5 Tips for Post-Secondary Institutions Starting an Accessibility Committee
Under the new Accessible British Columbia Act (2021) post-secondary institutions in British Columbia are required to establish an accessibility plan, public feedback mechanism, and an accessibility committee by September 1, 2023. Given how institutions tend to slow down in the spring/summer months, your organization will need to make this a priority now.
As a former Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Project Manager at a large Ontario College and currently an accessibility consultant supporting other post-secondary institutions, I’m familiar with the challenges of setting up an accessibility committee. As a member of Ontario’s PSE Standards Development Committee, I’ve pulled these suggestions from the proposed postsecondary education standards – final recommendations report 2022 (Ontario.ca. 25, April 2022) and my experience to help you set up your accessibility committee.
The goal of an accessibility committee is to identify barriers to students, staff, faculty, and guests when they are interacting with our postsecondary institution. We want them to be able to navigate our university or college in a way that is transparent and seamless. Making our institution their academic destination of choice.
Once the barriers have been identified, the accessibility committee will then advise the institution on how to remove and prevent the barriers.
Here are 5 tips to help you get started putting together an accessibility committee:
1. Select a Chair
The accessibility committee chair should be an individual who:
- Has content knowledge in disability and intersectionality.
- Has lived experience of disability.
2. Select Committee Members
There is no required number, but your accessibility committee should aim for the following representation:
- 50% of the members should be students, faculty, and staff with diverse lived experiences of disability.
- They should represent the diversity of persons with disabilities in BC.
- At least one member of the committee should be an Indigenous person.
- Include members from diverse areas of the institution (i.e., HR, Office for Students with Disabilities, Human Rights, Facilities, Centres for Teaching and Learning, Libraries, Student Life, IT, etc.).
It is important that committee members receive a fair compensation for their committee work. An honorarium is usually provided to students, while faculty and staff have the committee added to their responsibilities.
3. Provide Goals
The post-secondary senior management team will provide the committee with:
- Clear goals, action plans, information, and resources.
- Opportunities to meaningfully engage throughout the entire planning and design processes.
- Opportunities that enable them to give meaningful input.
4. Meet & Report
In the beginning, the committee may wish to meet more frequently; however, they should meet a minimum of twice annually. September & January tend to be busy months, so it’s recommended that the committee meet each October and February.
The committee should report to a senior executive leader. The senior leader will then be responsible for providing updates to senior leadership and conveying key commitments across the organization.
5. Encourage Innovation
Accessibility efforts should be proactive, rather than reactive and innovation should be celebrated and encouraged. It is important to emphasize that there is a shared responsibility for accessibility across all members of an institution.
Students, staff, faculty, and guests will thrive in a postsecondary institution that recognizes disability as a critical aspect of diversity and intersectionality. An effective accessibility committee is the first step in ensuring your post-secondary institution is usable for all.
Jennifer Curry Jahnke is a member of Ontario’s PSE Education Standards Development & Technical Committees and the Accessible Canada Act’s Information & Communications Technology Committee. She is a College faculty member, applied researcher and former AODA project manager, and the Principal Educator with AccessibilityConsulting.ca.