What do you do during a pandemic when your research is put on hold?

An image of a laptop keyboard with a coffee cup and books messily stacked beside it. There are a pair of reading glasses left open across the keyboard.

By Andrea Whiteley, Post-Doctoral Fellow for the PROUD Project

While the pandemic may have slowed down our research process somewhat, our research team stayed very busy over the last year.  Our team has created an accessible website, applied for and received a TechNation grant which supported the hiring of another researcher, secured private funding for several years, successfully applied for a federal knowledge mobilization grant, undertaken a bibliometric-style literature review, and reorganized our project to be carried out via video-conference.  We’ve attended some excellent conferences and events that have enhanced our professional development and shaped our understanding.  Finally, we’ve also been learning a great deal as we interview research participants about their employment experiences. 

Broadcastability:  A podcast series on experiences of disability and employment in Canada

The PROUD Team was recently awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant to support the production of 8-10 podcasts to showcase the stories and experiences of our research participants.  The focus of the podcasts is to quite literally broadcast the abilities of people with disabilities.  We are partnering with Easter Seals of Canada to produce and promote the podcasts, and have also received funding support from the Centre for Global Disability Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough.  Chloë and Andrea will act as the podcast hosts, and will welcome guest hosts for some of the programs.  We plan to hire and train a student and an Easter Seals volunteer to assist with the podcasts.  Stay tuned for the release of our first podcast over the next few months. 

Comprehensive literature review in the area of disability and employment

We are currently putting the final touches on two (or more) research articles resulting from a meta-analysis of scholarly publications. By doing this literature review we wanted to understand:

  • What kinds of research have been published over the past 10 years in this area
  • What researchers are carrying out similar projects to ours, and
  • What countries or institutions are involved in disability and employment research. 

We hired a graduate student studying for her Masters of Library and Information Science degree, Brenna Leslie, to assist with the literature review.  We have analysed over 1200 publications to get a sense of the research landscape for the study of disability and employment. 

Disability Advocacy and the COVID-19 Pandemic

One of the most important roles of an academic is to communicate research results not only to our knowledge communities but also to other stakeholders outside of academia that might benefit or be interested in our research.  When the pandemic first began Chloë and Andrea were motivated to enter the conversation around supporting vulnerable populations.  We published an opinion article in the University of Toronto Medical Journal entitled Vulnerability, Social triage and the Covid-19 Pandemic.  In this article we argue that if countries are concerned about managing pandemics better, governments need to secure and improve the lives of all vulnerable people, including those with disabilities, people of colour, immigrants, seniors, and low-income essential workers who have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic even started, these groups had been “triaged” away from care by their social and economic circumstances, where structural features of their lives made them more susceptible to the physical dangers of COVID-19. By adopting a macroscopic perspective that examines cultural biases, safety regulations, labour laws, building codes, urban-planning and socio-economic policies, our society will be better equipped to weather global pandemics or other crises in the future.

36th Annual Pacific Rim International Conference On Disability & Diversity

We attended this excellent on-line conference on disability and diversity and came away energized and excited by the sessions we attended.  Three outstanding sessions for me were:

  • Talk-Story session on Confronting Complacency:  Advancing Equity for All presented by Ashley Oolman and Alli Strong-Martin, Lifeworks Services
  • Skillshare session on You Can Do Employment Too by Erica Belois-Pacer and Kevin Dierks
  • Final Keynote presentation by Haben Girma

Haben Girma, the first deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School

An image of a young brown-skinned, Eritrean woman. She has a clear complexion, with large brown eyes . Her dark brown hair is tied back and her mouth is partially opened in a smile. She wears gold drop earrings and a burgundy v-neck top with short capped sleeves.

I learned so much at each of these sessions from the “Role of Federal Policy in Promoting Inclusive Employment in the US” (Belois-Pacer and Dierks); to the “Conceptual models of disability” (Oolman and Strong-Martin) to how “disability drives innovation.”  The quote of the conference, from Haben Girma’s really captivating presentation, was:

The dominant narrative is that disabled people are a burden on society.  There’s this myth that there’s two kinds of people:  dependent and independent.  That’s not true.  All of us are interdependent. My 11 year-old daughter loved this presentation as well and was so thrilled by the video of Haben surfing!  The only thing that would have made this conference even better was if we could have met everyone face to face at the conference in Hawaii!  We are planning to send in an abstract for next year’s conference whether or not we can travel there in person.  One of the wonderful outcomes of this pandemic has been how increased use of videoconferencing technologies has resulted in more accessibility for everyone, especially for people who find travel difficult due to personal, physical or financial circumstances. 

15 March 2021.

Photo credits: https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=151115&picture=computer-books; https://newscantell.blogspot.com/2017/04/haben-girma-first-deaf-and-blind.html

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