Learning Technology Coach Podcast

S2E1. A Senior Academic Leader's Perspective on the Importance of Accessibility in Higher Education

May 18, 2023 Dr. Amy Warren Season 2 Episode 1
S2E1. A Senior Academic Leader's Perspective on the Importance of Accessibility in Higher Education
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Learning Technology Coach Podcast
S2E1. A Senior Academic Leader's Perspective on the Importance of Accessibility in Higher Education
May 18, 2023 Season 2 Episode 1
Dr. Amy Warren

Featuring Dr. Amy Warren - Interim AVP (Academic) and Dean, School of Graduate Studies, Memorial University

Using her leadership and research experience Dr. Warren instils accessibility and equity into her work with various stakeholders of the institution and community at large.  

In this episode, hear how the leadership in higher education have a critical role to play in ensuring the institutional importance of creating a learning environment suitable for all learners.  Using her personal and faculty experience, coupled with her research in the area, Dr. Warren shares her perspective on the barriers, priorities, and opportunities institutions have to address to create an accessible and inclusive environment for all students, faculty and staff. 

The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Featuring Dr. Amy Warren - Interim AVP (Academic) and Dean, School of Graduate Studies, Memorial University

Using her leadership and research experience Dr. Warren instils accessibility and equity into her work with various stakeholders of the institution and community at large.  

In this episode, hear how the leadership in higher education have a critical role to play in ensuring the institutional importance of creating a learning environment suitable for all learners.  Using her personal and faculty experience, coupled with her research in the area, Dr. Warren shares her perspective on the barriers, priorities, and opportunities institutions have to address to create an accessible and inclusive environment for all students, faculty and staff. 

The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production.

Speaker Key:
JA               Javad Abedini

TO             Timilehin Oguntuyaki

AW            Amy Warren

SP              Speaker


JA |
Hello, everyone, my name is Javad.
TO | And I am Timilehin, and welcome to the Learning Technology Coach Podcast.
JA | This season we engage with accessibility experts and champions.

TO | About creating inclusive learning spaces.

JA | We discussed opportunities and challenges.

TO | Plus, a whole lot more.

JA |
Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the second season of the Learning Technology Coach Podcast. My name is Javad and I’m so excited to be here with you with my friend, Timilehin.
TO | Hello, everyone. We are so excited to have you back.

JA | Just before we get into the details of this new season, let’s introduce ourselves again, just in case if it’s your first time listening to us. Timilehin, my co-host, is a PhD candidate in Environmental Science, where he’s studying the CO2 removal potential of certain rocks.

He is also a learning technology coach for the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, CITL, at Memorial University.

TO | Well, thank you, Javad, for that quick introduction. I feel so good, so, it really might profit for our listeners, and so let me just do yours again. Javad is a PhD candidate and a course instructor in mechanical engineering and a learning technology coach at Memorial University Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Well, we are your hosts for this new season of Learning Technology Coach Podcast. And we are pleased to be back working with our colleagues from media services here in the production studio of CITL.

JA | If you remember in the first series we focused on adopting to the new normal. We basically talk about the lessons we learned from the pandemic and the way forward. We would like to thank all of our listeners for listening to and learning from the series.

TO |
Well, and that’s true. And I would just like to add that if you did not get the chance to listen to the first season of our podcast, I would like you to go back to the Learning Technology Coach Podcast webpage and just check it out. It’s amazing. In this second season, it’s our pleasure to present to you accessibility in our education where we talk to accessibility experts and champions about the challenges and opportunity of creating a more inclusive learning environment from the technological, instructional and cost development and design perspectives. You don’t want to miss any minute of this season.

JA |
We are so excited. We are so thrilled to start this new season, and particularly for the first episode to talk about the longstanding issues in higher education.
TO | And that’s accessibility features in higher education. For years, students with accessibility needs have faced significant barriers to accessing educational materials and resources, making it difficult for them to fully participate in their courses and reach their full academic potential.

JA |
As a learning technology coach who is a big fan of technological advancement, we’ve seen significant progress in the realm of accessibility in the recent years.

