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Tammy Bernasky — A legacy of work

Eviance is more than a research organization, it is a community of peer leaders who work together to highlight and realize disability human rights issues. Tammy Bernasky, PhD., is one of those team members whose background and interests have led her to join this community dedicated to creating lasting positive change.

Tammy has been working in the disability field for more than 20 years; serving on boards, working with community groups, and participating in international projects focused on advancing disability rights and equality. It was while working at the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University that Tammy was first asked directly about her disability by people seeking out information on disability issues. She tells me,

“I have a visible physical disability and so people would ask me about disability issues. I had no academic knowledge of disability, but with a lifetime of lived experience I became interested in finding the answers to the questions I was being asked. My managers gave me opportunities to attend conferences to do research, but eventually I decided I wanted to explore a full-time career in the disability field. That’s when I applied to do a Masters in Critical Disability Studies at York University.”

It was during her Masters that Tammy wrote and presented a paper on the gaps in services for women with disabilities who were experiencing violence. She describes this as a turning point in her academic career as she realized that what she was truly passionate about was raising awareness about gender-based violence. She went on to do a PhD, also in critical disability studies, and for her dissertation work, Tammy interviewed self-advocates and community organizers globally about the challenges and successes of doing advocacy work around gender-based violence and disability. About her dissertation research she says,

“What the participants shared with me during those interviews was so powerful, I decided that the best way for me to honor their work was to tell their stories as they were told to me. Before I published the stories though, I sent them to the participants to make sure they were comfortable with the way their experience was represented.”

It was through these stories that Tammy discovered common themes related to the challenges and transformations that happened when people collectively worked to end gender-based violence in the disability community. She explores these themes more fully in her dissertation. These stories and the work from her dissertation are now in the process of being published as a book by Practical Action Publishing.

During her PhD, Tammy developed her love for interviewing and learning peoples’ stories – stemming from her strong belief that stories are “where the power is, especially in disability studies, where our histories are often erased.” At times, Tammy’s research has been very close to her own experiences, but she says this is where she learned that just as there are commonality among people who experience something like gender-based violence, there are also differences. She has made intentional efforts to be open about her own experiences and state her positionality as it relates to the varied experiences of disability, gender, and violence.

Tammy considers herself a team player and is happy to be “able to work with people who share a common interest in advancing disability rights and equity.” She considers it a privilege and says she learns a lot from her peers. Tammy hopes to be able to support her peers in similar ways.

Tammy plans on spending the rest of her career shedding light on experiences of gender-based violence in the disability community and to work on ways to prevent further violence and address the structures that contribute to disability and gender oppression.

Towards the end of her degree, she was introduced to Eviance through one of her professors. She worked on a couple of small projects and after completing her PhD, began working with Eviance more directly. Currently, Tammy is a Research Officer at Eviance working on projects related to accessible housing, accessibility in post secondary education, and system navigation services for federal disability supports. From Tammy’s point of view, gender-based violence is impacted by accessibility and discrimination in all areas of life. Access to supports, services, education, and income supports all contribute to outcomes for people affected by disability and gender-based violence.

The beauty of Eviance is that it takes on many different types of projects which allow for various ways to make an impact in the disability community. Tammy takes an intersectional approach to disability rights research which aligns well with Eviance’s approach.

Welcome to Eviance, Tammy! We are thrilled to have you on our team and are excited to have your expertise on our research team.