Diploma in Intellectual Disability Studies

Due to declining enrolment the program is in the process of being phased out, and will officially close January 2021. No new applications are being accepted.​


Options for Diploma in Intellectual Disability Studies students


January to April 2019


May to August 2019


September to December 2019


January to April 2020

INDS 150

Open access registration continues until April 1, 2020 (the Practicum must be completed by January 31, 2021.

INDS 120 INDS 130 INDS 110 INDS 140 INDS 150
PROGRAM ENDS January 31, 2021


Program Overview

INDS110: Foundations of Disability and Caregiving

This course provides a foundation in the history and evolution of the concept of disability in the West, from socio-cultural and medical perspectives. It also examines social, economic and political policy approaches and how they have been used to care for, label or control people with disabilities. The topics are explored through the lens of developmental disability, but also have general relevance for all disabilities. The readings are from the social sciences, humanities and social policy. They operate with an understanding of impairment or disability as social and cultural phenomenon as opposed to individual ‘problems’ or deficits as they were typically viewed within the pervasive medical perspective.

This is an exciting time for the study of disability from a social and cultural perspective. Historically, the field has focussed on medical advances in drugs and therapeutic rehabilitation tools, and later, movements to close down large institutions and promote so-called normal community life for people with disabilities. Since roughly the mid-eighties however, more attention has been given to the conceptual changes in how we understand disabilities culturally, and how public attitudes and policies can impact people’s lives almost as much as the disability itself. Much credit for this shift goes to individuals with disabilities and their families who advanced disability as a social priority and worked to express the diversity and richness of personal or family life lived with a disability.

This course considers the cultural and moral ideas which influence our health systems and caregiver training, including historical and current changes. A cultural approach broadens our possible ways of imagining impairment and disability beyond the often negative public perceptions and the useful but limited medical perspectives. It also assumes that the overall well-being of a society requires systems that facilitate diverse people to be included and supported, rather than facing unfair disadvantage based on their (dis)abilities.

Course Objectives By the end of the course, the learner will be able to:

  1. Understand the history of notions of disability and the caregiving structures created to contain or support people with disability.
  2. Challenge conventional Western negative images and understandings of disability and articulate progressive alternative models based on research and narrative examples.
  3. Explain how ‘disability as a deficit’ is a socio-culturally constructed concept and thus morally and politically-charged, but also changeable.
  4. Learn how the new models of disability and care apply in the case of 2 particular care organizations (L'Arche and Camphill) and particular individuals within it.
  5. To examine current significant issues in the field such as: social inclusion and exclusion, relationships, segregation versus integration, narratives and caring for caregivers.

INDS120: Relationships, Advocacy and Vision

Relationship, Advocacy and Vision, focuses on enduring questions and contemporary issues related to building relationship and community together with people who have developmental disabilities. Similar to course one, course two works from the position that having a disability is not so much an individual problem or deficit as it is a socially and culturally mediated phenomenon. As such, the course explores disability experience, celebrates diversity and takes seriously the value of interdependence. This course aims to understand, analyze and evaluate various approaches to living inclusion through community building. Course readings have been selected to provoke the “ethical imagination,” as well as to recognize and honor the gifts that persons with developmental disabilities make to society.

Course Objectives By the end of the course, the learner will be able to:

  1. Understand various issues, controversies and complexities in the area of intimacy, sexuality and intellectual disabilities.
  2. Examine the various dimensions of oppression, power and empowerment as relates to living and working with people who have an intellectual disability(ies).
  3. Gain insight into the ethical dimension of human care through two lenses, namely professionalism and friendship.
  4. Learn how the new models of disability and care apply in the case of 2 particular care organizations (L'Arche and Camphill) and particular individuals within it.

INDS130: Human Development

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the field of human development and persons with developmental disabilities. A critical examination of a number of issues related to development will shed light on current practices in human services. This course will focus on insights, challenges and opportunities related to the cognitive/physical, social/emotional and spiritual/moral aspects of development and persons with developmental disabilities. Concepts including agency, relationship and valuation weave and synthesize course content. The four modules of the course include: general human interest and theories of human development, physical/cognitive development, social/emotional development and the value of personhood.

Course Objectives By the end of the course, the learner will be able to:

  1. Understand theories of human development and their relationship to developmental disabilities.
  2. Demonstrate their knowledge of physical/cognitive/emotional/social development in relation to developmental disabilities.
  3. Understand the importance of perceiving and relating to persons with and without disabilities as unique and gifted individuals.
  4. Understand and apply the notions of agency, mutuality and spirituality in their respective settings.
  5. Examine current significant ethical and moral issues related to human development and how best to address them.

INDS140: Building Community

This course explores the spiritual dimensions of assisted living in the context of community life. It is based on the assumption that the social, political and cultural perspectives that guide policy and practice in the realm of disability services ultimately point to larger ethical and spiritual questions. The course topics include: the nature of the human person as spiritual; the nature of spiritual development and notions of spiritual maturity; the character of community as the living context of growth and care, and the actual art and practice of building community as an environment that supports spiritual growth for all persons. Drawing on the practical wisdom of communities such as l’Arche, Camphill, and the Fourth World movement, the course seeks to understand the principles, practices and processes that contribute to spiritual meaning in the lives of their members.