TO | And it is our belief that accessibility is not only essential for ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to learning and succeeding, but it is also a fundamental human right.

JA | And we are excited to be able to explore this critical issue in more depth through our podcast.

TO |
And throughout the season, we will be speaking with guests from different backgrounds and areas of expertise to gain a better understanding of many different aspects of accessibility in higher education. Well, our guests will include senior university leaders, disability champions, accessibility experts, educators, students, instructional designers, and learning management system experts.
JA | And we’ll be asking our guests to share their insights, their personal experiences, and whatever they want to share with us to help us explore in the ways that we can work together to create more inclusive learning environments.
That’s good for me, for you, for everyone. We’ll also be sharing our own experiences and perspective on accessibility, drawing on our own backgrounds as educators and advocates for inclusion.

TO | We believe that by raising awareness of the importance of accessibility in higher education, we can help create a more equitable and just society for all.

And we hope that our podcast will serve as a valuable resource for students, educators, and anyone else that is interested in learning more about this critical issue.

JA | And finally, today in our first episode of second season, we had the pleasure of chatting with Dr Amy Warren, the Associate Vice President of Memorial University and the Dean of the School of Graduate Studies to talk about accessibility in higher education from the perspective of being a university leader and also an accessibility champion.

TO |
So, whether you are a student, an educator, disability rights advocate, or simply someone who cares about creating a more inclusive world, this series, and in fact, this episode is for you. So, sit tight, enjoy it, and learn from it. Here’s the interview.
JA |
Welcome back to the studio. Accessibility features in higher education are important, because they ensure that the students with accessibility needs have equal access to education by providing accommodations such as accessible building, assistive technology, and alternative formats for course materials. Universities can create a more inclusive learning environment that enables all students to thrive. This not only benefits the individual students, but also it enriches the learning community as a whole.

Additionally, accessibility features can help universities comply with legal requirements and avoid potential discrimination lawsuits. Today, we are joined by Dr Amy Warren, the Interim Associate Vice President of Memorial University. Timilehin, would you kindly do us the honour or introducing our esteemed guest to our beloved listeners? We are thrilled to have such distinguished individual in our CITL production studio, and we know that our audience will eager to learn about her achievement and insights.

TO |
Of course, Javad, you can actually see through the smile on my face right now. Let me just say I’m starstruck. I’ve been hearing the name for a very long time, and now I’m so happy to be introducing her. So, it’s going to be my honour, okay? So, let me just go straight into her biography. Dr Amy Warren is the Memorial University’s Interim Associate Vice President Academic and Dean of Grad Studies.
She completed a PhD in Management at St. Mary’s University in 2009. Her research interests include mistreatment, bridge employment, the multi-generational workplace and goal-setting. She’s currently the principle investigator on Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council standard grant, focusing on workplace mistreatment. Before her current appointment, Dr Warren was the Director of the Master of Employment Relations programme.

She has been a faculty member with the Faculty of Business at Memorial University since 2003, teaching in the areas of human resource management and labour relations, and has received several teaching awards including the Dean’s Teaching Award in 2012. Dr Warren has published various works in academic and non-academic outlets and has presented her research at numerous national and international conferences. Why am I not even surprised? Welcome today, Dr Warren, you are welcome to our studio.

AW |
Thank you, Timilehin, thank you, Javad, but you can cut that short. You don’t need to say that much, but I appreciate the introduction, for sure. And I’m glad to be here.
TO | You’re welcome. How are you doing today?
AW | Great.

JA | Can I add something to the bio?

TO | Oh, yes.

JA | She is also very humble.

TO | Yes, intelligent people are always humble. They are defined by their humility, that’s it. Well, let’s go straight to the business of the day. I will start with asking you one question. It’s like an introduction question, and I want you to just let your heart out about it.

What does accessibility mean to you? It’s different being a researcher, and you might have a different experience being a lead university administrator. Many aspects of your life you have been a teacher, an instructor for many years. So, what does accessibility mean to you?

