Accessibility in the classroom
University students encounter barriers that may inhibit their learning in the classroom every day, whether it may be that their professor speaks with their back to the class or that they fail to post slides prior to lecture. Many students believe these small annoyances are things they have to deal with; however, change is in the making at Wilfrid Laurier University as the university takes steps to create more accessible classrooms.
In accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), students will hopefully notice a difference over the course of the next year as faculty training incites.
The larger aim of the AODA is to create a barrier free Ontario by 2025. The legislation took effect in Ontario in 2005 and the university has been complying with requirements since then. This year, the
Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation (IASR) is requiring that all broader public sector organizations — which include the university — have to provide training to their educators on creating accessible classrooms.
“This year faculty will start to see a lot more training offered to them,” explained Lynn Kane, employment equity and AODA officer.
One aspect of this training is a video project that Kane is spearheading.
“The idea behind that is to get faculty who are already doing a really good job of teaching with accessibility principles in mind, and profile them to see what they’re doing,” she explained. “Then use those videos in different training materials as needed.”
Kane postulated that they may be used in training sessions or on a website for faculty to access.
The Accessible Learning Centre (ALC) is working in partnership with Kane to assist in the project by recommending professors as well as students who are registered with them and will be featured in video profiles as well.
Gwen Page, associate director of the ALC, articulated that the new integrated standards “really help to move [the ALC’s] work forward” as the centre’s mandate is to ensure students who have disabilities, needs or accommodations receive the assistance they require.
“It really does support our mandate,” said Page. “It can continue to benefit students that are registered with us, but it can also benefit all students.”
Page went on to express her hope that these requirements will be embraced to “create a solid community practice around these issues.”
Kane reiterated this, saying that her hope is that accessibility in the classroom will be discussed more openly. She commented on an entry in the Dear Life section of The Cord’s last issue in which a student expressed their frustration that their professor didn’t believe they had a mental health issue.
“I’m hoping that the disbelief or lack of awareness towards mental health issues will no longer be a problem,” concluded Kane. “That professors will be more aware of what is out there.”