Providing Leadership, Transparency, and Empowerment around Access
Access UChicago Now (AUN) is a coalition that provides leadership and transparency regarding accessibility for the campus community. AUN works to empower units, divisions, and schools to make University education, research, work, events, and other programs and services that are a part of University life accessible to members of the campus community with disabilities. AUN engages in this work by gathering information from campus partners and members of the campus community and then synthesizing this information to inform current priorities, which are set and enacted by members of AUN and campus partners.
In the 2020-21 academic year, Access UChicago Now, which began as a partnership, transitioned to a coalition to provide leadership, transparency, and empowerment around access. AUN focused on five core priorities for the 2020-21 academic year: increase communication regarding AUN and access; develop an accessibility toolkit resource for the campus community; address parking and transportation access; outline the employee accommodation process and develop related resources; and increase consultation of people with disabilities in University planning.
II. AUN Leadership Team for the 2020-21 Academic Year
Access UChicago Now began as a partnership between core offices at the University that work for access for people with disabilities: Student Disability Services, the Office for Access and Equity, and Employee and Labor Relations in consultation with the D+I Studio. The AUN leadership team consists of representatives from the Office for Access and Equity, Student Disability Services, Employee and Labor Relations/ Human Resources, the Center for Digital Accessibility, and Facilities Services. In addition, the AUN leadership team includes faculty, student, and staff representatives.
The following individuals served as members of the AUN 2020-21 leadership team:
Vaughan Collins (Student and Member, Office of the Provost’s Accessibility Student Advisory Board)
Kappy Fahey (Student Disability Services, Campus and Student Life)
Sandra Fernandez (Student Disability Services, Campus and Student Life)
Maya Gharpure (Facilities Services)
Jackie Hennard (Office for Access and Equity, Office of the Provost’s Equal Opportunity Programs)
Elizabeth Honig (Office for Access and Equity, Office of the Provost’s Equal Opportunity Programs)
Matthew Kaufman (Faculty, Biological Sciences Division)
Pat Kogos (Center for Digital Accessibility, IT Services)
Sadie Morriss (Student, the College and Student Government Representative)
Ada Palmer (Faculty, Humanities)
Marni Simmons (Human Resources)
Sarah Pierce Taylor (Faculty, Divinity School)
Charnessa Warren (Student Disability Services, Campus and Student Life)
The AUN Leadership team met monthly beginning in winter quarter (January 2021) through spring quarter (June 2021).
III. Summary of 2020-21 Efforts
The 2020-21 academic year was the inaugural year for the AUN leadership team to set and implement goals grounded in the previous year’s listening tour and the experience of staff working for accessibility at the University. AUN identified five core priorities related to communication, accessibility resources, parking and transportation, the employee accommodation process, and representation of people with disabilities in University planning. These priorities informed AUN-led projects; each are discussed in detail below.
a. Increase communication and awareness of AUN, including, reporting to University leadership.
Around January 2021, when the AUN leadership team began to meet, AUN finalized an annual report for the campus community that summarized its work in the 2019-20 academic year, much of which informed AUN’s goals for the 2020-21 academic year. AUN shared this report and recommendations in a series of facilitated meetings with University leadership between February and April 2021. AUN leadership met with University leadership in Campus and Student Life, Human Resources, Diversity + Inclusion, the Office of the President, and the Office of the Provost, including the Provost. These conversations provided a unique opportunity to increase awareness regarding AUN and to solicit additional feedback regarding goals and opportunities for AUN’s interaction with the campus community. In May 2021, AUN leadership shared with the Provost information regarding AUN as well as additional feedback from these conversations with University leadership and related recommendations.
In addition, AUN developed a central accessibility website, accessibility.uchicago.edu, which serves as the University website on accessibility, and includes information for members of the campus community on accommodation processes and resources related to accessibility. As part of the University’s Digital Accessibility Policy and related Standards, every University website must have a link to the University’s accessibility website in their footer.
In the upcoming academic year, AUN leadership will consider how to continue conversations with University leadership regarding the work of AUN in the upcoming academic year. AUN will further consider how to increase the visibility of AUN with the campus community.
b. Accessibility Toolkit. Research as a best practice establishing accessibility as a key performance indicator and draft an accessibility toolkit for the campus community in partnership with the Office of the Provost’s Accessibility Student Advisory Board.
