By Emma Beaulieu, Domain Team Member, Access for Every Student Domain
It’s a more complicated question than it sounds. I’m an occupational therapy student, and accessibility is a big part of my chosen profession. Occupational therapy is all about helping people do the things they need to do, want to do, or are expected to do, and for that you need access to resources. In the most basic sense, that can mean putting ramps outside buildings so people using wheelchairs can get inside, or making “handicapped” spaces in parking lots. But that’s far from enough. Being a student involves a lot more than physically getting to school.
Consider what it takes for one student to go to class. You need to navigate websites to enroll, and that isn’t easy for everyone. You need to pay tuition, which for many of us means working our way through the labyrinth that is the financial aid system. To go to a lecture you have to find it first, and who among us can say they’ve never gotten lost on a U of T campus? If you have a mobility issue that prevents you from using stairs, your path might be even more indirect as you hunt down walkways and building entrances that work for you. Once you get to the classroom, is the information presented in a way you can process and understand? And what about participating? What about homework?
We like to think the University of Toronto is accepting of diversity, but for people with marginalized identities there can be barriers to participation everywhere. Cultural differences. Country of origin. Language. Disability. Mental health. Discrimination. Finances. Gender identity. Sexuality. Neurocognitive differences. Family responsibilities. Stigma. It’s different for everyone, but no student has it easy.
Here’s the good news: U of T has some wonderful services to support students with various challenges they face. I’m a student with a disability myself, and in my experience some of these services are game-changers. I’m pretty lucky. Despite all the resources out there, many students don’t get the support they need. The Access For Every Student Domain aims to find out why, and design solutions to give every one of us the opportunity to participate.