Group focuses on creating more inclusive workplace

Group focuses on creating more inclusive workplace

January 14, 2013


Robin Westland finds it unsettling that it’s not easy on Queen’s campus to track down a teaching assistant (TA) with a disability or accessibility needs.

“I think there is something wrong with the fact that I can’t find, except for one or two students, any TAs around that self-identify as having a disability,” says Ms Westland, who is the equity commissioner for the Society for Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS). “This makes me wonder if they are less likely to seek TA-ships or if there are just not that many students with disabilities, although I think there are quite a few.”

Ms Westland, a TA herself in the geography department, says recruiting and hiring more persons with disabilities would make people more aware of accessibility issues and make Queen’s a more enriching environment. It would also be an incredible example for the university to set for students.

A working group recently formed to support Queen’s accessibility framework is focused on attracting and retaining more faculty, staff and student employees with disabilities. The group, led by Heather Shields, Senior Labour Relations Advisor in the Employee/Labour Relations Unit within Human Resources (HR), includes representatives from the Equity Office, Environmental Health and Safety, and HR.

The working group aims to make Queen’s a more inclusive workplace that puts accessibility front and centre. The members are looking for ways to make the university more attractive to candidates with disabilities as part of a larger university framework to improve accessibility on campus.

“We want all candidates to have the same opportunities,” says Ms Shields. “We don’t want to lose a great candidate because of an accessibility issue we didn’t identify. Certain notifications need to be part of the recruitment and hiring processes, advising people of the availability of appropriate accommodation.”

The process to make Queen’s a more inclusive workplace also includes a new service launching soon for staff and faculty who require assistance during emergencies. Environmental Health and Safety will work with individuals who have identified they have a disability requiring accommodation to create an emergency response plan. That plan will address barriers that could impede their safety in emergency situations. More information will be communicated in the coming weeks.

This article is part of a series about Queen’s University’s five accessibility working groups. These groups are seeking to improve accessibility on campus through the Queen’s accessibility framework, which was approved in December 2011. The framework addresses the Ontario government’s Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation, which mandates that all public institutions be fully accessible by 2025.