A new report commissioned by Western Student Experience provides the university with a roadmap to improve accessibility on campus.
In 2020, Student Experience engaged in an internal and external review of its academic support and engagement department, including learning development and success, the writing support centre and accessible education.
The goal was to further ongoing efforts to put in place programs and supports that build an equitable, thriving campus at Western.
“Creating and supporting a campus culture based on equity, diversity and inclusion is a priority for the university, and accessibility is an important dimension to equity,” said Jennifer Massey, associate vice-president (student experience).
The report calls for a comprehensive approach to accessibility, and improving support for students with disabilities by identifying them as an equity-deserving group within the university’s EDI strategy.
It also recommends that the university move beyond accommodations for students with disabilities by investing in fully accessible learning and living environments on campus.
Western is taking immediate action to address the recommendations, Massey said, including establishing an implementation committee and a student advisory committee, hiring an accessibility engagement coordinator to develop educational programs for campus partners and student leaders and to facilitate community-building for students with disabilities.
“We see these as important first steps,” said Massey. “Beyond these initiatives, it is clear there is more work to do to better support students with disabilities and we are committed to ongoing, meaningful action.”
The university also recognizes the need to improve communication with students regarding the programs and services available, she added.
“As we work to enhance and expand supports for students, we need to find the best ways to let them know about these supports and also provide opportunities for them to offer feedback about their needs, experiences and new ideas as contributing members of our community,” said Massey. “The student advisory committee will be especially valuable on this front. We are committed to engaging with student government leaders and the implementation committee, and we’ll provide regular updates on progress as part of the Student Experience annual reporting cycle.”
The report’s full list of recommendations will be considered by the implementation committee, which will guide the university’s next actions. That committee is being convened and will prioritize membership of students with disabilities.
Moving from an accommodations model to an accessibility-friendly campus requires a change in culture, said Massey. “This will require significant work and investment, and the university is committed to taking action. A lack of accessibility is a larger social issue that Western is not immune to, and as an engine of social change the university can be part of developing innovative, equitable solutions.”
The assessment and report were completed by Heather Doyle, director of assessment and special projects at Dalhousie University; Corinna Fitzgerald, assistant dean of student life and learning at Queen’s University; and Heather Kelly, executive director of student life programs and services at the University of Toronto.