AW | At a very basic level, it means that every human being has the right to access education.
And I mean educational spaces, as well as the learning that hopefully is taking place in those spaces. So, it’s not just about the physical space, it’s also about the learning. And at its core it should be a human right, and I think with our current legislation, it is actually a human right. And I think we tend to traditionally look at accessibility for the physical spaces and how we need to allow people to manoeuvre easily around a university campus, for example.

But I think more and more, what’s showing is people’s willingness to demonstrate that everyone has that right to learning that’s accessible. And that might mean mode of delivery is different or flexible. It may mean the course deliverables are flexible, etc. So, at its core, it’s a human right. I think that’s the short answer.

TO | Awesome. Thank you.

JA | I was wondering if there is any accessibility standards for a higher institution in Canada?

AW |
So, for my knowledge, I think our human rights legislation applies to higher education. We have provincial human rights legislation, the Human Rights Act of Newfoundland and Labrador. And federally we also have the Human Rights Act. In addition, the Accessible Canada Act is an act that’s supposed to take far greater in-depth approach to accessibility across all areas, including communications, transportation, etc.

Not just about the built environment, but it does also have higher standards for the built environment and accessibility. In Newfoundland and Labrador, we also, in 2021, had approval of the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Accessibility Act. That act, the finer details are still being consulted on, but that act will govern a higher bar for us to meet as an educational institution beyond the physical space, as well. So, we have legislation, we also have some best practices in higher ed.

We’re hearing more about the Rick Hansen Certification. Primarily, there’s a lot of mobility parameters that are discussed within that certification. But they also focus on other types of initiatives around vision, hearing, etc., to improve spaces that way. So, while I don’t think there’s a specific higher education learning initiative, we definitely have plenty of human rights legislation that can guide us to be leaders in this area.

JA |
That’s great. What about the universities? What are the biggest challenges that universities are facing these days?
AW | You might not be surprised, and maybe this is the administrator in me, but I hope it’s not seen as just one of those lines that administrators like to throw out. But quite honestly, I actually think resources are our biggest barrier. I think right now with aging infrastructure, for many universities, this is a barrier.

That doesn’t mean it’s an excuse. I think we have to be creative, and we need to sort through what gets priority. I think we are seeing movement since I became an employee first at this university as a grad student. In 2002, I was employed as a grad student, and now that I’m an employee here, there has been a lot of movement in terms of accessibility.

Whether I would say that we are where we should be, I probably will never say that, because I think we can always be improving. But resources are huge, so we need to work on refocusing how we apply resources to these types of initiatives. But in terms of physical space, there’s been a lot of improvements. There’s a consciousness about physical space that wasn’t there in the early 2000s, I would say. People are very open to trying to find improvements. I think we also are seeing a lot more flexibility with learning.

We have a lot more professors going out there, taking the initiative, finding new and improved ways to present material in order for all types of student learners to get the material at that high level, so that they leave here with that same experience as someone who might not have a learning disability. So, I’ve seen a lot of improvement, but there is still a long ways to go. And resources are definitely one of those things keeping us back, I think.

TO | Awesome. So, how do you now envision accessibility, ensuring that accessibility is prioritized in this university for instance?
How do you envision it say in the next five, ten, 15, 20 years?

AW | I think my vision is partially fulfilled. I get to be a part of our accessibility committee. I’m actually chairing that committee. And the advisor group has been working for several years, and of course, COVID had people offline, so the work was really done behind closed doors.

It’s a bit more noticeable now because we’re meeting in person and touring the campus and things like that. So, this accessibility committee, which is a pan-university initiative, is really my vision. I accepted being chair not necessarily because I wanted the work, but I think if you want to be a part of the solution, you have to step up and work some of the hours too. And having lived experience, I was willing to contribute that lens.

That’s not the only piece to contribute, but that’s part of what I contribute. My area of research also touches on some of these issues. So, my vision is, through this accessibility committee, to elevate our accessible campus. Not just for physical accessibility, but also for learning accessibility. And I hope within five years that we will have exceeded the standards of federal legislation. That would be a really great goal to achieve.

