New specialization aims to build leadership capacity within disability sector

A specialization in Leadership, Diversity, Community and Culture will soon be available in all Applied Disability Studies programs.

Previously, incoming students to the Master of Arts and Master of Disability Studies could choose to specialize in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) or take courses in other areas of the field.

The suite of course options outside of the ABA stream has now been expanded and re-envisioned to round out the new specialization and focus on key areas of skill building, social policy, program evaluation, and community-engaged scholarship to help build leadership capacity within the disability sector.

This means students from a wide array of academic programs and professional backgrounds can enter the field of Applied Disability Studies and target their learning to line up with their long-term goals.

Department Chair Rosemary Condillac calls the new specialization “a great learning experience and a set of highly employable skills.”

“There’s an awful lot of people who are working in the field who maybe didn’t start out with any education related to it,” she says. “Now they’ve fallen in love with the field, they’re passionate about the people and they want to learn more. It’s going to offer a route for incoming students to really think about where they’re headed and choose a path that fits for them.”

Priscilla Burnham Riosa, Associate Professor and co-chair of the program committee, says she is excited about the flexibility for students in the new specialization.

“One of our new courses will focus on community-engaged research and scholarship, where students will gain graduate-level training in exploring applied research methodologies relevant to working with community stakeholders and partners,” she says. “Another will focus on leadership, where students will explore issues including equity and diversity, as relevant to the disability sector.”

Laura Mullins (MA ’09), Assistant Professor and co-chair of the program committee, agrees the new specialization’s appeal lies in the breadth of possibilities for students finding their way through the program.

“We take on a very broad understanding of disability, including individuals with mental health issues or other commonly underrepresented groups,” says Mullins. “We’re really focusing on looking at diversity within disability studies as well as looking at the intersectionalities of other areas of diversity and how they cross with disability.”

The specialization in Leadership, Diversity, Community and Culture also speaks to a need in the disability sector that was flagged by the Applied Disability Studies Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from the sector who provide feedback and insight for the Department and have showed great enthusiasm for the new specialization.

Liz Froese (BA ’84), Director of Adult Clinical Services at Bethesda Community Services in Thorold, serves on the committee and says “the forward thinking of creating and redesigning a new specialization in Leadership, Diversity, Community, and Culture is a wonderful initiative.”

She looks forward to working with the next generation of leaders emerging from the program.

“Working in the field of Developmental Disabilities, I see the need for leadership in our sector to be well trained in critical and innovative thinking,” says Froese. “This level of education is needed to grow leaders with a passion for community-engaged research and social policy development in the areas of health care, inclusive and accessible environments, advocacy and social justice as well as therapeutic services.”

Professor Maureen Connolly, who is cross-appointed to the Department of Applied Disability Studies, designed a new leadership course for the specialization and is looking forward to welcoming students from different backgrounds when she teaches it for the first time.

“The relaxing of the core elements and pre-requisite relationships opens the courses for students from other graduate programs to partake in disability studies in meaningful ways,” says Connolly. “As a program, we have long been committed to blended and fully online options, as well as face-to-face, so continuing in that mode will also offer accessible and inclusive options for learners in different life situations.”

Faculty of Social Sciences Dean Ingrid Makus commends the Department for developing the new specialization.

“This a great example of how program development in Social Sciences responds to societal needs and opens up opportunities for community participation in education and training,” she says. “Applied Disability Studies is taking the initiative to prepare students to mobilize their knowledge in the field and effect real change in the sector.

Faculty of Graduate Studies Dean Suzanne Curtin says the new specialization reinforces Brock as a leader in the field of disability studies.

“The Master of Applied Disability Studies at Brock is a one-of-a-kind program in Canada,” she says. “Not only is this addition to the program responsive to the emerging needs of the disability sector, it is also in line with the University’s strategic mandate to offer a transformational and accessible academic and university experience as well as a commitment to growing graduate program offerings.”

Condillac says at the heart of the new specialization is a program-wide urgency to empower students.

“Leadership, Diversity, Community and Culture is a long name, but it sends a clear message to those who are eager to earn a graduate degree and may have been dissuaded by their previous experiences that this is a safe place to come and take your education to the next level,” she says. “For students who identify with groups that have been traditionally and systemically marginalized, creating a safe learning space is critical.

“For those who are in service sector roles, and never considered graduate school, an inviting space to re-engage in studies is essential. We really hope that this innovative program will empower students and professionals to seek graduate training and make their unique mark on leadership in the sector.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the new specialization can sign up to attend an information session online.

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