Abstract: From the Agency Office to a Trail in the Woods: Mapping Intersections of Intellectual Disability, Geography and Social Work Practice through Digital Storytelling Research (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

From the Agency Office to a Trail in the Woods: Mapping Intersections of Intellectual Disability, Geography and Social Work Practice through Digital Storytelling Research

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Ahwatukee B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Angelina Vaccaro, MSW, Doctoral Student, York University, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Despite decades of perceived progress, individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities (DIDs) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) continue to experience profound inequities such as underemployment, punitive institutionalization, second rate education and premature death at higher rates than the general population. The injustices these populations endure are often undertheorized within the social sciences, with conventional social work complacent in viewing intellectual disability as an organic, fixed state. On the rare occasions they are theorized, intellectual disability and the environment are discussed as two separate entities that must adapt to one another—a false dichotomy that perpetuates harmful individualized oppression that continues to be felt by individuals with DIDs and ASD in Canada and across the globe.

Purpose: Building an interdisciplinary bridge between social work, disability studies and geography, this research crafts a new dialectic to recognize the reciprocal relationship between the place and disability and specifically examine how DIDs and ASD are differentially produced when interacting with place. This relationship is ontologically developed with the incorporation of Deleuze and Guattari’s “Assemblage Theory”, Elizabeth Grosz’s “becoming theory” and Jasbir Puar’s “debility”. Using these scholars as a foundation, this research recognizes DIDs and ASD as fluid, subjective processes that are in a state of perpetual transformation—constructed and shifting with movement through geographic and temporal settings. Examining the relationship between disability (beyond traditional pathologizing interpretations) and geography is a particularly important discussion given the adoption of environmental analysis and justice in contemporary social work research, practice and education.

Method: In collaboration with a workshop organized by the Re-Vision Centre for Art and Social Justice and the ReStorying Autism project, this project harnesses arts-based methodologies in the form of digital storytelling technology as a learning tool in reconceptualizing DIDs and ASD. The autoethnographic digital story that forms the basis of this project, called “Moments of Unlearning”, narrates a situation I encountered as a social work practitioner in the Ontario Developmental Service Sector.

Results: The story encompasses two interwoven narratives to demonstrate the fluid assembly of disability in different spatial and temporal geographies. The first narrative is creative exploration of space (in this case, a trail in the woods) as a realm of belonging and capacity for an individual with ASD. The second narrative outlines my thoughts as the practitioner in that moment, and how the physical setting influenced my understanding of disability while also considering the potential outcomes of the story had it occurred somewhere other than a forest trail, such as an agency office. The digital story can be downloaded here: https://vimeo.com/projectrevision/download/371197789/0f76455d62

Conclusions and Implications: Escaping a reliance on academic jargon and attributing meaningful value to the experiential knowledge of community members, this research found digital storytelling can become an important tool in the arsenal of social work research and education. Building on social connections between academia and community partners through synthesizing audio, video and photography, digital storytelling creates a form of research that moves beyond language to resist medicalized static dialogues of disability and create a relational, authentic discourse of disability and place.