In the second session of Stories Through Research, we explored Universal Design at the University of Toronto and how we can break down barriers at UofT by centering students with disabilities. By understanding accessibility and equity in context at UofT, along with how interconnected this is with Universal Design, all of us can begin exploring how to make a difference in our contexts and reducing barriers in the student experience.
What We Learned:
Centering students with disabilities benefits everyone’s learning. The current barriers that students face in their learning and in seeking accessibility support are rooted in the current university-wide approach. This approach makes accessibility a secondary matter as opposed to building it centrally into university design. We found this key finding in three themes:
- Learning about Diverse Needs: Where students, as well as staff and instructors, are learning about students’ different abilities and their specific needs. This learning process includes complex challenges, such as understanding what makes up a disability, how disability intersects with identity, and what are student needs.
- Learning about Barriers: How Students face persistent barriers on campus regarding their accessibility needs. These barriers exist in the classroom, on campus, while commuting, and navigating university life more broadly.
- Learning about Support: Understanding that students want to succeed in their studies without feeling like they require help or special treatment. However, for many at UofT, the experience is more about trying to survive.
Universal Design at UofT aims to center all students, thereby creating an inclusive, accessible, and equitable environment that works for all. Through additional insights and principles, which are available in the provided report, we can all design in impactful ways by embracing the diversity, the lived experiences, and modes to support one another. We acknowledge that the Universal Design Principles that we have provided also might look different depending on the space and place in the community, so each principle includes guiding points that aim to inspire next steps based on the context.
Through this work, we aim to continue these important conversations with our projects, partners, students, and unique contexts at UofT. For any questions, support, or further dialogue about Universal Design at the University of Toronto, you may reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last-minute registration is still available for our remaining Stories Through Research sessions!