to recognize that part of their willingness to recognize people with disabilities is that process of implementation,” she said.
Events at the symposium will be wheelchair accessible and free of charge. American Sign Language translation for Davis’s keynote address and comedian Shane will be provided.