OHDA Blog #2 – Update on Emerging Themes and Progress

The “Oral histories of activists in the disability rights movement between 1970 and 2020” project began in September 2020 and we are pleased to share an update on the progress and learnings to date. 

Oral histories of activists in the disability rights movement between 1970 and 2020
Project Leadership
– Dr. Therese Jennissen, from the School of Social Work.
– Dr. Dominique Marshall from the Department of History
Goals
– Collect stories of disability rights activists through interviews.
– Create an accessible archive which documents key players and moments in history that have promoted disability rights in Canada.
– Contribute to the body of knowledge concerning the development of disability rights in Canada.
– Inspire future work in the field of disability activism

To date, eleven interviews via zoom have been conducted with ten participants with disability rights activists across Canada. While the findings are evolving, some of the initial themes brought forward by the interviewees include the following:

  • Activist Identity – Many of the participants in this project have contributed to the changing landscape of disability rights in Canada yet do not identify with the term “activist”. As Roy Hanes put it, “I’m not saying here I’m one of these “grande” players in the scheme of things in histories of disabilities”. 
  • Working Collaboratively and Across Sectors – Participants spoke to the importance of working together and ensuring that there are connections across every sector. Disability rights are implicated in every field, and as such, there needs to be change in diverse sectors to influence widespread structural change for people with disabilities. From grassroots activism to the legal system, to education, and the healthcare system to architecture there are changes that can, and need to be made to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are validated. Traci Walters, National Director of Independent Living Canada from 1993 to 2010, identified that she was “a type of leader that helped empower other people to lead” sharing the story of the growth of independent living centres in Canada. 
  • Medicalizing disability needs to change – Participants noted that repeatedly conflating disability with the medical model contributes to ableism and the erasure of disability histories. Seeing disability through a social model can be beneficial as it allows for everyone to see their role in upholding disability rights. This includes monitoring our use of language, thinking critically about ableism, and contributing to change in all areas of society. This is not an isolated model solely presented in the medical field. As Nancy Hansen noted, “as opposed to disability being something to be overcome it just needs to be recognized that’s all and naturalized and regularized”.

The first round of interviews are being wrapped up and the development of the virtual exhibit is in progress. The team is looking forward to sharing our conversations and identifying additional themes, including videos of activists, and lessons learned that can be applied to future work in the field of disability activism in late 2021. For further information on the project, please contact Dr. Therese Jennissen at Therese.Jennissen@carleton.ca and Dr. Dominique Marshall Dominique_marshall@carleton.ca.

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