Miziwe Biik aboriginal employment and training building
We aim to support a world in which everyone can succeed and thrive. When we draw on our collective strengths, there is more we can do together.

Exclusion in cities can take many complex and subtle forms. It can include poorly designed public spaces, cultural institutions that lack the flexibility to accommodate people with physical or mental disabilities. It can also manifest as a lack of Indigenous and Black content in university curriculums, structural issues within welfare organizations that result in a disproportionate number of Black children being placed in care, and the social isolation of older immigrants.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of these challenges, researchers in Ryerson’s Faculty of Community Services have experience with and continue to tackle these systemic issues to help build more equal communities and cities.

Cripping the artsIndigenous resurgenceResponding to childhood disabilityImproving the immigrant experienceWatch video
Wheelchair dancer and performance art critic Shay Erlich
Wheelchair dancer and performance art critic Shay Erlich (Child and Youth Care BA ‘14 MA ‘17) aims to reframe our perspective and demonstrate new possibilities.

Cripping the arts

For the disability community, art can be a particularly important method of self-expression, yet the arts have historically excluded disabled people.

When we ‘crip’ something, we open up a desire for the disruption that disability makes.
Eliza ChandlerProfessor, School of Disability Studies

“When we ‘crip’ something, we open up a desire for the disruption that disability makes,” says Eliza Chandler, a professor in the School of Disability Studies and principal investigator on the Cripping the Arts in Canada research project.

“Disability is disruptive, and when we only include disabled people or disability art when it’s not disruptive, then we’re only including a marginalized section of disabled people.”

For Chandler, the unique work of disabled artists has tremendous potential to open new frontiers in creative expression.

“We need to think about the possibilities that emerge when arts and culture are disrupted by the presence of disabled people, and we’re not simply tolerating that disruption, we’re actually excited for the new creative possibilities in it.”

Events like Disability Art on Lockdown continue to bring people together to recognize and appreciate the artistic contributions of disability artists. 

A bridge with this is Indian land graffiti
Indigenous resurgence will help educate everyone, including future practitioners, to help dispel the stereotypes that are so prominent in society. Photo by Lynn Lavallée.

Indigenous resurgence

Lynn Lavallée, a professor in the School of Social Work, wants Indigenous resurgence to replace reconciliation at Ryerson University.

As the strategic lead, Indigenous resurgence in the Faculty of Community Services, Lavallée is concerned with supporting Indigenous people — students, faculty and staff in the academy. Lavallée is focused on a renewed approach to advancing Indigenous knowledge in the academy.

Lavallée works to bring together local and international Indigenous scholars in the academy.

Lavallée has focused on profiling the work of Indigenous scholars, including the screening of Jules Koostachin’s short documentary, KaYaMenTa and a webinar series involving Indigenous scholars from New Zealand, Australia and Canada coming together to have conversations about the life of an Indigenous academic. Her future work, entitled “Stoop Talk,” will be a webinar series focusing on urban Indigenous conversations with community, activists and scholars. 

In profiling Indigenous people, Lavallée’s work in Indigenous resurgence will help educate everyone, including future practitioners, to help dispel the stereotypes that are so prominent in society. 

“Having a strong understanding of who Indigenous people are, our strengths, our activism, and the diversity around our identities is vital when teaching future practitioners about Indigenous peoples,” said Lavallée. Indigenous resurgence helps challenge the internal stereotypes that students in the helping professions might have about Indigenous peoples, internal stereotypes and biases, that if left unchecked will do further harm to Indigenous peoples. 

One way Ryerson students are already receiving Indigenous educational content is through the midwifery program.

In the Aboriginal Childbearing course developed by Midwifery Education Program professor and midwife Cheryllee Bourgeois, who is Cree-Métis, students learn about the perspectives and experiences of Indigenous women through circles, discussions and hands-on projects.

“The course has a pretty high aim,” says Bourgeois.  

“It tries to create a foundation of understanding around Indigenous issues and the experiences of Indigenous women accessing health care so we can have more complex and nuanced conversations and understanding for the practitioners who are going to be serving these women.”

Lavallée, and her office, aim to support the growth and work of the Indigenous community. She is working to incorporate Indigenous art within the FCS campus. This initiative, among others, helps to connect us to the many Indigenous organizations in the area, many of whom are community and teaching partners with our faculty. 

a child using a wheelchair and another child hanging out in a playground
We’re interested in thinking about ways institutions in our society can open up and be more responsive and value the wide range of human differences.

