Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Q & A About My Research

Carleton's Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs did a little Q & A with me about my research. The article can be found online here. Below is the text.

For more information about Carleton's programs or funding visit their website.

Vanier Scholar Gives Back to the Community

In 2010, Carleton PhD student Jihan Abbas was awarded an inaugural Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS) that provided $50,000 a year for three years to Canada’s top doctoral students. We thought we would check in with her today to find out what she has been doing since that time.

Q – What kind of a difference has the Vanier Scholarship made in your life?

It has made a tremendous difference. From a research standpoint, it has provided me with the resources necessary to support a participatory research project. Having this support has also enabled me to develop as a scholar as I’ve had the opportunity to write, present, and collaborate with other scholars.

Q – Could you have completed your grad studies at Carleton without this scholarship?

Without the Vanier Scholarship, it certainly would have been difficult to pursue my PhD. The demands of a graduate degree are intense, and without financial support, it would have been impossible for me to juggle my degree, family, and employment, especially given the challenges posed by the current environment. I’m incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity.

Q – Since we last talked three years ago, are you still researching and working in the area of disability and equality rights?

Yes, my research project is looking at persons with intellectual disabilities and unpaid labour in the home, community, and workplace. I was the former director of research and policy for Independent Living Canada and was fortunate enough to serve as a community co-facilitator with the city of Ottawa to help support the training goals of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I was also on the board of directors for ARCH Disability Law Centre. [ARCH Disability Law Centre is a specialty community legal aid clinic dedicated to defending and advancing the equality rights of people with disabilities in Ontario.] I continue to work as an advocate in the community.

My research is participatory so much of what I am doing is in the community connecting with individuals, advocates and agencies. It’s a valuable experience to step outside of the literature and place yourself on the front lines of the issue. It’s a process that allows you to really appreciate how issues are shaped and experienced by stakeholders.

Q -What are a couple of your major research findings since that time?

We tend to measure contributions through paid labour, and because persons with intellectual disabilities are often not part of the formal labour process, their contributions tend to be ignored. What I am learning from engaging with the community is that there are valuable unpaid contributions taking place that we need to acknowledge and support. My research is also reinforcing the importance of providing a space for the community to be heard. I hope that by illustrating the value of this unpaid labour, I can contribute to the inclusion debate and demonstrate what we collectively gain from equity.

Q – What kind of support have you had from your advisory team and department?

I’ve been lucky to have such a supportive and engaged committee. I am working with Andrea Doucet, now at Brock University, who has been incredibly supportive of my research and really pushed me to explore alternative ways I can connect and communicate with the community. Andrea has been great at helping me to identify the threads within my research that I am most passionate about and find ways to position my research within the broader employment and disability debate. Janet Siltanen and Xiaobei Chen also sit on my committee and were instrumental in moving me through the comprehensive exam and proposal process. My committee has been incredible and really helped me zero in on the kinds of contributions I wanted to make through my own research. It’s been a very collaborative process and has certainly helped develop my research and writing.

Q – Why did you originally decide to pursue your grad studies at Carleton?

For me, Carleton made sense because studying here allowed me to remain connected to my community and continue to engage as an advocate. In terms of disability issues, Ottawa is a great place to be. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with incredible people though my research (individuals, scholars, advocates, peers) and that has helped to make this such a valuable experience.