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

Australian gold mining giant acquires Red Chris mine

Newcrest now owns 70 per cent of the mine south of Iskut and operatorship

Teen sexually assaulted at Radley Beach

A sexual assault took place at Radley Beach in Burns Lake on… Continue reading

18-year old Vanderhoof woman arrested following stabbing

The incident occured on Aug 14 in Prince George

User groups frustrated with the district over their lack of communication

Two residents in the community are frustrated with the district’s staff over… Continue reading

Clean the house, prep for your next trip: Tips to nix the post-vacation blues

48 per cent of travellers are already stressed about ‘normal life’ while still on their trip

More women may need breast cancer gene test, U.S. guidelines say

Recommendations aimed at women who’ve been treated for BRCA-related cancers and are now cancer-free

Couple could go to jail for taking 88 lbs. of Italian sand

Pair said they didn’t know it was illegal to take the sand, which is protected as a public good

Bodies of two missing Surrey men found near Ashcroft: RCMP

Ryan Provencher and Richard Scurr have been missing since July 17

B.C. manhunt suspects left cellphone video before they died: family

Family member says Kam McLeod, Bryer Schmegelsky recorded final wishes

VIDEO: RCMP unveil new, state-of-the-art forensics lab

The laboratory is expected to handle thousands of forensic services from across Canada annually

Scheer promises EI tax credit for new parents if Conservatives form government

The government currently taxes employment insurance benefits for new parents

Most Read