Building a culture of equity and inclusion at Burnaby campus
“How people access and interact with the built environment can have such an impact on how people feel,” says Krystal Ness, manager of client services within SFU Facilities Services. As part of the facilities’ Respect, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Committee, Ness has worked on improvement projects to enhance access and inclusion at the university.
In response to the formation of SFU’s EDI Advisory Council, SFU Facilities Services sought to form their own department-specific working group. The REDI Committee was created with a small but mighty team of five staff – Ness, alongside Meghan Di Bello, Taj Kahlon, Wendy Lee and Michelle Lin.
“We wanted to get a head start and position ourselves as a resource the council could rely on for any issues regarding SFU’s built environment,” says Ness. “If the council had questions or concerns, we would already be an established group they could contact and direct inquiries to.”
Through community partnerships with groups such as the EDI Advisory Council, the Centre for Accessible Learning and the Multifaith Centre, as well as training with the Rick Hansen Foundation, the REDI Committee has been able to identify shortcomings and areas for improvement in SFU’s buildings and infrastructure, says Ness. In the future, they hope to engage the broader SFU community to create and implement an EDI Improvement Plan.
For their work, the team was a finalist for the Pacific Coast chapter of APPA, Leadership in Educational Facilities’ Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award, presented earlier this year.
“Now when I walk around, being a part of this committee and doing this training makes me look at things differently,” says Kahlon, a business systems analyst. “Inclusion and accessibility affects everyone on campus.”
Here are some highlights from their year:
There are unique challenges that come with working and learning on a mountain.
Using a geographic information system mapping tool, the facilities team walked every route east to west across Burnaby campus, choosing high traffic points such as bus loops and parking lots to begin their routes through the buildings. As they walked, they noted multiple elevation changes.
Noting inaccessible areas, such as stairs or narrow elevator spaces, for those operating a wheelchair or pushing a stroller, the team identified the most efficient accessible routes. They hope to publish these routes with an interactive map.
Identifying these key accessibility points also has helped the team to develop alternative solutions when these points require closure for maintenance and repair. With a building made of concrete, changing the infrastructure is not always possible or easy, so the team has come up with innovative ways of travelling through campus – such as a shuttle to bring students from the Transportation Centre to the AQ when the elevator is closed.
Accessible and inclusive signage
The REDI Committee’s work not only improves how we interact with our built environment, but how we understand it.
“We worked with a signage consultant who tried to keep things as universally designed as possible, so that anybody would understand what that symbol means,” says Ness. These universal design principles have been used for spaces like multifaith facilities and redesigned washrooms.
“There’s been a lot of debate regarding icons,” says Ness. When SFU began creating all-gender, single stall washrooms in 2015, finding an alternative to the traditional man and woman figures was difficult. While this project pre-dated the formation of the REDI team, Facilities staff including Lee used creativity and out-of-the-box thinking to discover a simpler solution.
“They realized they could take gender out of the conversation,” says Ness. “It doesn't need to be a person. It's just a toilet.” The new symbol illustrated the washroom’s purpose, usable by all. With this precedent, the REDI team continues to champion the philosophy of universal design across campus.
Setting a new standard
To supplement the provincial building code, the REDI team is working to amend SFU’s own design requirements based on their research and knowledge gained from partners. “We want to help prevent common issues from happening again and making sure that when we do renovate a space, we're making it as universal and accessible as possible,” says Ness.
An inclusive team culture
While working on improving access and inclusion for the university population, the team is also working on building a culture of inclusivity within their own department. Kahlon and Di Bello have collaborated with SFU Human Resources to develop a Canvas course for all facilities employees. The training encourages employees to think about accessibility in their work and instructs them on how to identify and report issues they observe in their day-to-day maintenance work. It also covers workplace topics such as equitable hiring, inclusive language and understanding microaggressions.
“It’s not necessarily always to do with the campus and physical projects,” says Kahlon, “It’s also building that culture where everyone feels welcome.”
To learn more about the Facilities REDI Team and their ongoing work, read their 2022 Biannual Report.