Canadian universities sign off on pledge to greater diversity, accessibility

Data on diversity on Canadian campuses is limited

Canadian universities have done a great job making their campuses more accessible for students with disabilities, but now have to turn more attention to helping those students get jobs, one of Canada’s leading disability advocates told a room full of university presidents Wednesday.

Rick Hansen, a former paralympian whose foundation is devoted to making the world a more accessible place, spoke to the presidents in Ottawa on Wednesday, just before they voted to make a public commitment to seven principles of diversity.

Presidents of about 60 schools that are members of Universities Canada voted to adopt the principles which include a commitment to identify and remove barriers for women, visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and people with disabilities when it comes to university hiring practices, leadership roles and the student body.

Dawn Russell, president of St. Thomas University in Fredericton and a board member of Universities Canada, said that includes conducting surveys of member schools to collect data on how universities are currently doing on diversity issues and setting benchmarks that will be updated and reported on regularly.

Data on diversity on Canadian campuses is limited, with many schools choosing not to collect data at all on the gender or race of their students and employees.

Hansen said universities are one of the best places to take the lead on making Canada a country where accommodating disabilities is not just seen as the charitable thing to do but as an initiative with massive economic and social benefits.

He said universities have done a lot of work to help admit and ensure students with disabilities graduate, but they can now step that effort up with help to give those students jobs.

“One of the great successes of universities is that a lot of young students with disabilities are graduating from universities but these students have a 50 per cent unemployment rate, which is significantly different than their able-bodied counterparts,” Hansen said in an interview.

“So universities can turn their attention to the very students that they’re actually educating and see them as potential employees, faculty or staff members. That’s a big opportunity.”

Hansen said universities can also ensure barriers are removed for employees as the workforce ages, can include accessibility in the curriculum in programs like architecture and engineering and can prioritize research on social policy and technical innovations “that can change the world for people with disabilities and drive new economies people couldn’t have imagined before.”

Russell said one of the ways her university has attempted to break down barriers to employment for people from disadvantaged or under-represented groups is to ensure a member of their equity committee is part of every faculty hiring process. Other schools require hiring committees to show how many candidates from under-represented groups were interviewed and if they weren’t hired, to say why someone not from one of those groups had the better qualifications.

Earlier this year Science Minister Kirsty Duncan laid down an edict that universities had two years to show progress at recruiting more researchers from under-represented groups when awarding federally funded research grants, or risk losing their grants.

Russell said that edict was one of several “strands” that led to the decision to write and vote on the seven principles.

“It’s an important milestone,” Russell said. “It’s recognizing Canada is a country that prides itself on multiculturalism and openness to diversity and equity and we need to operationalize that in our universities to really make sure that Canada is a land of equal opportunity.”

— follow @mrabson on Twitter.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Badinotti makes cash donations to North Island food banks

‘it’s fantastic that they are supporting community organizations like this’

‘A bottomless well of love for people and communities’

Parksville Qualicum Beach News editor JR Rardon dies at age 61

NDP pushing for 10 days of paid sick days for all working Canadians

NDP has made the issue a requirement for their support of the Liberal government

No plans to rebuild Hardy Bay Industrial Centre after fire, owner says

A massive fire burnt down the old building in April

Port Hardy Fire Rescue adapts to new realities amidst COVID-19

Don’t forget to follow Port Hardy Fire Rescue on Facebook.

BC Ferries losing up to $1.5 million each day as pandemic tanks ridership

The company does not qualify for the wage subsidy

Chilliwack school board censures trustee Barry Neufeld after controversial Facebook post

Board chair issues statement on censure but little else regarding Facebook post controversy

Twenty-nine of Canada’s 48 national parks to reopen to day-use visitors June 1

All national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas have been closed for weeks

JK Rowling publishes first chapters of new story online

Book will be a fairy tale for kids and benefit those particularly affected by the pandemic

Tahsis opens its gates to visitors to save local economy

Seasonal local businesses that rely on tourism hope to survive despite drop in tourist numbers

BC Corrections to expand list of eligible offenders for early release during pandemic

Non-violent offenders are being considered for early release through risk assessment process

Fraser Valley driver featured on ‘Highway Thru Hell’ TV show dies

Monkhouse died Sunday night of a heartattack, Jamie Davis towing confirmed

Study looks at feasibility of Vancouver Island abattoir

South Island Prosperity Partnership funds study looking at local meat processing

Most Read