Carleton University’s commitment to creating an accessible campus can be traced back to its earliest years when the campus comprised a handful of buildings. Originally intended to provide maintenance staff access to electrical and water systems, Carleton’s tunnels were expanded and opened for faculty, staff and student use in the 1960s. The expansion allowed the entire campus community to move more easily from building to building throughout the changing seasons. In the 1970s residences were constructed that accommodated students with disabilities, and in 1986, the Attendant Services program was introduced providing individual attendant supports 24/7 to students with significant mobility disabilities. Coupled with the tunnel system, the program allowed full academic participation to students who otherwise would not be able to attend classes on campus, and it remains unique in Canada and around the world.
The establishment of the Paul Menton Centre (PMC) in 1990 provided a central location for the development of accessible programs, services and awareness on campus and beyond. The PMC currently focuses on coordinating academic accommodation and learning support services for students with disabilities, as well providing education and consultation relating to disabilities in higher education. It collaborates with partners across the University to provide accommodations and support services to Carleton students, such as the Scheduling and Exam Services, Library, Teaching and Learning Services, Health and Counselling Services, and academic units. The PMC also works towards improving physical accessibility on Carleton’s campus, and to creating awareness through the provision of educational and communications materials, professional development and other campus activities.
In 2012 Carleton and the PMC launched the Research, Education, Accessibility and Design (READ) Initiative – a campus-wide initiative dedicated to accessibility and inclusion of persons with disabilities on campus, in the community and around the world. READ supports interdisciplinary accessibility research and design collaborations to encourage awareness of, and solutions for, societal barriers for persons with disabilities. The initiative also promotes increased program emphasis in all faculties in areas of disability, universal design, accessibility and inclusion. Further, it is tasked with the capacity building for the development of a Centre of Excellence in Accessibility at Carleton University.
To address the support needs of a growing population of students with mental health disabilities, the PMC established a research-based program, From Intention to Action (FITA), in 2010 as part of Carleton’s Student Services. FITA is designed to support mental health and academic success for students who are experiencing significant stress during their post-secondary education. In 2016, Career Services launched the Accessible Career Transitions program (ACT) with support from READ and the PMC. ACT provides individualized in-depth career planning and professional development, preparation, and skill building for students and graduates with disabilities. In 2018, the Provincial Government committed $5 million for a project developed by READ and PMC, the David C. Onley Initiative for Employment and Enterprise Development, to support employability of post-secondary students with disabilities.
Carleton students with disabilities are engaged through the Carleton Disability Awareness Centre (CDAC), a student-run hub that brings together students and provides community space and relevant resources. It organizes speaker events and workshops regarding issues surrounding visible and non-visible disabilities, including mental health, sexuality, accessibility, and more. The Centre also runs programs to support students with disabilities on campus, such as wheelchair rentals and campaigns to improve accessibility and disability awareness on campus.
In terms of some of Carleton’s recent academic and research accessibility highlights, in 2014 the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies introduced a minor in disability studies. The minor explores disability from historical, cultural, political, economic and social perspectives, and offers students the choice of 24 elective courses from a variety of disciplines. In 2013, an interdisciplinary team of researchers created the Carleton University Disability Research Group, whose mission is to “examine the ways in which disability studies, technology and history interrelate, largely through researching and designing virtual exhibits”. In 2017, Adrian Chan (Department of Systems and Computer Engineering) received an NSERC CREATE grant in the amount of $1.65 million for the Research and Education in Accessibility, Design, and Innovation (READi) training program. READi is a 6 year initiative – an integrated solutions-oriented training program that emphasizes applied and experiential learning, providing accessibility training and skills to students, with a particular emphasis on those studying engineering, information and communications technology (ICT), and design.
Research on attitudes and practices related to issues of accessibility and inclusive teaching shows Carleton faculty to espouse positive attitudes and a high degree of implementation of universal design principles in their course development and teaching. Annual surveys of faculty and instructors related to academic accommodations for students with disabilities demonstrate very positive experiences and high approval rates for accommodation procedures.
As a community, Carleton is committed to continue to build a culture of accessibility. Carleton’s commitment to creating an accessible campus can be traced back to the earliest years as an institution. The Carleton University Strategic Integrated Plan (SIP) 2013-2018 highlighted accessibility as one of Carleton’s values. A key performance measure identified in SIP is the creation of a Coordinated Accessibility Strategy. The development of this strategy will serve as a framework to guide Carleton’s ongoing commitment toward a campus that is accessible and inclusive.