Grad tackles accessibility and inclusion issues

Like many teenagers, Katrina Summers had finished high school without a clue as to what she wanted to do with her life. After a long stint of travel, as far afield as Kenya and Indonesia, she returned home to Victoria with one goal in mind.

“I wanted to make the world a better place,” she says, chuckling at her own lofty youthful ambition.

Today, Katrina is in fact getting a chance to improve the world, or at least our corner of it, through her role at the B.C. Ministry of Citizens’ Services. According to her job title, she works on web content strategy—but her passion lies in educating the government on ways to become more accessible and inclusive. It all started, she says, with the practicum project she completed in SFU’s Dialogue and Civic Engagement Certificate program.

When Katrina originally joined the program, she’d been working on a centralized government team that supports all ministries involved in public engagement. A colleague recommended the SFU program to her and she signed up, hoping it would help her to engage the public more creatively and reach more diverse crowds.

For her practicum project, she decided to evaluate a recent public engagement process, the one created for the re-establishment of the B.C. Human Rights Commission in 2019. After sending a survey to participants asking for feedback, she was surprised by the failing grade the government received when it came to accessibility.

“It was particularly clear that persons with disabilities were not happy with the process,” she recalls. “We needed a change.”

Katrina assembled the working group that was to build the government’s accessibility and inclusion toolkit. The online toolkit now provides guidelines for all public servants to ensure they stay mindful of accessibility issues, whether they’re producing documents or web content, or hosting events and meetings.

“There’s always more to learn,” she notes. “You’re never going to have full accessibility, but we’ll always be working towards it, because there will always be new technologies or new best practices, or things that we’ll discover won’t work for some people.”

Katrina admits she’s encountered some resistance in her work. “Some people think, ‘That’s a really small population, so why do I have to cater to them?’” Yet she’s seeing progress, she says, noting a growing interest in accessibility issues amongst colleagues across the government, who increasingly turn to her for advice.

Although Katrina no longer works directly in public engagement, she says her training at SFU has been extremely useful: “Dialogue and civic engagement is relevant to any job. It’s important to engage with stakeholders in your work, and it’s important to listen well and know how other people are feeling. There are so many skills that the training gives you that are important to any job.”

What Katrina learned from the program has led her on a new path where she engages with the stakeholders who are impacted by the work she does.

“The thing that matters, whatever job I’m doing, is that I’m having an impact and making a difference for people,” she says. “That’s the holy grail for me.”

Katrina may have just found her holy grail.

By Kim Mah