Celebrating All Students: Results from Accessibility Analysis of Convocation

Convocation Hall, University of Toronto

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Project Primer: The Student Life Strategy Project

Sujaya Devi, Design Thinking Team Lead

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”

Project Primer: Data Analysis

Danielle Baillargeon, Data Analysis Team Lead

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”

Spotlight: What Do We Mean When We Talk About Community?

Social and Cultural Community at First Nations House

Charis Lam – Design Research Events Lead

Written by Charis Lam – Design Research Events Lead

In search of factors driving student engagement, First Nations House partnered with the Innovation Hub in summer 2018 to ask: what causes students and staff to engage and connect with First Nations House? Among the factors identified—including assistance with scholarships and housing, personal relationships to staff members. and access to the resource centre—cultural and social programming emerged as a need strongly felt by students. Thus, First Nations House and the Innovation Hub renewed their partnership to investigate what sorts of social and cultural programming students want. Continue reading “Spotlight: What Do We Mean When We Talk About Community?”

The Innovation Hub is Hiring for Summer Work-Study Positions!

By Kaitlyn Corlett, Project Assistant and Julia Smeed, Innovation Hub Projects Officer

Kaitlyn CorlettPhoto of Julia

Now that the winter term is coming to a close, it’s time to consider some exciting opportunities at the Innovation Hub for the summer 2019 term. The Innovation Hub offering a wide range of work-study positions open to all students who meet the eligibility requirements. These positions offer opportunities to work with various areas at the University of Toronto in team-oriented environments that are supported by innovative, design-thinking practices.

Continue reading “The Innovation Hub is Hiring for Summer Work-Study Positions!”

What is Design Thinking?

What is Design Thinking?

By AlexHeadshot of woman with blonde curly hair in a blue dressandra Rodney, Student Innovation Leader, Operations Team

In September I introduced you to the Innovation Hub project and explained how we are working on developing innovative solutions to improve the student experience at the University of Toronto. In this post I’ll describe the method we are using to innovate. At the Innovation Hub we are using a “design thinking” approach. This approach has its roots at IDEO, David Kelley’s global design firm, where techniques used to design products were applied to the design of organizational operations and services. You may not have heard of IDEO but you’ve likely been in contact with their design innovations. Among other things that IDEO has patents on are the Apple mouse, laptop computer hinges, and the stand-up toothpaste bottle. Continue reading “What is Design Thinking?”