I think we can get there. It’s going to take time. But I certainly think we have a chance to get there.

JA | I hope so, I hope so. Speaking of your research, especially the one that focuses on mistreatment at workplace. Is there any connection between accessibility needs and how people are treated in the workplace?

AW | Yes. I think in my research, often the way we’re looking at mistreatment is the more subtle forms of mistreatment.
And while you might not see my research specifically mention the treatment of people with disabilities, the literature is no doubt pretty sure that people with disabilities are more likely to be mistreated as employees, as student learners, as everyday citizens of the place where they live. Unfortunately, we all know there’s conscious and unconscious bias of people with disabilities. And those biases, particularly those that are unconscious, are very, very pervasive.

But they’re also very hard for others maybe to understand or even believe that they’re actually there. But there are misconceptions about disabled people that are often seen in the workplace. It can be so subtle that maybe the location of an event, it’s not accessible and someone just didn’t think of it. So, it doesn’t have to be this huge thing, but those little things can add up to someone not getting the same employment experience as someone else.

It could be things like working within a team, they’re not given the same amount of information as other people because someone doesn’t want to trouble them or it’s too much on them. People make really grand assumptions that they don’t have the same level of ability. So, the unconscious bias in particular is pervasive in all kinds of places within our communities. And I think it’s probably the one that’s going to be the hardest to eradicate, because people aren’t necessarily seeing it themselves. It’s only the person experiencing it who really knows it’s going on.

TO |
Right, that’s important. And now that we’ve talked about mistreatment at the workplace, I know the business of the universities sent out of students, like we want to make students comfortable, included in everything we’re doing. But often times, it’s very easy to overlook the teachers, the employees. So, what do you think Memorial is doing at the moment or have done in times past that actually shows that accessibility is not only centred on students, but also on the instructors, on faculty members, and even employees?

AW |
Well, I can tell you from my experience, when you self-disclose that you have a disability, it’s actually really important to do that, because often times disability can be invisible. So, the institution might not know that you need to be accommodated in certain ways. Memorial, when you self-disclose that you have a disability, does work with you to accommodate you in employment, whether that means your work station, whether it means where your classroom may be located, etc.
And those accommodations are done very professionally through human resources here. So, self-disclosure is sort of how in the employment relationship that link is made. More broadly, I think in various buildings in our campuses, many of you have probably seen the buttons that are now appearing on doors and those types of things.

So, more broadly there are initiatives taking place without an employee having to self-disclose as having a mobility issue, for example.

JA | That’s a very great point. Speaking of students, how does Memorial University students, especially the students who are hesitant to use the accessibility tools. How does Memorial help them to… Or let’s say encourage them to use the accessibility tools? You mentioned that maybe someone even doesn’t know that the person needs to have those accessibility tools.
And you mentioned that resources are the biggest barriers that we have. What are the strategies that one is using to overcome those barriers? And also, how Memorial encourages students not to be shy and seek help if they need to?

AW | I think one way we do it is through our phenomenal Blundon Centre. And because this is an administrative unit outside of an academic unit, it allows students to have a little bit more confidentiality, etc., where they can approach the Blundon Centre, have experts weigh in on how they might approach a professor.

Or if the professor is just approached through the Blundon Centre. But they’re guided through the process by professionals in an administrative unit, which I think is a real plus. It helps build trust. It provides them a confidant that they can talk to about their struggles within the classroom that maybe they can assist with, and they can help provide solutions. I can’t remember the other part of the question, Javad.

JA |
The other part was what are the… I was talking about the strategies that Memorial is using.
AW | The strategies, right. I think the Blundon Centre is part of a broader organisational strategy. To have an admin unit is a huge part. We need that resource. And I think we need to build more resources within the Blundon Centre. I would always advocate for that. Other strategies, I think, are becoming subject matter experts within their own faculties and departments.

