Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities is Accessibility for All

Friday, December 3, 2021
Day of Persons with Disabilities

On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) 2021, we want to raise awareness about the barriers students with disabilities face in their daily lives.

Unfortunately, the restrictions incited by the COVID-19 pandemic have deepened pre-existing inequalities in society. The UN claims, “even under normal circumstances, persons with disabilities are less likely to access health care, education, employment and to participate in the community. An integrated approach is required to ensure that persons with disabilities are not left behind.”

Often, the best way to learn something is to truly listen. Listen and empathize with the needs of disabled individuals in our community. Our ongoing commitment to upholding human rights for every member of WUSA is an uphill battle that commands our attention and dedication. More importantly, ensuring that opportunities for students with disabilities are ensured and maximized is of our utmost priority.

How do we build a truly accessible community?

WUSA and the University offer several opportunities for students with mental and physical disabilities and supporters to raise awareness and contribute to a more accessible university experience.

WUSA spring 2021 Accessibility Commissioner, Vicky Ikeno, cites her Accessibility Report for 2021 as an extremely useful tool for supporters and people with disabilities alike to better identify the needs of an integrated and efficient community. According to Ikeno, “The accessibility report is going to help students by making buildings and services more inclusive and accessible to those who are facing disabilities or know someone that is. It also makes sure that the services are being held accountable.”

The report outlines several issues that undergraduates with disabilities face daily, including concerns for student safety (outdoor maintenance and transit around campus during winter with snow and ice), or the inaccessibility of off-campus housing (and even some on-campus housing, like V1 and REV) to physically disabled students. In terms of learning and mental disabilities, which were identified as the most common types of disabilities experienced by respondents (mental illness disability: 42%, learning disability: 26%), students experienced all kinds of challenges related to the teaching/ learning structure, stigma against disabilities, academics and interpersonal communication between themselves and the university.

Educating ourselves on these setbacks and potential solutions that can solve these issues is an integral part of raising awareness. Read more about Ikeno’s vision and the importance of the findings from the Accessibility Report 2021.

As outlined in the report, there are several ways in which students can improve accessibility, These include:

Promoting the Centre for Academic Policy Support (CAPS) to increase awareness of students’ ability to file a petition, grievance, or appeal with the university to address issues with University academic policies that limit their experiences

Improving physical accessibility for persons of disabilities, specifically, the widespread use of internal signage within buildings (exits, bathrooms, stairs, etc.), reliable elevators, ice and snow clearage, maps of internal building layouts (i.e., where classrooms are), accessible building entrances, etc., across campus
Optimizing AccessAbility Services; specifically, registration, communication of responsibilities, and advisor training.
Continue learning about the barriers people with mental/ learning and physical disabilities experience daily.

Another recent effort to increase campus accessibility is found in The Committee on Access and Disability (CAD), established in Fall 2021. This association serves as an intermediary between persons of disabilities and supporters looking for informed advice and resources to help their fellow colleagues. The CAD advises on all matters related to access and disability, generating tangible, meaningful improvements to the experience of disabled undergraduate students, as well as being a welcoming community and advocate for disabled students at the University of Waterloo. Learn more about The Committee on Access and Disability, as well as their policies and opportunities to participate in their activities.

How WUSA continues to advocate for students with disabilities

The WUSA Committee on Access and Disability and VP, Education Stephanie Ye-Mowe have been busy working behind-the-scenes advocating to the University and Provincial Government.

  • Ye-Mowe successfully encouraged OUSA to add advocating for students with disabilities to the list of priorities for November’s advocacy week representing 150,000 students from eight different universities.
  • The Committee of Access and Disability wrote a letter to University that highlights the ableism in the “return to campus plan,” bringing attention to the specific barriers students with mental and physical disabilities currently face while enrolled at UWaterloo.
  • WUSA has written a letter to MPP, Laura Mae Lindo informing provincial leaders in higher education about the needs of disabled students, sharing the results of ongoing research from WUSA at the University of Waterloo, and advocating for changes to policy and practice at the provincial level.

Funding Announcement

Behind-the-scenes advocacy work pays off. On today’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Ontario Government has announced they are investing an additional $3 million over three years to support postsecondary institutions to prepare students with disabilities to transition into the workforce.

This is a win for Ontario Colleges & Universities; however, we do recognize that a lot more work must be done to ensure students with disabilities and their specific needs are considered at the planning and policy level to ensure no student gets left behind.


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