Written by Alex, Design Research Team Lead, AODA Convocation
In Summer 2019, we began a partnership with UofT’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Office to investigate the accessibility of Convocation. This project followed the Governing Council’s 2018–2019 Convocation review and worked to identify the real and perceived barriers to participating in the ceremony for students with lived experience of disability. By identifying the barriers that remain, we could recommend short, medium, and long-term steps to enhance Convocation accessibility.
For this project, we attended ceremonies ourselves and conducted hour-long interviews with thirteen students. From our observations and their experiences, we identified five recurring themes in students’ interactions with the Convocation process: communication, community, support, self-advocacy, and adaptability.
Communication: Incomplete communication was a barrier: the extent of accessibility services actually available did not match the information received by most students. Thus, students who spoke directly with a staff member were often impressed with the offered services, whereas those who did not connect directly with anyone reported a lack of communication about accessibility at Convocation.
Community: The Convocation ceremony is a celebration of academic success; all of UofT’s diverse graduates should feel as if they belong with the celebrating community. To establish this sense of belonging, each student’s unique experience should be kept in mind. If the free movement of every individual is supported by the physical environment, feelings of isolation will be reduced.
Support: Support isn’t limited to providing physical accommodations. Graduating students also want to feel supported by speaking directly to someone from Accessibility Services and having their privacy maintained. This direct contact allows for accommodations to be tailored to each student’s needs.
Self-advocacy: Some students feel comfortable self-advocating for such accommodations, whereas others struggle with advocating on their own behalf. This creates an inconsistent experience among the student body, with some feeling empowered and others feeling challenged. By integrating the most requested accommodations into the ceremony structure, the amount of self-advocating that students with accessibility needs must do will diminish.
Adaptability: Students want a ceremony that can adapt to suit different conditions. They requested flexibility in how the ceremony is held, in how and how much students can choose to participate, and in how students can be accommodated both before and on the day of the ceremony.
This work offers useful guidelines for improving accessibility at Convocation, but the findings also have relevance to other aspects of university life. Based on our data, we offered a few short-term, high-impact recommendations: giving students a guided video tour of the ceremony, providing a Convocation checklist months in advance, listing available physical accommodations, and collecting feedback from students after the process. We hope that these findings inspire the Convocation team and other university professionals designing student amenities.
In the View from the Inside series, we take you into the work of the Innovation Hub as seen by its members. Our students share their experience with our team and what they’ve learned so far.
This week, we hear from Eric Hanson, Design Research Assistant. Eric recently graduated with a Bachelor of Design from OCAD University and came to the University of Toronto, where he started a Master of Information and joined the Innovation Hub.
Whether we’re engineers, doctors, professors, or students, design influences how we do our jobs, how we communicate with others, and how the world communicates with us. As a designer coming from a Bachelor of Design degree at OCAD University and starting a Master of Information degree at the University of Toronto, I understand the importance of human-centred design and design thinking in redefining our experience in today’s disruptive and innovative society. Empathy and social innovation were cornerstones of my undergraduate work, and coming to the University of Toronto is an exciting opportunity to see how a larger institution can use design thinking to improve the university experience and the way it serves its students. Continue reading “View from the Inside: Innovation Hub Orientation”
The cornerstone of our approach at the Innovation Hub is “students talking to other students.” We believe that peers relate to each other more openly and advocate for each other more strongly and that peer-based support both provides comfort and leads to change. This belief invigorates all our projects, including our upcoming partnership with the Presidential and Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, in which we are leading student consultations to gather perspectives about mental health on campus. While I, as a staff member, am coordinating this project, students are co-leading the initiative with me. Continue reading “Gathering Student Voices on Mental Health”
At the Innovation Hub, we are what we do. We commit ourselves to community growth through prototyping and iteration, not only in the design projects we take on, but also in designing our own work processes. By being responsive to the changing needs of the community—both internally, within our own team, and externally, with our project partners—we continually improve our practices. Continue reading “The Innovation Hub: Our Vision for 2019–20”
How do students understand and navigate the University’s programs and services? How might students become active participants in the process that the Division of Student Life uses to design and redesign programs, services, resources, and spaces? What could meaningful student engagement look like in this process? Continue reading “Project Primer: The Student Life Strategy Project”
The Innovation Hub is looking for committed volunteers who are interested in improving campus life by joining our Design Thinking Experience Program in 2019-2020. If you’re keen to join a high-performing team learning design thinking while working with a campus partner on a challenge/issue that impacts the UofT student experience, we’d love to have you join us!
What happens to all the interviews and data that the Innovation Hub collects? Over the past three years, over 450 students and staff have shared their experiences with our teams. We are honoured that so many were willing to entrust us with their stories and experiences, which helped us identify their needs, suggest and prototype services and supports, and contribute to substantive changes at U of T through over a dozen collaborative projects. The interviews and feedback we receive are the basis from which we advocate for change in all our collaborations, including the New College Dining Hall redesign, the Family Care Office projects, and the classroom redesign under the Transforming the Instructional Landscape Project. Continue reading “Project Primer: Data Analysis”
As we look forward to the new school year, the Innovation Hub is excited to assemble a team for our upcoming and continuing projects. We want to offer our potential team members the opportunity to both contribute to the university and learn new skills: we’re looking for dedicated students who are interested in improving campus life by focusing on student needs, and we’re also offering those students training and hands-on practice in human-centred design. We hope to put together a diverse team that enjoys the challenges of our work!
In the Transforming the Instructional Landscape (TIL) project, we try to understand what makes a classroom work as a productive learning environment. As this work has progressed, it has expanded to include many perspectives: we started by focusing on the student experience, but came to realize that student experiences are entangled with the experiences of other people who spend time in and around classrooms, and with the spaces and things that promote learning. Continue reading “Project Primer: Transforming the Instructional Landscape”