At the Frontier of Education


After 20 years at the frontier of transformation in education, the Community Rehabilitation and Disability Studies Program (CRDS) at the University of Calgary continues to engage in social and economic innovations in the field, in career-laddered education and in social policy reform.

In our title, “Community” refers both to the place of the work and to developing community strength and tolerance. Students take courses in building natural supports, networking, participant action research and capacity building. “Rehabilitation” identifies an ongoing engagement with families and consumers in creating and providing customized interventions and services. Courses cover health issues, practice theory and management options for new models of consumer centered support and individualized funding. “Disability Studies” in the title locates our work as a celebration of the contributions of people with disabilities while recognizing the economic, social and political realities that have marginalized people with disabilities throughout history. The program is guided by a Program Council representing consumers, the field and academics from colleges and six university faculties.

The CRDS unit coordinates a number of degree programs. The Bachelor of Community Rehabilitation (BCR) prepares students to work at a senior level in the many fields associated with disability. Undergraduates bring a variety of skills and perspectives to CRDS; many come directly from college programs in human services and health. Some come to the Calgary campus, but an increasing number attend regional BCR programs offering both full-time and part-time degrees. Online and intensive workshops bring distance students together to learn and exchange ideas.

Undergraduates can combine disciplines, bringing a disability lens to their studies. Joint degrees and specializations are available at the University of Calgary, and we invite students doing degrees in social work, psychology, recreation, culture studies and nursing from other Canadian universities to take our courses.

CRDS supports a number of graduate initiatives. A pan-Canadian interdisciplinary graduate program through the Faculty of Education enables master’s and doctoral students, while working full time, to come together for five intensive sessions over two years. These sessions are augmented by online courses, independent study and supervised research. In five years this program has grown to 70-plus students, each contributing to the field in his or her own way. Recent topics span social policy reform, ethics, economic development, employment and educational practice, program evaluation, international studies, and “lived” experience.

For those interested more in professional practice, the University of Calgary, Athabasca University and the University of Lethbridge will join in offering a distance-delivered Master of Counselling specializing in Rehabilitation Counselling. Courses will also be available to those with related degrees who wish to qualify for certification and registration.

The CRDS component within the University of Calgary has many inclusive features. The on-campus Varsity Education Program provides a post-secondary opportunity for persons with serious disabilities to attend university. The University of Calgary supports the active interdisciplinary Community Support Clinic, which offers specialized resources as well as educational and research opportunities for hard-to-serve populations. CRDS was the first comprehensive career-laddered education program in Canada (from college to Ph.D.), and we continue to explore new educational networks and alliances in this interdisciplinary field. The University of Calgary, for example, hosted the first meeting of Canadian educators in disability studies, community support and rehabilitation services in November of 2001.

Students actively engage in many partnerships. Applied and action research with the community and consumers is integral throughout the student’s program. Similarly, the wide range of options at the University of Calgary enables students to work alongside students from other faculties and universities. Last summer, a graduate course on Community Economic Development saw students from University of Toronto, Concordia University and University of Calgary working together with psychiatric survivors to explore uncharted academic territory. In another instance, students from Engineering, Environmental Design, Nursing and CRDS worked together to design off-track wheelchairs. Students are also encouraged to take part in international education or research exchanges.

A program that is committed to both cultural studies and to professional education may encounter challenges, but the tensions create a space wherein we learn and find partners to take the next steps.

(Nancy Marlett is the Director of the CRDS program at the University of Calgary. For more information, please visit our website at


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