Responding to childhood disability

Kathryn Underwood, a professor in the School of Early Childhood Studies, and her team are studying how society responds to disability in childhood by examining institutions like child care, schools, family support agencies, and healthcare providers. For families who have a disabled child participation in childcare, funding, or early intervention, may be harder to access due to limited space and often higher costs. 

“Many services require a clinical diagnosis leading to the creation of descriptors of children that are deficit-oriented as a prerequisite to participate in services,” she says. Institutions that serve children and their families must recognize that disability is a diverse experience and that it does not necessarily mean that children need more service. We have found that many institutions operate from the assumption that disabled children need services, and that accessing services is always positive. However, many children and families may actually experience increased exclusion when interacting with services that do not take into account their understanding of disability or their social relationships.

We’re interested in thinking about the ways institutions in our society can open up and be more responsive, but also value the wide range of human difference that exists.
Kathryn UnderwoodProfessor, School of Early Childhood Studies

Finding support can also remove the families of disabled kids from their neighbourhoods or social networks. For example, if they have to move to attend a school or access therapeutic or care services.

Communities that already experience exclusion due to colonisation, racism, or discrimination may experience the impact more acutely.

Underwood says families may also have a view of their child’s disability that is at odds with medical or clinical ways of thinking about human ability and development.

“We’re interested in thinking about ways institutions in our society can open up and be more responsive, but also value the wide range of human difference that exists.”

three women of various ethnicities reading a book together
We aim to provide research that addresses the key health and wellbeing concerns of immigrants and new Canadians.

Improving the immigrant experience

For almost three decades, Dr. Sepali Guruge, a professor at the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing, has sought to make Canada a healthier, more inclusive place for newcomers. She has studied a range of issues affecting the health of Canada’s immigrants – from social isolation to mental health and intimate partner violence to access to information and services.

“As immigration to Canada continues, addressing the key health and wellbeing concerns of immigrants should be a central concern for policymakers and health care providers. We also need in-depth insight into some of the issues faced by subgroups of immigrants and about how to address them,” says Guruge.

Most recently, her research has focused on the intersection of aging and immigration.

“I see firsthand the difficulties immigrant older adults are facing when seeking health care in Canada. They are often struggling to find accurate health information, trained interpreters, low-cost transportation to appointments, affordable medication and qualified care providers in a timely manner.”

Another issue affecting older adults, both immigrant and Canadian-born, is elder abuse. Dr. Guruge is presently undertaking a two-part study to look at the factors leading to elder abuse in immigrant communities and possible strategies to address these factors.

“For example, we know that older adults who are socially isolated are more vulnerable to abuse, neglect and mistreatment. So, we are aiming to understand what strategies need to be put in place to address social isolation.”

About 400 individuals – older women and men, their children and grandchildren, and community leaders from two recent and two long-term immigrant communities have participated in focus groups and/or individual interviews so far to identify the unique and common risk factors for elder abuse, and figure out how to address these risk factors. “We need to understand the situation and the potential solutions from all stakeholder groups' viewpoints in order to come up with comprehensive strategies to address elder abuse.”  

Older adults who are socially isolated are more vulnerable to abuse, neglect and mistreatment.
Sepali GurugeProfessor, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing

Guruge is also researching how seniors are responding to the pandemic, and how healthcare workers are finding innovative ways to provide relational care while coping with the challenges related to COVID-19. “There is so much that we can learn from older persons about how they are coping with the pandemic and about their resilience, and how we can provide better care and support for older persons both short and long-term.  Similarly, healthcare workers can shed light on how they are managing to care for their patients, themselves, and each other, that may help us make improvements across our health care system,” said Guruge. 

FCS in action

Here are a few more ways we’ve contributed to building inclusive cities over the past year.

  • Dean Lisa Barnoff launched the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion fund projects, providing $90,000 in funding for 15 Student, Staff, and Faculty led projects.
  • $500,000 in other awards was granted to students across all 9 schools of our faculty.
  • $45,000 in funding, 11 projects and curriculum funding was provided to support anti-black racism initiatives.
  • Appointment of the 1st Tanis Doe Postdoctoral Fellowship, funded by a $500k gift from Odette Foundation and OVPRI.