New Accessibility Committee addresses barriers in the SFU experience

February 07, 2024
Photo ID: A study area at SFU's Harbour Centre campus. There are two red couches, each with a moveable table. A mural behind the couches depicts abstract black brush marks on a white background, resembling trees, with the words "ready", "unconventional" and "fearless" in red neon lights.

When renovating this study area at Harbour Centre, accessibility was one of the core principles of the project team. Deliberate, proactive design is one of the values shared by SFU's new Accessibility Committee co-chairs.

In response to provincial legislation, SFU has launched a new Accessibility Committee.

The Accessible BC Act, passed in 2022, mandates that public sector organizations establish a committee, plan and feedback system to address accessibility within their organizations.

“This legislation is important because it legitimizes our commitment to accessibility in a tangible way. It emphasizes disability and neurodivergence as a consideration amongst equity-deserving groups,” says Sean Heaslip, co-chair of SFU’s Accessibility Committee and a counsellor at the university. “I think there are a lot of equity-deserving groups who in the past ten years or so have made really important strides, and it's been difficult to see disability often left behind. I think that was really highlighted during COVID. This feels like a monumental moment in the sense that accessibility is front and centre and official.”

“The legislation provides a framework for the path forward,” adds Jennifer Sanguinetti, who is also co-chair as well as associate vice-president, facilities and campus planning. “For SFU, it gives us a little bit more rigor and opportunity to better engage with the community, to make sure that we're structuring the conversations around accessibility to be broader and deeper. I think that is really key.”

The first Accessibility Committee at SFU is comprised of representatives from faculty, students staff and alumni, who responded to an open call for expressions of interest.

“We are excited to see this work move forward,” says Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, vice president people, equity and inclusion and committee executive sponsor. “Creating formal structures for respect, inclusion and belonging is a strategic goal of SFU’s Equity Compass, and this committee directly addresses related action items.”

The committee will stand for a period of three years, during which it will support, facilitate and advise on improving accessibility at the university. As part of this work, the committee will develop an Accessibility Action Plan (guided by SFU’s Equity Compass) to address barriers for people with disabilities who work, live, teach and learn at SFU.

“I think the biggest thing the Accessibility Action Plan will give us is the opportunity to be more strategic,” says Sanguinetti. “The committee will enable more formal engagement pathways so our work is less reactive.”

As a recent example, the committee got involved with the upcoming Burnaby Mountain Gondola project. When Translink approached SFU to conduct consultation on their accessibility plans, the committee was ready as an established group. “We were then more confident that we would have the right people in the room for that dialogue,” says Sanguinetti. “We’re making more deliberate and strategic steps as we design something that can really fundamentally change the campus experience.”

An SFU experience deliberately designed for all is important to both chairs in their work.

“We need to recognize the breadth of the community that needs access,” says Sanguinetti. “There's a lot to think about and when the majority of the campus was designed and built, it was not on the designer's radar.”

“Belonging is the key word,” says Heaslip. “During my PhD internship at SFU Health and Counselling, I wrote my advocacy project. One of the documents I referenced was the 2018 EDI Initiative report, which found that the two groups at SFU that experienced the least sense of belonging on campus were non-binary students and students with disabilities.”

“The ideal would be that people are able to experience whatever it is that they come to whichever campus to do, whether it's learn or teach or work, in a seamless way, meaning everyone has opportunity without hindrance of systemic or physical barriers,” says Sanguinetti.

Heaslip aspires to create a stronger culture of belonging for people with disabilities at SFU. “Beyond a medical model attitude toward disability where disability is a problem for the norms of the institutions functioning, and services exist to help those who aren't within those norms, I would really like to see more spaces that offer places for community and programming,” he says. “I want to honor the valuable work of SFU’s student-run Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance but I would also like to see more spaces for people with disabilities put forth by the university. I'm very inspired by how the Indigenous Student Centre functions to support that community–if I were to dream really big, I think it would be something similar.”

“We have to hold a really high aspirational target as the one that we're shooting for,” says Sanguinetti. “We can’t be complacent.”

Currently, the committee seeks feedback from the community on barriers to accessibility at the university. Share your experience and contribute your opinion online:


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