The Disability Studies Program


The Disability Studies program at Ryerson Polytechnic University is the only program in Canada that provides degree education from a disability studies perspective.

Community college graduates with Developmental Services Worker or other disability-related diplomas and those with other relevant academic/experiential qualifications can now build on their previous credentials and earn a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree.

Reflected throughout the curriculum is the need to reconstruct cultural conceptions of disability. Students develop an increased awareness of the socio-political context of disability and learn to apply this perspective while working with people with disabilities. The program prepares them for leadership roles in direct care, management, community development, policy, planning and advocacy.

Flexible course delivery formats maximize the program’s accessibility to adult learners and those with disabilities. For example, the program is offered only on a part-time basis, and most required courses (and many electives) are offered via distance education through various media including the Internet, print, telephone, and audio conference.

Ten required courses cover subjects such as Ethics and Disability, Community Access and Technology, and Media and Images of Disability. Electives address issues such as crisis intervention, ethnic diversity and human services management. While courses do not provide in-depth information about the characteristics of specific disabling conditions or issues, students can focus on areas of personal interest through course assignments as well as in the applied community project or thesis course.

Last August, on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show in Toronto, host Andy Barrie spoke with two students in Ryerson’s Disability Studies program. Terry Poirier studies in Ottawa and Cheryl Sapiro, who has a disability herself, lives in Toronto. The following is an excerpt from the program that aired on August 27, 1999, and is used with permission.

AB: This program is designed to turn students into activists rather than medical advisors, helpers or counsellors… Could you tell us how this course changed the way you think about disability and the way the disabled are supported?

TP: I see now I was helping more the ideals of an organization than helping the ideals of people with disabilities. I see now my role is more of an activist on behalf of the people I work with and almost against agency policy.

CS: The program had a profound and liberating effect on me because I realized I have more of a voice than I thought I had. I also realized I needed to be more vocal and to be heard, not only from an agency perspective but for myself too.

AB: The suggestion has been in the past that if disabled people have problems, it is their problem. And it seems to me that what this course is suggesting is that the problem is ours in the larger society. We are the ones who have to get their act together, rather than the ones with the disability.

TP: Yes, I think I would have to agree with that. For far too long we have been politely saying to people with disabilities, it’s up to you to fend for yourself, without giving them the economic means or the inclusion in society they need to meet their end. I think there are persons like myself and Cheryl and other members in our class who are going to tackle areas of government policy and administration and, hopefully, down the road, agency policy as well, that will help people with disabilities attain what goals they are looking for in their lives.

AB: What’s going to happen when you go back into the field with this newly combative attitude about the work you are there to do? Are you prepared for some of the resistance you might confront?

TP: Yes, I expect resistance. But I would like to [tackle ideals] at a policy and administrative level, which might have a little bit more clout.

AB: And Cheryl, I guess part of the work you are gong to have to do is not only change some of these agencies and but change the attitude of disabled people themselves.

CS: Yes indeed, and to help to give people a voice. And demonstrate an accurate and broader understanding of the rights and needs of disabled people. And this is really what our mandate is. Because this program at Ryerson has been so unique in its acceptance of us, and is teaching us from a different point of view altogether, that I think the class as a whole was made to sit up and rethink their values.

For further information on the School of Disability Studies, call (416) 979-5000, ext. 6128; e-mail:; or visit the website:

For an information package and application form, contact Ms. Sarah King, (416) 979-5065; e-mail:; fax: (416) 979-5067.

For general information about Ryerson and its programs, call (416) 979-5036; e-mail:; website:

For information about support for students with disabilities and the accessibility of Ryerson buildings, contact the Access Centre, (416) 979-5290; TDD/TTY: (416) 979-5274; fax: (416) 979-5247; e-mail: Most buildings at Ryerson are accessible by wheelchair; several provide other facilities for wheelchair users. Ryerson Polytechnic University is Canada’s leading centre for applied, undergraduate education, offering 39 career-oriented programs.


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