Conestoga news

June 14, 2024 10:08 AM

Disability minor offers degree students opportunity to better understand and advocate

Degree-level students can now take a minor in disability studies at Conestoga - the only college in Ontario to offer the additional study area for degrees.

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Conestoga professors Katelan Dunn (left) and Laura Quirk are teaching a new minor in disability studies.

Students will examine various topics related to disability through four courses, and all need to be completed to receive the minor.

The learning kicks off with the introductory course titled Why Normal Sucks, which looks at historical approaches to people with disabilities and the concepts of normal/abnormal that have emerged. The class will challenge the idea of what is “normal” and attempt to demonstrate that normality is a problem to be struggled with, resisted and, ultimately, an idea to be replaced.

The course is followed by Positive Psychology, which emphasizes positive personal traits and strengths, well-being and human flourishing; Intercultural Perspectives on Health and Complex Needs, looking at different cultural approaches to disability; and Policy, Advocacy and Disability.

Katelan Dunn, professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, said the disability minor is an eye-opening experience for students.

“For some, they see themselves reflected in the curriculum for the first time and, for others, it’s an opportunity to confront their own biases and assumptions about disability.”

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.3 billion people - about 16 per cent of the global population - are living with a significant disability. It is not uncommon for those with disabilities to experience discrimination, stigma or be defined solely by their disability rather than as a person with unique abilities and talents.

“Our aim is to empower students to better understand and advocate for individuals with disabilities, and foster a more inclusive, compassionate and equitable society. We hope that students who engage with this minor will gain a deeper appreciation for the importance of accessibility and allyship and be inspired to create positive change in their communities, both within and outside of the classroom,” Dunn said.

Laura Quirk, co-ordinator and professor for the School of Interdisciplinary Studies, was keen to offer this minor focus, having lived with multiple sclerosis herself for more than three decades.

Knowing the insight that can be offered by people experienced with disability, speakers are an integral part of the minor as a “living library” who can talk about the realities of challenges faced while navigating their daily lives. Student feedback has been validating, saying things like the course is life-changing.

“It was quite an experience for all of us,” Quirk said.

Conestoga’s degree students can use their interdisciplinary electives to complete a minor. A minor is a secondary academic discipline a student can study while completing their degree to complement and support their program or simply suit a student’s general interest in a different field of study. Although a minor is not an additional credential, it is identified on an official transcript.

The School of Interdisciplinary Studies touches every area of study and work with liberal studies and language and communication courses and programs that are important in today’s global economy.