A common perception about disability is that it is visible and identifiable. Contrary to this perception, however, not every disability is visible, and often, it is a subject less spoken about.
At a time when raising disability awareness has become more important than ever before, and in response to feedback from individuals with disabilities in the UBC community, the university launched the Centre for Workplace Accessibility in April 2022. The creation of the centre has also been informed by the university’s Inclusion Action Plan.
The Centre for Workplace Accessibility is a central hub for resources, tools and programs to create inclusive workspaces for UBC faculty and staff with disabilities and medical conditions. Alex Baugh, Leah Watson and Michael Antunes are Workplace Accessibility Specialists and among the team’s founding members. Together, they share a strong desire for creating disability awareness at UBC as an important element of equity, diversity and inclusion.
As someone who identifies as a person with a disability, Leah recognizes that accessibility is essential. She says: “The work we do is particularly important in creating an inclusive experience for everyone.
“Our goals are to provide person-centred support and collaborate with departments to promote accessibility and increase disability inclusion literacy.”
Recognizing the importance of these conversations, Michael stresses that confidentiality is paramount while interacting with the centre. All conversations are confidential and others are involved in the process only with the consent of the faculty or staff member.
Alex adds: “Not everyone who is disabled needs a formal accommodation, but they can greatly benefit from accessibility support.”
"Not everyone who is disabled needs a formal accommodation, but they can greatly benefit from accessibility support."Alex Baugh, Workplace Accessibility Specialist
On a typical day, the team works with faculty and staff to understand their needs, organizes ergonomics assessments, evaluates how funding can support individuals, and spearheads disability inclusion literacy projects. They also create courses, such as the recently launched Accessibility Features on Windows OS and Mac OS, available to faculty and staff. In addition, the team collaborates with course creators to provide guidance on how they can make their courses more accessible, including offering alternative formats for course materials.
Faculty and staff are at the heart of the team’s work, and people are at the centre of the decision-making process. The team meets people where they are in their journey, and gives them the flexibility to choose how they want to meet. Whether faculty and staff need to discuss accommodation or simply want to learn more about accessibility resources available at UBC, they can get in touch with the team to meet in person, over a virtual call, or speak over a phone call, etc. An individual with a hearing impairment may prefer to meet virtually so that they can enable subtitles over virtual calls, or American Sign Language (ASL) interpretation can be arranged upon request, Leah explains. Hybrid work has expanded the team’s reach to the broader community and enabled them to provide remote support across the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses, she adds.
The centre also manages the Workplace Accommodation Fund which enables faculty and staff with disabilities or chronic medical conditions to access equipment or services to support their work and remove or reduce barriers, in a timely manner. In addition, as part of the ErgoAccess Demo program, faculty and staff can access one-on-one support and customized solutions based on their individual needs.
The team is committed to normalizing the idea of having conversations about accessibility and disability inclusion in the workplace.
Alex says: “We want faculty and staff to know that we are here to support them.”
Michael concludes: “If you know someone who needs our support, let them know they can call us at 604-822-8139 or email us at email@example.com.”
Written by Aditi Ghosh-Mooruth, UBC Internal Communications