I think broadly for EDIAR initiatives, and that can include accessibility under that umbrella, we need to have unit representatives that can help foster this culture within every single faculty and apartment that says this is a human right, and we’re here for you. And accessibility is not just good for those people who really need it. There’s lots of argument and lots of literature that says the more access you provide in terms of universal learning etc., everyone can benefit from that.

People without a disability often times benefit greatly from having flexibility in the type of learning that’s happening, and the type of learning outcomes, and the type of evaluation tools, and the type of modes of delivery. Those flexible pieces are often times benefiting the masses, not just people with disabilities. So, as a strategy, we need to start seeing accessibility and accommodation as for the greater good. It’s not for individuals, it’s for the greater good.

JA | That’s really nice that you mentioned that.

Timilehin and I, both of us are technology coaches here. And I remember from my own personal experience, we had an instructor, and the instructor wanted to change a little bit of his course content to make it better in terms of accessibility features. And the feedback that he got was actually, it was really good for even the students who were not needing any accessibility features. Just another example that what you said was spot on.

AW |
Yes, and human beings, as the world is getting more complex, and there’s so many variables in our everyday lives, whether that’s families or a partner who may be ill, etc., etc., outside work, part-time work. Those invariably lead to people really benefiting from flexibility, and many accommodations are simply being flexible. They’re based in flexibility. So, I think professors are more open to that now than ever, so it’s really encouraging when you hear anecdotes like yours, Javad. I think that’s becoming more the norm.
I think it’s really encouraging to hear so many professors reach out and wanting to know more about accessibility. And that’s why I’m saying every department, every unit, if they allow the time for professors to do this, as well as giving them some of the education themselves, I think this can really help us be a leader in this space.

TO | Awesome, I really like that point, and your words, accessibility can be invincible. So, I just want to ask that, are there any committees that are as big as the accessibility committee that affects everybody on campus?
You have implemented many policies, many campaigns and all that for accessibility to be incorporated. But how do you measure their impact? Do you know how much they are improving the lives of students and staff members on campus?

AW | Well, I think for our accessibility committee, in terms of measuring impact, we’re not there yet.

And I think for specific campaigns, that’s what we’re building up to. During the pandemic and in the past year with my involvement, which is when I started getting involved with the accessibility advisory team. We were working on the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. The buttons, all the things that we knew needed to be upgraded. That was all being done in the background. Enhancing parking options for people with disabilities. There were lots and lots of those types of things you may notice, even signage.

If there’s an elevator broken, most of the time you’re going to see a separate pathway for an alternative route, for example. And while people get really frustrated at infrastructure and elevators break down, they’re still trying to think of ways we can ensure that someone can get to a backup plan easily. So, those types of changes, and there’s just some minor examples, not much was advertised about them, I would say. Because people have been so busy doing the work to just get these spaces upgraded behind the scenes. 

And I don’t think they want the credit for doing that. But there are people behind the scenes doing some of this work. And while we don’t see huge campaigns about it, it’s definitely happening. I think the accessibility committee will start having to measure. And the way you measured it is going to be probably surveying those people with disabilities but also the broader community. But they’re definitely more long-reach goals. I don’t want to overstate where we are in the process, because it is still a fairly new committee.

JA |
Right on. We have listeners from all around the world. What advice do you have for other universities that are seeking to enhance their accessibility tools offering?

AW | I’m not the leading expert on this, so I’ll just give my own personal thoughts, but maybe others wouldn’t agree. There’s probably many more people who are better informed on strategy than I am. I come at this from a lived experience perspective. I’ve learned a lot along the way.

I’ve advocated for a student with disabilities, as well, but I’m definitely not a leading expert. But I do think some advice I would give is, rely on the people with lived experience without forcing them or putting them in a position to relive their trauma. I think, in this space, we are past the point of having to hear all the terrible stories of, there’s stairs everywhere, and I can’t get around in my wheelchair. And it can be very emotional for people to relive that in front of groups of people.

