Disability Affinity Group gives space for faculty and staff with disabilities to fight ableism

Dr. Jennifer Gagnon and the UBC Equity & Inclusion Office (EIO) have launched the Disability Affinity Group to provide a support space for faculty and staff with disabilities.

In an email, Gagnon, a lecturer in the political science department, said there was an unfilled niche for faculty and staff with disabilities on campus.

“I found that there was very few support at UBC for faculty and staff with disabilities,” she said. “Of the support that was present, it was often very difficult to discover and even harder to access — especially for those of us on precarious employment contracts.”

According to a 2017 Statistics Canada survey, approximately one in five of all working Canadians identify as having a disability. The EIO found in 2019 that 3.7 per cent of UBC faculty and staff identify as disabled, but Gagnon was skeptical of that data.

“I do not believe this figure,” said Gagnon. “Rather, only 3 per cent feel safe enough to disclose their status as disabled.”

She said she has felt “vulnerable” while advocating to the university for herself as a disabled person. In the long term, Gagnon intends to have the group as a space for disabled individuals to convene and build community.

Gagnon runs the group in partnership with the EIO, but the office did not return requests for comment. However, Gagnon said EIO staff have been “incredible allies.”

Thus far, the group is still figuring out its meeting frequency and coming up with creative ways to connect the disabled community asynchronously and accommodate individual needs.

COVID-19 had a negative impact on people with disabilities. A majority of disabled Canadians reported that their mental health has declined during the pandemic and 77 per cent said that they did not receive needed therapy or services for their condition.

Since the group’s first meeting a week ago, the Disability Affinity Group is gaining traction. Gagnon also hopes for a similar group for undergraduate and graduate students in the future.

“I was blown away by how many people attended our first meeting or reached out to express interest in joining and supporting the group,” said Gagnon.

“There’s a real desire to name ableism at UBC and commit to the hard work of truly making our campus accessible and inclusive for disabled folks.”