Vision, Passion, Action

Dr. Kathryn Church to Speak at Upcoming Colloquium

November 18, 2009: Developing the Vision of Social Change -- What does an agenda for “workplace learning” look like from the perspective of workers with disabilities?   Download flyer.


New Research Partnership

Dr. Kathryn Church has joined a team of researchers from the Universities of Alberta and British Columbia to undertake a three-year SSHRC-funded study entitled "Knowledge-Creation Practices of Older Professionals in Changing Work Environments".  Updates on this multi-disciplinary study of nurses, teachers and social workers will be posted on our site as they become available.

The invisible work of doing disability


Kathryn Church, Principal Investigator for "Doing Disability at the Bank", and Dorothy Rekman, RBC Diversity Advisor, jointly present the highlights of "Doing Disability at the Bank"Doing Disability at the Bank: Discovering the Work of Informal Learning done by Disabled Bank Employees

This project is one of twelve case studies that, along with a national survey, constitute the CRI-INE (Initiatives for the New Economy) study called “The Changing Nature of Work and Lifelong Learning in the New Economy.” It is the only case study in this Network that involves the financial sector, and addresses the work experience of employees with disabilities. The study has uncovered a range of learning strategies that disabled employees initiate in order to get and keep jobs within a corporate environment during this time of global restructuring. In terms of a general dynamic, they inhabit a tension between revenue generation and corporate responsibility for a social agenda.  They respond by devising ingenious workload management strategies to “keep up” and by building networks of collegial support that enable them to “hide” potentially problematic features of self/body.  Because their co-workers tend not to be well-informed about disability, disabled employees continuously teach others about accommodation. They use humour to ensure their rights and meet their needs without causing discomfort to others. Paradoxically, this strategy can ease the pressure for systemic changes.

View the public report from this study, released in October 2007: PDF/RTF/Audio

Also available online:

Bowman, V. & Church, K. (2006). Disability, Work and Learning: Annotated Bibliography of Key Resources. Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education, Ryerson University, Toronto.

Church, Kathryn. (2006). Doing Disability at the Bank: 2006 Project "Snapshot". Paper presented at the annual conference of the Research Network on Work and Lifelong Learning (WALL), June 2006.

From print media and trade press:

“Staff with disabilities act as teachers: Report looks at bank employees” by Shannon Klie in Canadian HR Reporter (National Journal of Human Resource Management). November 5, 2007: pp 1 and 7.

 “Doing Disability: Part One” by Ian Sutton in Diversity! in the workplace. November 2007.

Disabled workers’ other job: hiding their disability: Guarding against unwanted attention” by Virginia Galt, Globe and Mail, October 5, 2007.

For more publications and monographs related to this study see the Publications area of this website. 



New Partnerships For New Times: Creating Learning Resources For Personal Support Workers In The Global Economy

Personal support work is of vital importance for enhancing the social inclusion of disabled persons in learning, work, and community life. This two-year project is designed to produce learning resources for personal support workers that recognize the complexity of their location in a globalizing economy, on the one hand, and their relation to a growing disability rights movement on the other. These materials would be created by the RBC Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education anticipating students in community colleges across Canada as a primary audience. We hope to contribute to the teaching and learning resource materials that are being utilized in the educational arenas where the next generation of personal support workers for Canadians with disabilities learn the practice of their craft.

We take up the relation of personal support work and the social inclusion of disabled persons under four recent developments. One is the globalization of labour and its impact on the healthcare workforce. The second is the growing demand for the labour of personal support workers. This demand is growing faster than the availability of up-to-date teaching and learning resources. A third is the emergence of new, breakthrough scholarship in Disability Studies. Finally, new developments in qualitative research methodologies have made possible the integration of empirically derived and systematic accountings of experiential narratives with macro-analysis of social and economic policies.

The issues involved in this investigation flow from earlier findings by this research team which identified a series of controversies in the development of personal support work for Canadians with disabilities. One is competing philosophies of teaching and learning. Displeased with the dominant medical paradigm, disabled persons argue for a radical reformulation of curricula based in the philosophies of independence and autonomy for disabled persons, and the right to engage in the teaching and learning of support work themselves. This divergence feeds competing interests between disabled persons’ quests for independence and personal support workers’ claims to professional skills and improved working conditions and compensation. Finally, in the face of a fragmented array of requirements and certifications, we have discovered a growing demand among disabled persons, educators and personal support workers for coordination of training across the country.

Key questions for the current research are: What is it that personal support workers want and need as instructional materials? How can the new disability scholarship inform the construction of such materials? And what recommendations for policy reformulation could we make on the basis of this research?