So, I think for universities, moving away from that trauma type space of getting people to share the lived experience, and instead, taking the people with lived experience and asking them if they want to be involved in advisory committees, first and foremost. And taking what advice they give and getting as many viewpoints as they can, is one piece of advice. But I also think we want to make sure all members of the university community are involved. Don’t just rely on the people with the lived experience.

You want people who are willing to invite change. You want people who are willing to listen to those voices who have been speaking for decades about space in learning accessibility. And having those extra voices on those committees who are really good at listening I think are key. And the other piece is, we need advocates for resources. And while we might not have huge infusions of money around the university, we need as many voices as we can get advocating for funds to be diverted to these types of initiatives.

And the sell really is this. They can benefit everyone by making a space accessible with something as simple as a button for anyone who’s prone to injuries, who’s just a regular human being who might not have a disability at the time. There are all kinds of ergonomic things that change with accessible spaces that help everyone. That’s just one example. And in the learning space, as I said before, flexible learning spaces benefit the masses. That’s my opinion anyway.

TO |
Yes, that’s so true, and we appreciate it. And I just want you to know that in terms of campaign, I know that the CITL is big on accessibility at this moment. And even the learning technology coaches at the CITL, they are working really hard to make sure that accessibility is prioritised in the services they are delivering to both students and faculty. So, thank you very much for coming.
AW | Yes, and I should add in, I would like to echo that. Because the technology coaches, which is the name you have, I think invariably, there’s an accessibility piece that you’re using all the time, a lens that you’re using.

You all have a very good reputation for ensuring that that lens is infused whenever you’re getting people to seek advice from you. So, I really appreciate all that you’re doing. And you’re both grad students. Sometimes it feels like, as a grad student, you don’t have enough time to do what you need to do for your studies, but I know you’re doing outreach over and beyond, over and above what this job is asking of you. So, I want to make sure you give yourselves a shout out too, because we couldn’t do it without you.

The CITL has been a huge advocate of accessibility, for sure.

TO | For sure, thank you. And you are so kind with your words. And that’s gonna be the end of the interview with Dr Amy Warren, the SGS Dean of Memorial University. Thank you very much, Dr Warren, for coming.

AW | Thank you for having me so much, and thanks for all you do.

TO |
Wow, that was a fantastic interview. I loved every minute of it. I’m sure it was really cool to talk to. What about you, Javad? Do you have the same sentiment?
JA | 100% I agree, yes. It was very smooth, and it was very informative for me. I learned a lot. What was your big learning moment, Timilehin?
TO |
Well, Javad, if you can track back, you would understand that she said something that’s really important that every student, irrespective of their accessibility needs has the right to quality education. Access to quality education, and that’s very big for me. And again, she says something about mistreatment. If you don’t talk about it, nobody knows about it. And if nobody knows about it, they might not be able to do much about it. And this comes down to a personal level, even if you are a staff member of the university or you are a student, just talk about it.

What do you need accessibility for? Like what kind of accessibility needs do you require to enjoy this education [unclear]? And I think that’s very good advice for everybody on a personal note. Javad, what’s your own big learning moment?

JA | That was real nice, yes. I think for me, when she mentioned that it’s important not to rely solely on personal lived experience, that was very important and very, very unique.

Because when it comes to accessibility features, individual experiences may not represent of the experiences of all individuals with accessibility needs. So, I guess relying solely on peoples’ lived experience for accessibility feature can lead to incomplete or sometimes even inadequate solutions. Because one person’s experience may not reflect the needs for the others. So, it’s important to seek input from a diverse group. That was my big learning moment.

TO |
Awesome. And that’s the end of the interview. We want to thank you again, our listeners, for staying true to us, listening to the interview. Thank you very much. Until we see you the next time, I remain Timilehin.
JA | And my name is Javad.

SP | The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production. 


Host Introductions
Series 2 Introduction
Episode Introduction
Guest Introduction
Defining accessibility
Accessibility standards in higher education
Challenges for universities
Vision for the future
Accessibility and mistreatment in the workplace
Importance of self-disclosure
Organizational strategies
How all students can benefit from accessibility features
Measuring impact
Summary - Big Learning Moment!