February 5, 2021
It is my great honor to share the ambitions of the new research centre, the Centre for Global Disability Studies (CGDS), housed at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), with the world through this website.
When I arrived at UTSC in 2018, I was excited to find that there were several dedicated campus actors, including faculty and administrators, concerned about the lack of cohesive attention to disability studies on campus. They were eager to welcome me and bring me on to a committee to advance disability studies on the Scarborough campus, in the service of the broader Scarborough, GTA, Canadian, and Global community. There was already a phenomenal wealth of disability studies expertise across the three campuses of the University of Toronto, but our campus in Scarborough was only just beginning to build capacity in this regard.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, a subcommittee to create a research centre dedicated to promoting scholarly work in the realm of disability studies formed. The committee developed a plan to focus this new centre on global disability studies, harnessing synchronicity with UTSC’s already stellar Centre for Critical Development Studies (characterized by its focus on understanding inequality and oppression around the world) and distinguishing our new research centre from the remarkable disability studies units already in existence at universities in and around the GTA. I was honored to lead the project to develop a proposal to form the centre, and forged a wonderful working relationship with two phenomenal research assistants, Celeste Pang (Anthropology) and Elaine Cagulada (OISE SJE). Along the way, this work was supported by the Office of the Vice Principal and Academic Dean and by UTSC AccessAbility Services.
At the core of our drive to consider global disability studies is a recognition that the social and historical systems that create and perpetuate ableism – while often embedded in national legal and cultural contexts – are truly transnational in nature. Ableism is not a system that operates independently. Rather, ableism works in tandem with systems of racialization, heteronormativity, gender orders, settler colonialism, and classism. In making this claim, we also sought to position global disability studies as transdisciplinary: that is, rather than rooting questions of the global as only political or economic, we imagined CGDS as a place to foster exchange and conversation in the arts, and to support research in literature, dance, and film as well as the social sciences and critical development paradigms.
Moreover, in drafting a vision for CGDS, we felt strongly that a disability studies centre must put disability access at the center of our activities. Working closely with the UTSC office of Accessibility Services we hope to see the creation of a Disability Cultural Centre on campus that will serve as a permanent space where CGDS activities might take place, as well as offering a home for student life that is neither purely about accessibility nor strictly about disability studies. And, as we imagine the future of disability studies on the UTSC campus, we envision a day when the Centre’s role in supporting research will be complemented by an expanded array of disability studies courses in the undergraduate curriculum, and a commitment to hiring faculty and staff with lived experience of disability and intersectional perspectives.
The vision and values reflected in the “About” page of the new website reflect over a year of consultative processes, including a formal proposal development that reached faculty across three campuses of the university. In the fall of 2020, after the centre’s initial formation, a group of members of the new centre took place in a series of visioning workshops that allowed our team to distill the core elements represented in the centre’s description. I want to in particular thank the graduate student members of the Centre’s core lab group, who spent numerous hours during our biweekly meetings throughout that fall devoted to careful consideration about how our centre might carry out our work.
This already represents an enormous accomplishment for our first year, in terms of developing consensus about the future of the centre. In addition to this visioning work, our grant committee co-chairs have launched the maiden season of our flagship small grants program. This program is designed to support researchers across the three campuses in conducting research that supports the mission of the Centre, in making accommodations to conduct research on any topic more accessibly (for themselves or research participants), and in communicating research findings accessibly and hosting more accessible academic events. In the coming months, CGDS will be working to form our dual advisory board, including a local community branch and a scholarly and international activist branch.
I invite colleagues, current students, and prospective students interested in the work of the Centre to get in touch with us. We would be glad to invite you to one of our biweekly lab meetings. By engaging with members of our core lab, you might decide if the Centre is a community you’d like to work with. We are also developing resources for colleagues in other fields looking to improve accessibility in research practice and scholarly events.
I am honored to serve as the inaugural director of the Centre for Global Disability Studies, and I see this work as administrative activism. I hope that my work here as director opens space and fosters possibilities for others to take on this role in the future, and for the next generation of researchers to claim the resources of the academy in service of the wider goal of dismantling the interlocking global systems of ableism, racism, and colonialism.
Director, Centre for Global Disability Studies
Department of Health & Society
University of Toronto Scarborough
Graduate faculty, University of Toronto Department of Anthropology
Centre for European, Russian & Eurasian Studies
Dr. Cassandra Hartblay
Welcome from the Office of the Vice Principal and Academic Dean
February 5, 2021
On behalf of Vice Principal Academic and Dean Bill Gough and myself, we are delighted to help celebrate the launch of the Centre for Global Disabilities Studies (CGDS). The goals and principles that serve as the foundations of CGDS are very much in alignment with UTSC’s commitment to Inclusive Excellence. One goal of the Centre that particularly resonates with me is the aspiration of serving as a beacon for best practices around accessible communication, and access to research for scholars with disabilities. It is critically important to ensure that research on topics about disability forefronts the voices of those who experience disabilities. We are excited to support the CGDS as it finds innovative ways to achieve that goal. We are also enthusiastic about the building of a very intentional connection between CGDS and UTSC’s AccessAbility Services. The link between scholars doing cutting edge research, and staff who are tasked with accommodating our students, has the potential to be transformative. With respect to my own portfolio, the Centre will serve to build powerful synergies among graduate students and postdocs whose research relates to disability from across the University of Toronto system. All of these elements have the promise of catapulting the University of Toronto into a position of leadership with respect to global research on disability, and we are committed to help support the Centre as a part of the UTSC community.
Mary T. Silcox, PhD
Vice Dean Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
University of Toronto Scarborough