While recently in Toronto, Canada, I was lucky enough to meet and interview Karen Yoshida, one of the first physiotherapists to engage in critical disability studies. Karen has been a CPN member since its inception.
Karen K. Yoshida PhD is Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation Science Institute, Dalla Lana School of Public Health (Social and Behavioural Science Division), Mentor, Collaborative Graduate Program in Women’s Health, University of Toronto
A number of events during the early 1980’s, when I was training as a physical therapist allowed me to reflect upon and question my role as a physical therapist. One significant event occurred during a clinical internship. I was asked me to teach a transfer from chair to toilet to a client, Brian (pseudonym) who lived with quadriplegia. I studied how to teach this transfer and met Brian in the washroom the next day. I realized immediately in the stall that what I had read in the textbook was not going to be useful to teach Brian how to transfer onto the toilet. I asked him what he needed and he calmly answered, “Probably a Hoyer lift”. This event was important as it taught me that what I would read in books may be of little help to clients, and, that their input was fundamentally important during the rehabilitation process.
Given this, where did you learn to be critical?
I decided to do graduate work in the sociology of health and illness in a critical social science of health department at the University of Toronto. I completed my PhD in 1991. My research examined the lived experiences of people who had sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury and how they reconstructed their identity and lives post-injury. This research furthered my understanding of the importance of the embodied experiences of disabled people.
Whose work has influenced your understanding of critical thinking? Whose work would you recommend to others interested in learning more about this area?
In my graduate program, during the 1980’s, we had extensive readings that encompassed critiques of the biomedical approach, medical dominance and medicine under capitalism. Seminal works by Irv Zola, Peter Conrad, Ivan Illich, and Vincente Navarro provided a strong foundation to do critical social analysis of historical and contemporary medicine, health and disability issues.
Whose work has influenced your scholarship in Critical Disability Studies?
Disability Studies (DS) is an interdisciplinary academic-activist scholarship, so my reading in DS has been very broad and varied – Canadian DS scholars (Titchkosky, Michalko, Reaume, Church and Frazee). I read across scholarships – critical race theory, post-modernist (e.g. Foucault), feminist body/embodiment, and oral/history.
What else did you do to enhance your critical thinking, especially in Disability Studies?
I attend Disability Studies conferences in the United States and Canada. Both the Society for Disability Studies (US) and the Canadian Disability Studies Association (CDSA) interrogating disability as a medical problem and promote the varied expressions of those who live differently through the arts, history and culture. CDSA is my intellectual base. However, I am always interested in connecting to other critical scholars elsewhere, such as the Critical Physiotherapy Network!
At the same time, I also sought out other ways to continue to learn from disabled people in the community. In the early 1980’s, I was invited to attend a community meeting of attendant service users lobbying the government for better services in this area by a key disability rights leader. The idea that consumer directed attendant services could enable disabled people to get on with their lives- work, school, leisure and family was a powerful idea. This meeting was important as it taught me the power of community and collective action.
I decided to immerse myself in the community and sat on the board of a consumer-led organization, the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, for 7 years (1982- 1989). This was a significant opportunity to become familiar with the issues, resources and leadership within the disability rights community in Toronto. I have continued to learn and work, in partnership, with various disability communities in my community based research and teaching.
You teach critical disability thinking to physiotherapy students. Why do you see this as important?
Teaching a Critical Disability Studies (CDS) perspective and content is important for the PT students I teach but it is important for CDS to be brought into rehabilitation more generally. I use the term Critical Disability Studies to distinguish it from studying disability as a clinical entity.
A CDS standpoint provides an important counterpoint to disability as an individual medical problem. Teaching physiotherapy students to think critically about disability means that students need to reflect on their own relationship(s) to disability, their explicit and implicit assumptions about disability and to examine the taken-for granted practices and environments that disadvantage or oppress individuals who live with differences. Central to this teaching is students engaging with disabled people in the community. A goal in this teaching is that physiotherapy students will become advocates and allies for disabled people.
Karen Yoshida with her colleagues have an invited editorial on the values for teaching Critical Disability Studies in Physical Therapy Curriculum, small sections appear here which will be in Physiotherapy Canada Spring 2016. Part 2 of this editorial will appear in PT Canada the fall of 2016.