On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), the Queen’s Gazette is highlighting the work of Queen’s researchers who are deepening the understanding of disability issues and mobilizing support for upholding the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities.
Every year on December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is recognized by the United Nations as an occasion to reinforce the critical need to safeguard the rights of those living with disabilities, ensuring their full, equal, and effective participation in society, and eliminating barriers across political, social, economic, and cultural spaces.
“Queen’s is leveraging its interdisciplinary research strength to build more inclusive societies – from how we learn and communicate to improving spaces and access for all,” says Nancy Ross, Vice-Principal (Research). “This UN recognition day allows us to acknowledge the collective impact of our community in helping to bring awareness to and champion the rights of persons with disabilities.”
Breaking down barriers: Queen’s researchers Amy Latimer-Cheung (Kinesiology and Health Studies) and Heather Aldersey (Rehabilitation Therapy) are working to enhance equity and inclusion for individuals with disabilities. With $4 million in funding secured from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partnership Grant program, their projects address barriers faced by nearly 25 per cent of Canadians. Dr. Latimer-Cheung is focusing on improving the quality of sport, exercise, and play experiences for people with disabilities, while Dr. Aldersey, in disability-inclusive development, is examining global disability support models, aiming to shape Canadian policies promoting natural supports alongside formal assistance.
How to make post-secondary study more accessible: Despite progress over the last four decades, challenges persist for the 22 per cent of Canadians with disabilities in higher education. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing barriers, emphasizing the need for ongoing improvements in accessibility. Philip Burge (Psychiatry) addresses the ways post-secondary institutions could enhance accessibility through initiatives like pairing disability counsellors with post-secondary instructors to help them design classes, promoting the universal design for learning (UDL), and fostering partnerships between teaching faculty and disability service staff for improved student support.
Shifting the story: Earlier this year, Queen’s Faculty of Education welcomed Patricia Douglas as the inaugural Chair in Student Success and Wellness. With a background in special education, Dr. Douglas aims to reshape the narrative around neurodivergence. Drawing on her personal experiences advocating for her autistic son, she is leading initiatives such as the Re•Storying Autism in Education project. In this role, Dr. Douglas is building relationships to support marginalized communities and launching a research centre addressing student well-being. By collaborating with Indigenous partners, she also seeks to decolonize perceptions of disability in education, emphasizing a strengths-based approach for all learners. Dr. Douglas has also been featured on the Popular Podagogy Podcast where she discussed what neurodiversity-affirming practices are and what makes them different from the medical model of disability.
Creating a home for special education practitioners: Jordan Shurr (Education), leads the Autism and Developmental Disabilities (ADDEd) Research Group to address the lack of a professional community for teachers supporting students with autism and developmental needs. The group focuses on practical research and engagement, providing resources, webinars, and an online forum where special education teachers can collaborate and share resources related to assistive technology and peer tutoring. Harnessing the universal design for learning, Dr. Shurr also works with pre-teacher candidates to provide feedback on lesson plans to promote inclusive learning environments and classroom best practices.
Advancing accessible communications: Earlier this year, Claire Davies (Mechanical and Materials Engineering), was awarded the Dorothy Killam Fellowship, valued at $160,000 over two years, to advance accessible communications for individuals with disabilities. Her research focuses on tools and technologies to enhance independence for those with speech, communication, and physical disabilities. With over 440,000 Canadians facing significant communication challenges, Dr. Davies’ project, “Participation requires communication,” utilizes participatory research to develop guidelines for alternative communication devices. The goal is to influence policy under the new Accessible Canada Act, promoting universally accessible design in communication devices to address the social isolation and marginalization experienced by individuals with disabilities.
Overcoming employment barriers: Queen’s graduate student Glenda Watson Hyatt (Mechanical and Materials Engineering) has recently received the 2023 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation for her groundbreaking research around employment barriers faced by Canadians with speech-related disabilities. With unemployment rates for those with communication disabilities as high as 86 per cent, Watson Hyatt’s study reveals that the main hurdle is a lack of awareness and acceptance among employers. Her research is fostering a deeper understanding, with plans to develop online resources and a national strategy for employing individuals with speech disabilities.
The winning path for leaders with disabilities: Daniel Samosh (Employment Relations Studies) is exploring the often-overlooked leadership dynamics among individuals with disabilities. Through research interviews with leaders with disabilities he has identified the “three-legged stool” framework of career success, comprising of career self-management strategies, supportive social networks, and organizational/societal factors. Dr. Samosh’s work emphasizes the need for adopting a holistic approach to promote success in the career advancement and leadership of individuals with disabilities, while simultaneously challenging stereotypes.
Supporting academic success: Queen’s University has launched an external review of academic accommodations and related procedures to enhance inclusivity and accessibility. Committed to eliminating disability-related barriers, the university aims to ensure equal treatment in education as mandated by the Ontario Human Rights Code. Notably, the number of students registered with Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS) increased by 33 per cent in the last academic year. The review, supported by the Office of the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, focuses on evaluating the fairness and adequacy of policies, procedures, and programs, with recommendations expected in spring 2024.