Patrick McDonagh


We are excited that Patrick McDonagh will be one of several speakers joining us on Oct 2nd at the Unitarian Church for a day of all kinds of story-telling, co-hosted by the Vela Microboard Association and Spectrum’s 101 Friends Support Networks Project.   Patrick has had many roles in the lives of people with disabilities and was a founding member of Spectrum Society, involved in the initial planning for people who moved from institutions back to their communities and in the process of dreaming up what Spectrum might offer that would enlarge the choices of people with disabilities who wanted to be part of their neighbourhoods.   Since then, Patrick has moved away from Vancouver but has continued to priorise his involvement on Spectrum’s board for more than twenty years.    

Patrick is now a Montreal-based writer and teacher.   He received his MA in English from the University of British Columbia in 1986 and in 1998 completed his PhD in Humanities at Concordia University in Montreal.   In 1987, Patrick co-founded the Spectrum Society for Community Living, a Vancouver-based non-profit agency providing support services for people with developmental disabilities, autism and acquired brain injuries; he remains on Spectrum’s Board of Directors.

Patrick’s most recent book is Idiocy: A Cultural History which examines how (and why) the kinds of stories and myths about disability came to be part of our culture over the last centuries.    A project that Patrick worked on previously, interviewing many self-advocate leaders in Canada, was “the label game” and the site for this contains lots of great information.    We hope to publish the film of this project over the next year.  

As a freelance writer, Patrick’s work has appeared in publications as diverse as The Globe and Mail, McGill News, Athletics Magazine, and Chatelaine. He has also worked as a writer, editor, and communication consultant for organizations such as McGill University, Concordia University, the International Institute for Communication and Development, Miriam Home and Services, Softimage, CN, and the National Theatre School of Canada. He serves on the Board of Directors of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, and had also been President and Vice-President of Trial and Eros Productions from 2000-2009; he is poetry editor for the on-line magazine Carte Blanche.

Patrick’s article “Autism and Modernism: A Genealogical Exploration” appeared in Autism and Representation, edited by Mark Osteen and published by Routledge in 2008. Idiocy: A Cultural History was published in 2008 by Liverpool University Press and is distributed in North America by the University of Chicago Press.

Here are some reviews of Idiocy

“This is the sweeping story of idiocy’s shifting and twisting meaning through several centuries of (mainly) English culture, from the legally exempt ‘idiota’ of 16th-century dictionaries to the ‘perfectly horrible’ imbeciles in Virginia Woolf’s diary, through William Wordsworth’s romantic idiot boy and Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, among others.   …   Far from being a niche history of limited interest, McDonagh’s careful and eclectic scholarship makes the case for idiocy as a crucial subject for readers interested in literature, medicine, psychology, gender, family, property, inheritance, romanticism, rationality, sensation fiction, technology, institution-building, religion, crime and civil society.” – Penny Richards, Times Higher Education 

“In Idiocy: A Cultural History Patrick McDonagh skilfully weaves historical events together with representations from fiction in an engagingly readable manner to provide an intriguing picture of the construction of intellectual disability from the medieval period to the early 20th century…. this work presents a thought-provoking investigation of a much neglected part of our history, which challenges the notion of intellectual impairment as a concrete, medical phenomenon and which raises questions regarding the way we conceive of and treat people designated as intellectually disabled today.” – Linzi Carlin, Disability and Society

“The strength of Idiocy: A Cultural History undoubtedly lies in the clarity with which McDonagh brings to bear on the ‘tensions’ within specific cultural moments….   Overall, Idiocy: A Cultural History is an engaging and ambitious achievement. … Most importantly, through showing the shifting and contingent nature of ‘idiocy,’ McDonagh allows us to glimpse that ‘learning disability’ need not always mean what it does today.” – Helen Graham, British Journal of Learning Disabilities

We hope to have copies at our Oct 2nd event that Patrick will be able to sign.  

Idiocy: A Cultural History was a finalist for the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction. According to the jury, Idiocy is “a fine blend of scholarly depth [and] eminent readability…. a unique contribution to a subject that most people would be hesitant to discuss in public or private for fear of demonstrating their ignorance, discomfort or fear. It has much to teach us about what it is to be human, about our recurrent fears of ourselves and others.”

For more information, see Patrick’s website:

About Aaron

After 30 lovely years as Director of Research, Training and Development, Spectrum Society during which I supported self advocacy groups and provided training and workshops to other agencies and groups, I became particularly interested in inclusive research groups and studied towards a MA and then, to my surprise, a PhD. I am the author/illustrator, editor and co-editor of a dozen books and currrently working on the 13th, which is about person centered planning. My passion is supporting networks to share person-centred alternatives in how people with disabilities can be facilitated to live lives where their gifts are necessary components in their communities. I currently do this by teaching at Douglas College where I have worked in the Disability and Community Studies program, as well as in the Indigenous Pathway and I have also taught at JIBC. These days I get to spend more time in my garden, traveling, reading and with my family.
This entry was posted in autism, Books, community, creativity, Disability, history, Innovative Practices, Introductions, leadership, self-determination, Stories, strategic planning, teambuilding, training. Bookmark the permalink.

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