Disabled UBC students, faculty co-leading national campaign on accessibility at post-secondary institutions

Disabled UBC students, faculty and staff are co-leading a national campaign for more accessible course formats and disability-friendly policies at Canadian post-secondary institutions.

The student-run Disabilities United Collective (DUC) and Disabled Graduate Student Association (DGSA) and faculty- and staff-led Disability Affinity Group (DAG) announced the launch of the #Access4All campaign in a press release on Tuesday evening

They are joined by campus groups at UVic, SFU and Emily Carr University.

“While many institutions claim to uphold values of equity and inclusivity, the current reliance on in-person-only lectures, restrictive learning designs, and outdated policies still disproportionately disadvantages populations including d/Disabled, neurodivergent, parenting, international, and low-income students,” the release reads.

The campaign also launched an online petition. At the time of publishing, there were 93 signatures.

The National Educational Association of Disabled Students and BC Post-Secondary Disabled Alliance have also voiced their support for the campaign.

DUC VP Internal Josh Bradbury, a second-year political science student, said the UVic Society for Students with a Disability started the campaign “many months ago.”

He added that although the campaign is focused on national change, the leading groups are currently focused on BC in particular with the upcoming lobby week — an annual period where student unions and groups advocate for support on various issues to the provincial government.

In the press release, the campaign separated its calls to action in two groups: ones focused on course delivery and others on university policies.

In terms of course delivery actions, #Access4All called on post-secondary institutions to promote multi-access (online and hybrid) courses; integrate Universal Design Learning (UDL); increase technological and TA support for professors; and host training sessions for faculty on accessible teaching formats.

When it comes to university policy, the campaign wants post-secondary institutions to create a Disability Task Force — something UBC groups have been calling for for years — allow flexible attendance policies and improve accommodations for students, faculty and staff.

The task force would centre disabled voices and have a wider mandate than the existing committee.

‘UBC can and should provide accessible learning formats’

In a separate, UBC-specific letter, the DUC and DAG said the university was not meeting its commitments under the Inclusion Action Plan to support disabled students and those who require additional support.

The groups added that UBC demonstrated an ability to provide more accessible course formats during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“UBC can and should provide accessible learning formats. It is an essential step towards embodying the inclusive values of our school,” the DUC and DAG wrote.

The letter outlined nine recommendations specific to the UBC, ranging from offering all courses — including labs and tutorials — in a UDL-informed, multi-access manner[,] to the university joining lobbying efforts to the provincial government to get more support for disabled community members.

Matthew Ramsey, director of media affairs at UBC Media Relations, said providing an accessible environment at UBC is a priority in a statement sent to The Ubyssey. He added that the university is investing in this issue, mentioning the recently-formed Accessibility Committee and an upcoming accessibility plan, similar to UBC’s Strategic Equity and Anti-Racism Framework.

“The letter from the DUC and DAG raises concerns and offers suggestions that will certainly be brought to the Accessibility Committee for their review and consideration alongside other feedback that may be collected,” Ramsey wrote.

According to Bradbury, all the recommendations should be enacted through a Disability Task Force, not the Accessibility Committee. He said the committee was not the most effective body to enact the campaign’s changes.

Notably, the Accessibility Committee’s Terms of Reference were initially drafted without input from disabled groups on campus.

The DAG and DUC also hope to meet with Interim President Deborah Buszard and VP Students Ainsley Carry, Bradbury added.

The AMS has endorsed the campaign, with AMS Associate VP External Erin Strachan writing in a statement to The Ubyssey that the campaign has “unwavering support” from the student society.

In a statement sent to The Ubyssey, Dr. Jennifer Gagnon, president of The DAG, said the group sees the #Access4All campaign as a necessary step in bringing equity to UBC and other Canadian post-secondary institutions.

“It is time for UBC to support Disabled folks in leading efforts to address ableism and systemic discrimination faced by Disabled members of the UBC community, instead of defending these ableist barriers, policies, and practices.”