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

Just Posted

Warning issued after several overdoses in Castlegar

Interior Health says the overdoses appear to be the result of cocaine contaminated with fentanyl.

Kootenay-Columbia candidates attend Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum

About 120 people attended the Creston Valley Chamber of Commerce 2019 election forum on Oct. 16 at the Prince Charles Theatre.

Green and NDP candidates talk strategic voting at Nelson public meeting

Wayne Stetski and Abra Brynne traded ideas but made no concessions for this election

Annual Windermere Fire Halloween Haunted House bigger than ever

Less scares earlier; more scares later at annual haunted house

Kootenay-Columbia candidate cautious after getting threats

Trev Miller of the Animal Protection Party carries on campaigning under shadow of threats, abusive emails

B.C. mayor apologizes for removal of Queen’s portrait from council chambers

‘I prefer to be inclusive of the many aspects of our history’

Alcohol a possible factor in crash that killed 17-year-old girl near Williams Lake

A pickup truck left the road and rolled over on Highway 20 on the weekend

Rare bird spotted in Victoria draws enthusiasts from across the continent

It’s the first time a yellow-browed warbler has been reported on the mainland of North America

B.C. woman must pay $1,000 after unleashed dog bites another

Owner should never have left Bibi unattended, tribunal member wrote

Climate activist Greta Thunberg’s mural defaced in Edmonton

The eyes on the portrait were blacked out

Report suggests new BC Ferries terminal near YVR

Metro Vancouver currently has two ferry terminals at northern and southern reaches

B.C. scouting group’s tent destroyed by black bear on Thanksgiving

The Richmond-based Sea Dragon Sea Scouts were camping at Mount Seymour Provincial Park

Most Read