Moving from accommodation to accessibility
There is a difference between accommodating a person with a disability and having programs and practices in place that enhance accessibility. At Queen’s, members of the Queen’s Accessibility Committee, AMS, SGPS, Disability Services Office and Equity Office are working toward ensuring that accessibility becomes the norm.
“Accommodating means taking an existing way of doing something and adding components that give more people of differing abilities the chance to access that thing,” says Kalanthe Khaiat, SGPS Equity Coordinator. “Accessibility is something that starts in the planning stages so that there’s less of a sense of creating an exception for the sake of making that opportunity available. Rather, the inherent design is such that everyone comes to it with an equal opportunity.”
The move towards complete accessibility at Queen’s is an ongoing process. An example is the steep staircase that used to be the entrance to Douglas Library, which was removed in order to accommodate students with disabilities. When Stauffer Library was completed in 1994, it had wide ground-level entrances that were accessible to everyone. More recent construction projects have followed suit.
“We still accommodate people when they encounter barriers, but at the same time, we’re trying to be more proactive,” says Barbara Roberts, Disability Services Advisor. “It’s a whole way of thinking that’s going to shift the paradigm from being reactively inclusive to being proactively inclusive.”
Being proactively inclusive is not just limited to physical spaces on campus; it also includes thinking about the design of courses and curricula.
“Accommodation in that case would mean a student getting extra time to do a test, while an accessible pedagogical strategy would involve so much more than that,” says Ms Khaiat. “Just by getting more time, an individual isn’t getting an equal chance to do well. There has to be an educational model that takes that into account.”