The commitment to foster equity and accessibility will make marginalization a thing of the past
Access to entertainment is something the majority of us take for granted. But for those with disabilities, including neurological and perceptual differences, unencumbered access to creative content is far from assured. When entertainment and other expressions of our culture and values are available to some but denied to others, we cannot be considered a truly just and equitable society.
At the same time, a persistent lack of diversity and inclusion in the research cultures and structures of Canadian higher education produces — and reinforces — inequity. If we’re to serve our population impartially now and in the future, as well as compete globally, we need to transform systems that limit the potential for excellence among those in specific groups.
Research and collaboration at Ryerson are contributing to a better understanding of the effects of marginalization in the contexts of culture and higher learning as part of a larger commitment to striving for a better future for us all.
Following the evidence to make media more accessible
Until Henry Vlug came along, a Deaf person had never graduated from a law school in Canada — or practised as a lawyer. After receiving his degree from the University of British Columbia in 1985, Vlug continued to confront barriers and challenge perceptions through a series of human rights complaints and legal cases. The requirement to caption all television programming in Canada today came about as a result of Vlug v. CBC (2000), in which the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found that captioning only some broadcasts was discriminatory.
“I owe much credit to the many Deaf and disabled people who, like Vlug, have fought to lay the groundwork for the work I am doing today in accessible media education, policy and practice,” says Deborah Fels, director of Ryerson’s Inclusive Media and Design Centre and a professor with the Ted Rogers School of Information Technology Management.
Indeed, the result of Vlug’s efforts is part of a course series, Inclusive Media: Real-time Closed Captioning and Audio Description/Described Video, that Fels developed for Ryerson’s Chang School of Continuing Education.
100%Percentage of Canadian television broadcasts that must be captioned following the seminal Vlug v. CBC case in 2000
“Our approach to media access — an important strand of our research program — is unlike other approaches in that we work with people with perceptual disabilities to try and better understand enjoyment factors in current assistive strategies, such as audio description and captioning,” Fels explains. “Not only are we working with users to study entertainment factors in media experiences, but we are also deeply engaged with other stakeholders, which has enabled our research to have greater reach.”
Looking ahead, Fels’ hope is that media industries in Canada and elsewhere, along with federal regulators and tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft and major streaming services such as Netflix, will become more invested in providing evidence-based recommendations for standards. And, she envisions advances that follow inclusive design frameworks in which Deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind and low-vision users are involved at all levels within production, legal and distribution positions.
Our approach to media access — an important strand of our research program — is unlike other approaches in that we work with people with perceptual disabilities to try and better understand enjoyment factors in current assistive strategies, such as audio description and captioning.Deborah Fels, director of Ryerson’s Inclusive Media and Design Centre
In the meantime, according to Fels, Ryerson provides an ideal setting and environment for important work that still needs to be done.
“The support of the university has been critical to the work I’ve been doing in my lab,” says Fels. “What we’ve achieved already would not have been possible without Ryerson’s commitment to access, innovation and scholarly research.”
Fostering change within higher learning
Slightly more than one-third of academic faculty and researchers in Canada’s post-secondary education sector identify as members of at least two diversity groups from a list that takes into account such characteristics as gender, visible minority status, Indigenous identity, self-reported disability, sexual orientation and use of official languages or others.
That’s according to a recent survey conducted by Statistics Canada. Its purpose was to fill important data gaps related to equity, diversity and inclusion in the Canadian academic community — and to better understand how certain diversity characteristics “may influence career experiences and affect career advancement of the survey respondents.”
⅓Portion of academic faculty and researchers in Canada’s post-secondary education sector who identify as members of at least two diversity groups
Action to address similar concerns within the ecosystem of higher learning is fundamental to Dimensions: Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Canada, a federal government initiative in collaboration with Universities Canada as well as Colleges and Institutes Canada that was announced in May 2019.
Ryerson moved quickly to officially endorse the Dimensions charter and is participating in the program’s two-year pilot project, which is intended “to foster transformational change within the research community at Canadian post-secondary institutions by identifying and eliminating obstacles and inequities.”
“The Dimensions pilot will affect the Ryerson community by bringing responsibility and advocacy for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in research right into every department, school and faculty,” says Art Blake, a history professor who was appointed as the pilot’s director last February.
“We are fortunate to have a commitment to EDI embedded in our leadership and educational structures through the Office of the Vice President, Equity and Community Inclusion; however, we cannot make lasting, structural change and improvement unless everyone, at all levels, engages in the work,” Blake explains.
In Blake’s view, the work ahead includes a broad but necessary re-thinking of established research cultures and practices.
“It is clear, from the design of research spaces that do not fit a variety of people to how opportunities are distributed formally and informally, that our systems are not always equitable or inclusive,” he adds. “By participating in this pilot and making our learning from the Dimensions program sustainable, we can develop innovative EDI practices that every research leader can put in place and from which every researcher — from undergrads to faculty members — can benefit.”
The endeavour is worthwhile for another reason. While seeking to reduce barriers for others, the university has an obligation to do all it can to ensure its own house is in order.