Toward Culturally Responsive Disability Services: An International Conference

Program Information


Web version

Print version

Keynote Speakers

Jerome E. Bickenbach, Ph.D., LL.B.


Dr. Bickenbach is a full professor in the Department of Philosophy and Faculties of Law and Medicine at Queen's University. He is the author of Physical Disability and Social Policy (1993) and the co-editor of Introduction to Disability (1998), Disability and Culture: Universalism and Diversity (2000), A Seat at the Table: Persons with Disabilities and Policy Making (2001), Quality of Life and Human Difference (2004), and numerous articles and chapters in disability studies, focusing on the nature of disability and disability law and policy. He is a content editor of Sage Publications' 5 volume Encyclopedia of Disability.

His research is in disability studies, using qualitative and quantitative research techniques within the paradigm of participatory action research. He has sat on the Queen's Research Ethics Board for a decade. Most recently his research includes disability quality of life and the disability critique, disability epidemiology, universal design and inclusion, modelling disability statistics for population health surveys, the relationship between disability and health, and the ethics and policy implications of summary health measures, disability and bioethics, and international human rights and anti-discrimination law and policy.

He holds a Queen's Research Chair, and previously held a Killam Fellowship, working on the law and policy of health systems performance assessment, and the legal and ethical aspects of summary measures of population health. Previous research included disability and environmental impact; functional limitation determination for disability pensions; qualitative methodologies for survey instrument development for functional limitation; disability and spirituality; political participation of persons with disabilities; and long term care reform evaluation.

As a lawyer, Dr. Bickenbach was a human rights litigation, specializing in anti-discrimination for persons with intellectual impairments and mental illness.

Since 1995 he has been a consultant with the World Health Organization working on the revision of the ICIDH, from alpha and the beta drafts, to the final draft leading to the ICF. He has participated in nearly all revision activities, and continues to consult with WHO on ICF dissemination and international disability social policy.

"Disability, Culture and the UN Convention"

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities clearly ushers in a new era in the disability rights in abstraction and, hopefully, practical, concrete improvements in the participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. The Convention, by its nature, speaks in universalistic language, relying on important (usually capitalized) concepts like Equality, Dignity, Inclusion and so on. Still, there is a strong sentiment amongst disability scholars that, inasmuch and to the degree to which the notion of disability is moulded by social, political and cultural forces, 'disability' will mean different things (perhaps radically different things) in different cultures. On the face of it, there is a conflict between the universalistic language of the Convention and this relativist sentiment. Rather than trying to reconcile these, I look to the need to move beyond simplistic social models of disability to an understanding more suitable for the operationalization, and success, of the Convention.

Michael Iwama


Dr. Michael Iwama is known internationally for his critical work on culture and its implications for knowledge, theory and practice in Occupational Therapy. He is sole author of a landmark book by Elsevier Press, on theory and culture in health titled: "The Kawa Model; Culturally Relevant Occupational Therapy." Dr. Iwama is increasingly regarded as one of occupational therapy's eminent progressive thinkers. He is regularly sought to lecture locally and internationally and has delivered a number of keynote addresses at conferences and symposia in the United Kingdom, Europe, East Asia, Oceania, and in North America - which included the 2007 American Occupational Therapy Association Congress in St. Louis, and the 2005 AOTF Research Colloquium on Social Justice and Participation. In addition to his appointments as Associate Professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy and the Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at University of Toronto, Dr. Iwama holds an adjunct appointment at the University of Queensland, Australia.

The Kawa Model; The Power of Culturally Responsive Occupational Therapy

The Kawa (Japanese for river) Model, developed by Japanese and Canadian rehabilitation professionals, presents a remarkable alternative to contemporary 'Western' models of rehabilitation. Rather than focusing primarily on the individual, the Kawa Model focuses on 'contexts' that shape and influence the realities and challenges of peoples' day to day lives. The first substantial model of rehabilitation practice developed outside of the West illuminates the transactional quality of human-environment dynamics and the importance of inter-relations of self and others through the metaphor of a river's flow. The model's reflection of Eastern thought and nature presents a useful point of comparison to familiar rational and mechanical explanations of occupation and well-being. In this presentation, the rationale for an alternative model in rehabilitation is presented, followed by an explanation of the structure and concepts of the Kawa Model. Implications for culturally responsive practice as well as the model's significance to the advancement of culturally safe rehabilitation worldwide will be discussed.