Diversity in Rehabilitation Science

Laura-Bulk(770)Laura Bulk is a PhD student in Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of British Columbia. She holds an undergraduate degree in anti-oppressive social work practice from the University of Victoria, and a Master of Occupational Therapy degree from UBC.


I am not the only person to have struggled deciding what to include in an entry to this newsletter (see Carmen Sima’s entry in last Fall’s edition) – there are so many exciting things to share about practice, life, and study in this community. I hope that what I’ve decided upon will be of interest to you. Preparing this submission lead me to wonder:

What unites Rehab Science scholars?

Disclaimer: this is not the official definition/statement of purpose for the department. Rather, this is a collection of thoughts and ideas from both myself and other trainees doing work in the department.

Why has this discipline brought together PT’s, OT’s, kinesiologists, cognitive behavioural therapists, and clinicians/scholars from such a variety of backgrounds? What unites us under this banner? I posed this question to my colleagues, and here are a couple responses I received.

One student says it is using research to help people improve their health, functioning, and quality of life.

Another muses perhaps we are united by a common concern: rehabilitation. We are all concerned with helping people following an injury – whether to the heart, bone, head, or muscle. We are interested in understanding the injury itself, peoples’ responses to injury, or circumstances surrounding how people injure themselves.

According to UBC’s website, rehabilitation science aims to promote physical, mental, and social well-being among people of all levels of ability.

What do I think it is? Why am I doing my PhD in Rehab Science? Well, let’s go back a bit further to look at how I landed here in the first place.


Why Am I Here? (doing my PhD in Rehab Science)

As a teenager, I described my long-term goal: to come alongside people with disabilities, helping them gain the skills and confidence needed to flourish, and to help shift the negative and ableist assumptions I too often encountered. I found a great fit in Occupational Therapy and began a 7-year journey to becoming an OT. After getting my undergraduate degree in anti-oppressive social work practice at the University of Victoria, I entered the Master of Occupational Therapy program here at UBC. And finally, in 2014 I reached my goal of becoming an OT.

So why am I still here?

Throughout my personal and professional experiences, I have witnessed individuals go through rehabilitation/recovery, going on a journey to become self-empowered, and then go out into environments where social and policy barriers prevent them from flourishing. My work as an OT gives me the great privilege of coming alongside individuals on their journeys, and allows me to work at shifting some of the stigma around disability. I deeply value my work as an OT. But I believe that my work as a scholar will provide additional opportunities and training so I am better able to contribute to change in social and policy arenas. As clinicians and scholars we have the power to create change, and what I am learning as a PhD student will help equip me to be a more effective advocate and change agent.



Another statement I heard from all my colleagues is: Rehab Science is diverse. I may serve as a good example – I am currently involved in projects spanning four areas.

The Inclusive Campus Project (P.I. Dr. Tal Jarus), an interprofessional collaboration exploring the inclusion (and exclusion) of people with disabilities within health professions. What are the barriers and facilitators to inclusion in health professions? What can we, as educators, scholars, and clinicians do to enable people to flourish within our professions (thereby causing our professions to flourish as well)?

The second is a project with Dr. Laura Nimmon exploring the role of relationships in end of life care. How do relationships contribute to quality of life and human flourishing at the end of life?

The third is a project with Michael Lee, exploring teaching practices that promote student mental health and wellbeing. How can teaching practices be used to promote learning and flourishing among students?

Finally, my own research, Being Blind in a Sighted World is a partnership between myself, a photojournalist, and an advisory committee to create a multimedia project exploring international experiences and challenging (mis)perceptions of blindness. Another aspect of my research is a participatory project with Blind people in the Vancouver community (more details to be determined after my comprehensive exams!). Suffice to say, I am interested in exploring: what is preventing Blind people from flourishing and how can these barriers be demolished?

PS – if you are interested in any of these projects, I would be thrilled to be in touch, so please contact me! You can also follow me on Twitter @LauraYvonneBulk.

Indeed, there are diverse opportunities within Rehab Sciences! So what do I think unites Rehab Science scholars? I think that within our diverse areas of interest, we are united by a common goal: to promote human flourishing. We want to be equipped to engage in positive change through

  • the advancement of evidence-based practice,
  • the development of innovative interventions,
  • the exposure of harmful social processes,
  • the exploration of human experience and diversity,
  • and on, and on…

Not only are we as scholars and clinicians diverse in our areas of interest, we are also eager to explore the diversity within our communities and promote practices and processes that will allow all people to flourish. Thus, I am using two words to describe Rehab Science: Flourishing and Diversity.

I am honoured to be among some amazing colleagues, and look forward to collaborating with and learning from them throughout my time here at UBC. I am going to close-off with a little plug. We, the Rehabilitation Sciences Executive Committee (RSEC), are planning a few initiatives to enhance connection among this community of scholars and provide opportunities for all of you to learn more about the work being done here – so stay tuned!