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UBC Undergraduate Research

Inclusive Culture at UBC - Based on the experiences of graduate students with disabilities Lee, Carol (Hyunji); Avari, Byram; Vandenschrick, Thomas


The long-term purpose of the work was the following: ‘Increase accessibility for graduate students with disabilities and put in place interventions to support this goal.’ Initially, we were asked by SEEDS to conduct a UBC policy analysis based on prior research and identify areas of improvement for accessibility on campus for graduate students. A study carried out in 2018 by a UBC student has indeed been our main focus throughout the semester. We were initially given a summary of the study which identified 7 key themes of all the interviews conducted. As a team, we chose to focus more specifically on Theme 3: Building an Inclusive Culture. We chose this theme because it is regarded as a key element that directly influences the university experiences of the students. This report includes a detailed analysis of the interviews and allowed us to provide specific recommendations. Realizing that the Coronavirus pandemic greatly affected all students, our team decided to take our project a little further than what was required and we created a survey through Qualtrics. From the survey, our team asked graduate students with disabilities how the pandemic affected their involvement and engagement in class and with other peers. We also asked how the accommodation at UBC has changed in light of the pandemic and how it impacted their sense of inclusivity on campus. Was the online classes during the academic year an improvement or a worsening for the students? Did the pandemic affect the availability of the Centre for Accessibility? These are all questions we posed ourselves and wanted to know more about. Therefore, both the 2018 study analysis and the survey analysis account as our two major information sources from which our team was able to draw conclusions. In addition to this, a conversation with a student who has previously worked with the Centre for Accessibility and who recently worked as a student leader in University Affair unexpectedly gave us additional key insights on the experiences of graduate students with a disability on campus. The student, who also identified with a disability, was able to provide us with multi-faceted information as they had the viewpoint of the Centre and the viewpoint of a disabled student in need of accomodation. An extensive literature review was performed in order to draw the current picture of disability and accessibility in Canada and on university campuses more specifically. Based on all the information we were able to gather, we were able to conclude that a majority of the students with a disability felt ‘neutral’ towards whether they felt UBC had created an atmosphere of inclusivity. With regards to certain survey answers and the 2018 study, we were able to identify some of the successes and failures of the University’s approach. A major recurrent aspect is the paperwork and bureaucratic processes that dibaled students have to experience before having access to accomodations. It is understandable and necessary for students to fill in papers about their specific needs in order for the university to be able to help them in the best possible way and in order to avoid any type of abuse. Nevertheless, questions need to be posed about the extent of the paperwork. For example, it is counterproductive, if not impossible, for students with neurodevelopmental problems to fill in cast amounts of paperwork. In addition, various students have expressed one significant side effect of this paperwork as being a loss of time which could have been used to do other things that foster the students’ feeling of inclusivity; socializing, preparing for classes to better participate, and attending associations meetings. Furthermore, students have expressed that the lengthy process of having to prove their disability caused additional stress and trauma. In relation to the pandemic, answers have been varied. Some students have expressed positive aspects about class access and e-learning. Nevertheless, a majority of students specified the increased mental health issues and lack of social interactions, as expected. While non disabled and disabled students alike suffered from this, it should be noted that for students with disabilities, the stress they experienced was in addition to the stress already acquired from getting access to accommodation and from having a disability in the first place. Finally, there is one important focus that is more important than one may think. Raising awareness amongst students who do not have disabilities could make a big difference on campus. A recurrent experience that students with disability almost always experience is that of feeling different. The Centre for Accessibility can attempt to close that gap but non-disabled students also have a role to play. While this policy analysis is potentially more utopic, it remains an ideal that should be one of the university’s objectives. Raising awareness and inviting to adapt one’s behaviour could include getting non-disabled students involved in accommodating disabled students or organising workshops and conferences that raise awareness. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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