INDS150: Practicum

The Practicum/Project is an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, theory and values in a holistic approach to daily living. This course provides participants with the opportunity to engage in a practicum (project work) based on the values of social justice and equality. The course is individually structured for each participant in collaboration with the faculty advisor. The orientating question will revolve around the needs of individuals with a developmental disability, with a focus on the key components of the Diploma in Assisted Living: Human Care and Community program: building community, fostering spirituality and celebrating individual giftedness.


No new applications will be processed.




Student Handbooks/Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Why did the University develop this program?

Members of L'Arche had taken part in another distance education program through StFX both as participants and instructors. Based on that experience representatives of L'Arche Canada approached StFX Continuing & Distance Education to develop a program focused on individuals who live and/or work with people who have an intellectual disability. StFX staff then approached representatives of government and private sector residential care facilities and asked them to join us in an advistory capacity in developing this program.

2. What curriculum does it emcompass?

This non-credit, 5-course program is for both personal and professional development and provides a historical perspective on society's treatment of persons with disabilities. It provides an outline of the psychological principles of development and explores the care of persons with disabilities within the context of community. Individual course themes include a historical perspective on disability and care-giving; discussion of relationships, advocacy and vision as it relates to care; physical, psychological and emotional development; as well as an exploration of models of developing community.

3. Is this program right for me?

This program is geared toward students who work with an individual(s) who have an intellectual disability, or have a close family member that has an intellectual disability. This 2.5 year diploma program will provide you with a valuable context for the inclusion of person's with an intellectual disability within the community. It is not a technical or health-care based program, but rather a theoretical and values-based program.

The diploma is a progressive way of addressing some of the toughest challenges in the field of disability and assisted living; the online discussion is an excellent forum for combining education and experience in the field through dialogue about theory and practice. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, the participants in the Diploma in Intellectual Disability Studies program share from the richness of their first hand experiences.

4. What are the expectations of each course? (Readings, assignments, etc?) 

Each course has its own unique set of readings, assignments, and discussion opportunities.  Students are expected to critically engage in the readings by reflecting on their own experiences and participating in discussions (at least twice a week) with both the professor and other class members. There are two written assignments that must be submitted. The first assignment is due at the midpoint of the course and the final assignment is due at the conclusion of the course.  The assignments are expected to be university-level in terms of critical analysis and clarity. Proper citing and referencing is strongly enforced. Examples of APA formatting are available in your student handbook that is available online.  Additional help with writing and referencing is available from both the professor and the StFX Writing Center.

5. How much time should I expect to commit to this course per week?

The expectation is generally 10-12 hours/week, depending on the assigned readings and assignments. It is important to incorporate a studying schedule early on in your daily/weekly routine to ensure you do not fall behind.

6. Will there be classes in person? 

Classes are not held in person but asynchronously through Moodle.  The professor provides a schedule to guide you through the course and indicates which lessons you need to work on in a given week along with assignment due dates.

Moodle is an asynchronous (anytime/anywhere) learning platform. If you are comfortable with sending/receiving email, then you should transition easily to Moodle.

Continuing and Distance Education offers support at cdesupport@stfx.ca.

StFX IT Services also provides a number of Moodle guides and tutorials at http://sites.stfx.ca/itservices/guides_and_tutorials.

7.  How many will be in my classes?

Classes generally have 12 students, from various backgrounds and locations around the world.

8.  I have been away from school for a number of years.  What kind of support will I have?

Your Professor will be available via email and Moodle. Skype and phone calls may also be arranged. You are encouraged to contact your Professor either by phone or email to introduce yourself prior to the course start date.  Many Professors appreciate knowing students’ backgrounds, as it is helpful for guiding discussions and providing relevant/related examples. This initial introduction is valuable as you progress through the course, during which your Professor will offer timely and informative feedback on your work, and resources to help you navigate proper referencing protocols. It is encouraged that you communicate with your Professor regularly.

 Program Office - Participants may contact the program office Mon-Fri, 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (AST) toll free within North America or by email or fax at any time.

9. What prerequisites do I need to apply?

Participants must have a minimum of Grade XII academic and one year experience working or living with a person/people with a developmental disability. Those who do not have Grade XII may qualify under the Mature Student Policy.

10.  Do I apply for the program through Continuing and Distance Education or through StFX Admissions?

Individuals looking to enroll in the INDS program can apply through the StFX Continuing and Distance Education department.  Although it is important to share previous education, you do not need to provide a copy of academic transcripts. 

11.  Are there payment options available? What about bursaries?

You are not required to pay for all five courses at once. There is a non-refundable program application fee of $50 that must accompany your application. Cheques are made payable to St. Francis Xavier University. Courses are $515 each. A deposit of $150 is required to hold your seat at the beginning of each course, with the remaining tuition to be paid in full by the end of October (Fall term) or February (Winter term).

Payment options are possible and may be arranged through the StFX CDE office.

Contact Information

Please direct inquiries to:

Diploma in Intellectual Disability Studies

Continuing & Distance Education Department

St. Francis Xavier University

P.O. Box 5000

Antigonish, NS B2G 2W5  Canada


Local: (902) 867-3319

Toll Free (within Canada and Continental US): 877-867-5562

Fax: (902) 867-5154

E-mail: inds@stfx.ca



Trudy Delorey


Program Assistant:

Cindy MacEachern