It has recently been brought to my attention that some leaders in our campus community have, on occasion, blatantly refused to consider the diverse needs of fellow students, some of whom have different abilities, when undertaking certain decisions. While this accommodation is required, by law, to be “reasonable”, it can often be unclear what this term extends to and encompasses.
Whether it be Friday prayers in school cafeterias, 90% workweeks for working moms, or permitting service animals in the workplace, accommodations have to be—and have been—made, in order to ensure that everyone feels welcome and valued as a contributing member of society. I believe that UTM and university campuses in general are as close to the ideal as we can possibly attain in terms of upholding the principles of equity.
Why, then, are individuals with different abilities still refused reasonable accommodation on campus outside of academics, particularly during their involvement in invaluable skill-building activities, such as extracurriculars?
I may be wrong, but I think this could be as a result of the absence of a clear definition of what it means to accommodate “within reasonable limits”. The definition is, of course, purposefully vague, to allow for flexibility on a case-by-case basis. But I also think certain guidelines do need to be set out. To me, accommodation, with regards to differently abled individuals in particular, involves the extending of understanding to another person with a valid concern or criticism of how things are currently conducted, within an organisation, for example. This may require that things be done a little differently. Accommodation also means that I ask this individual to recommend how we can remedy the situation so that it takes their particular concerns into account. I then try to implement these recommendations as much as I possibly can to ensure a mutually beneficial experience. For this to be “reasonable” requires that both parties involved approach the issue from a rational position, each recognizing the limitations and requirements of the other, so that “undue hardship” is not imposed on either.
Is this such a difficult thing to ask of employers and organizations?
I would also like to take this opportunity to point out that accommodation in the workplace, or in an organization, does not mean that the job doesn’t get done. It simply requires dialogue and understanding that leaves everyone better off, because the job is done, but without compromising the principles of equity and without making another person feel incapable or less worthy than those who are considered “normal” by society. To do otherwise than to accommodate in a situation where this is required would be a failure to provide another person with their basic rights, approaching what we classify as discrimination, which is entirely unacceptable.
This is a friendly reminder to all of us here at UTM, just in case we had forgotten.
UTMSU Accessibility Coordinator