On the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, WUSA wants to raise awareness about the barriers students with disabilities face in their daily lives.
The restrictions incited by the COVID-19 pandemic have deepened pre-existing inequalities within society. The UN states that “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 listen. Listen and empathize with the needs of people with disabilities in our community. Our ongoing commitment to upholding human rights for every member of WUSA requires our consistent attention and dedication. Ensuring that opportunities for students with disabilities are ensured and maximized is our utmost priority. With that being said…
Building off the International Day of Persons with Disabilities 2021 article, WUSA and the University offer several opportunities for students to 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 people to better identify the needs of an integrated and efficient community. “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,” said Ikeno. “It also makes sure that the services are being held accountable.”
The report outlines several issues that undergraduates with disabilities face daily. For example, this includes concerns for student safety (winter maintenance and transit on campus) and the inaccessibility of some on-campus and off-campus housing to physically disabled students.
In terms of learning and mental disabilities, they were identified as the most common types of disabilities experienced by respondents (mental illness disability: 42%, learning disability: 26%). Students reported experiencing 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, are integral parts of creating an accessible community. Read more about Ikeno’s vision and the importance of the findings from the Accessibility Report 2021.
As outlined in the Accessibility Report, there are several ways in which students can improve accessibility as well. 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 limited accessibility.
- Improving physical accessibility for persons with 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, accessible building entrances, etc., across campus.
- Optimizing AccessAbility Services specifically, registration, communication of responsibilities, and advisor training.
- Continue learning about the barriers people with learning and physical disabilities experience daily.
Another recent effort to increase campus accessibility is in The Committee on Access and Disability (CAD), established in Fall 2021. This association serves as an intermediary between persons with disabilities and people looking for informed advice and resources about accessibility and disabilities.
The CAD advises on all matters related to access, disability, and being a welcoming community and advocate for students with disabilities at the University of Waterloo. The CAD also generates meaningful improvements to the experience of undergraduate students with disabilities. Learn more about the Committee on Access and Disability, as well as their policies and opportunities to participate in their activities!
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 the University of Waterloo that highlights the ableism in the “return to campus plan”. This brings attention to the specific barriers that students with mental and physical disabilities currently face at UWaterloo.
- WUSA has written a letter to MPP, Laura Mae Lindo, informing provincial leaders in higher education about the needs of students with disabilities, 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.
Finally, WUSA recognizes that a lot more work must be done in schools, governments, and society in general to ensure students with disabilities and their accessibility requirements are met at the planning and policy level to ensure no student gets left behind.