An accessibility toolkit will serve as a resource for members of the campus community to inform best practices around accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities. In the 2020-21 academic year, AUN leadership developed a framework for an accessibility toolkit, in consultation with AUN and the Office of the Provost’s Accessibility Student Advisory Board. This framework includes: 1) Audit (How is the unit currently implementing or addressing accessibility?); 2) Analysis of Strengths and Opportunities for improvement (How well is the unit practicing accessibility?); 3) Action, including recommendations for how to improve accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities; and 4) Assessment (How has the unit made progress? What key performance indicators/evidence is available that demonstrates improvement in accessibility and inclusive practices?). This project will continue in the 2021-22 academic year, specifically with a focus on drafting content in the toolkit for all campus stakeholders.
c. Parking and transportation. Work with Parking & Transportation to relay and respond to feedback from AUN AY20 listening tour.
AUN conveyed learnings from the AUN listening tour to Parking & Transportation. AUN also learned that Parking & Transportation has made two improvements to its shuttle service that will improve accessibility: 1) the installation of railings on the shuttle stairs; and 2) the installation of benches near shuttle stops for patrons. In addition, Parking & Transportation collaborated with Campus & Student Life and Student Disability Services (SDS) to implement a Lyft pilot program for students with disabilities. SDS approved eligible students with disabilities for the Lyft services pilot. Students were able to use on-demand Lyft services to accommodate for rare times when they were unable to use the Dial-A-Ride and/or regular bus services.
d. Employee accommodation process and resources. Work with Human Resources to relay and respond to feedback from AUN AY20 listening tour related to employee accommodation process.
AUN is working with Human Resources to increase transparency and clarity around the accommodation process for staff, including through the development of a summary resource for staff on the accommodation process. AUN will continue this work in AY22.
e. Consultation with people with disabilities. Increase consultation of people with disabilities in University planning that affects them, as appropriate.
AUN leadership included the perspectives of students, faculty and staff with disabilities in its ongoing work over the course of the academic year. In addition, AUN leadership consulted with students from the Accessibility Student Advisory Board and Student Government to provide feedback on the accessibility toolkit.
AUN leadership also identified several opportunities, specifically within Facilities Services, to increase consultation of people with disabilities in planning. For example, consultation of people with disabilities at the initial planning meeting for accessibility-related projects, as appropriate, and student representation at annual building walk-throughs to identify any potential barriers to accessibility. AUN learned that there may be additional opportunity in the planning stages (prior to implementation) for increased consultation with members of the campus community with disabilities. Finally, AUN leadership considered beginning another limited listening tour to further inform this work. These opportunities are still in development; due to the pandemic and remote environment there were delays in implementation of projects on which there may be an opportunity for increased consultation. AUN will continue this work in AY22.
f. Recommendations regarding remote environment
AUN leadership discussed the experience of remote work and learning, including the benefits and challenges, to inform recommendations made to University partners and leadership. AUN leaders considered the benefits of hybrid and blended work and learning models, and how the models have empowered people with the flexibility to make decisions about their learning and work that are best for them.
IV. Next Steps: 2021-22AY
AUN leadership recognizes that the work of improving accessibility and inclusion of people with disabilities on campus is ongoing. In addition to building upon the work from the 2020-21 academic year, AUN identified the following goals for the 2021-22 academic year:
Physical Accessibility:Update the Accessibility Map. Explore the feasibility of developing an integrated map that includes accessibility more broadly (physical accessibility, digital access, single user accessible restrooms, sharps containers, lactation rooms. AUN will collaborate on upgrades to the Report a Campus Access Barrier, specifically enhancing the existing report a barrier process to incorporate a status update feature; transparency about requested repairs; and closing explanations/justifications.
Training & Awareness:Faculty Training. Identify or develop a training module for new or returning faculty which includes a marketing strategy to incentivize participation.
Training & Awareness. Draft accessibility toolkit for campus community in partnership with campus partners (*continued from AY21)
Policies & Practices. Review and make recommendations related to other university policies that may create a more inclusive culture for people with disabilities.
Policies & Practices. Clarify employee accommodation process for all staff and create and communicate related process and resources to local units and campus community (*continued from AY21).
For feedback or more information on any of these projects contact any member of the AUN leadership team.