Becoming accessible

The Ontario provincial government introduced the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005, meant to usher in a new era of equality for those with cognitive and physical disabilities.

The ultimate goal of AODA is to make Ontario completely accessible for individuals with disabilities by 2025. Wilfrid Laurier University and other institutions have until Jan. 1, 2012 to comply with what the Act requires.

Rather than simply meet AODA regulations, Laurier has attempted to maximize accessibility across campus, according to Laurier’s assistant VP of human resources, Allison Rawn. She explained that the university is “concerned with getting at the spirit of the legislation.”

During the Nov. 25 board of governors meeting, Laurier’s 2010-2011 accessibility plan was introduced and subsequently approved. The plan contains a detailed list of improvements to accessibility that have been made, as well as recommendations for further improvements.

Dana Gillett, WLU’s employment equity and AODA officer, described the annual report as “a great way of understanding how much work has been done so far and how much work we have to do.”

The report focuses on all areas of university operations, including removing physical barriers to accessibility, customer service standards, employment standards and information and communication standards.

While many of the improvements are made in order to comply with AODA regulations, Gillett emphasized, “Numerous initiatives have been championed through people with disabilities.”

This year’s plan makes mention of several physical alterations that have either been made or are in the process of being made around Laurier’s facilities including washroom accessibility upgrades in several academic buildings.

Upgrades to life safety systems such as sprinklers and fire alarms in numerous academic and residence buildings are also underway.

Rawn noted, “Improved signage on campus would be an important initiative for Laurier in the future.” As well, a ramp is being designed and built for the Northdale campus and automatic doors are being installed in the Fred Nichols Campus Centre and MacDonald House in the next year.

Perhaps the most significant initiative that the accessibility committee has undertaken in the last year, and will continue to address in the coming months, pertains to new customer service standards.

These regulations, passed in February, are meant to ensure that anyone working with persons who have cognitive or physical disabilities is able to meet the needs of those individuals.

Gillet, who described the training as “ongoing,” has already trained all Laurier residence life staff, icebreakers and members of WLUSU; approximately 1,600 people in total.

The hour-long training sessions, Gillett explained, “Address the do’s and dont’s of working with different individuals, using case scenarios that are unique to specific environments.”

In 2011, Gillett hopes to finish training Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications staff as well as faculty members in order to meet AODA requirements.

Rawn has been impressed with what Gillett and Adam Lawrence, manager of Laurier’s diversity and equity office, have achieved thus far. She explained that the focus on actually engaging members of the university community in order to help make campus more accessible was seen as important.

“We could have fulfilled the customer service obligation through an online tool, but we asked ourselves, would that actually change the culture here at Laurier?”