A few weeks ago I went for breakfast at my favourite diner (this post is not #sponsored), and while waiting to be seated, I saw something behind the counter that caught my attention: their policy on providing accessible service. We had slept in that morning and were caught in the rush of a busy Sunday morning, which gave me a few minutes to scan the document from where we waited.
I was struck by how simple and matter-of-factly they had laid out how to create an accessible environment for all customers, and by how closely many of their practices aligned with OUSA’s stance on accessible postsecondary education. My biggest takeaway, though, was how every practice they had implemented to make their environment more accessible could easily be adopted by every single one of us. We can make great strides towards a more accessible post-secondary system by just reframing how we interact with one another.
This is not to say that we should not be working on structural changes to support student access to accommodations, or that we don’t need to invest in accessibility services, student support programming, and the built environment — we absolutely must do all of this. These are all incredibly important and necessary elements in removing barriers for all students. But as we continue to advocate for barrier-free environments and supports for students, we also need to think about how we can contribute to a more accessible campus climate in our everyday interactions.
This can be as simple as incorporating practices into the classroom that provide a basic level of accessibility from the outset, rather than waiting until a student discloses or makes a request for a simple accommodation. For example, reading any text being referenced or discussed, in addition to showing it on a screen, helps ensure that all students can follow along with a lesson. Another example is showing compassion and empathy if a student does disclose a need for accommodations. It doesn’t take much to show students that you support them and want them to succeed. Unfortunately, ableist attitudes persist and students are often met with defensive or hostile reactions to accommodation requests. These simple practices and attitude shifts cost nothing, and they support the more systemic work that needs to be done to make postsecondary education more accessible.
If you’d like to learn more about the broader structural changes OUSA is advocating for to improve accessibility of post-secondary education in the province, read our policy paper on Student Accessibility and Disability Inclusion here. In the meantime, we should all be conscious of the small ways we can contribute to safe, supportive, and inclusive campuses so that all students have the opportunity to thrive.
There’s a lot going on with post-secondary education in the province, and students face a range of issues beyond the classroom. But students also have solutions – recommendations that will bring us closer to accessible, affordable, accountable, and high-quality education for all. That’s why each month we’re highlighting key issues and priorities for students in Ontario with this blog series based on OUSA’s priorities and policy library.