Accessibility Infrastructure in Universities

Carolyn Ly, Trevor Cross, Ishani Pandey, Adrian Petterson, Jocelyn Mattka, Selin Naz Tasman



The project looks at the socio-technical, economic, cultural, and organizational factors that shape the inclusion of students with disabilities in post-secondary institutions. Specifically, how do existing organizational structures, processes, and policies address accessibility and inclusion of students with disabilities in universities, and how might these policies unintentionally create barriers to access? Further, what are the mismatches and gaps in existing systems of accessibility as experienced by students with disabilities, and how do their experiences differ based on their individual identities?


At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education around the world transitioned to online learning and put in place accommodations to ensure education could continue through the global crisis (Adedoyin and Soykan, 2020). While these accommodations became immediately necessary for all students, they have been requested long before 2020 (Graves et al., 2011; Meskhi, 2019; Moritz et al., 2022). Despite the rapid transition and overall success of emergency online learning, once the public health situation was thought to be under control, most post-secondary institutions returned to in-person learning and abandoned the accommodations and accessibility considerations that had been in place (Friesen, 2021). Disabled students once again face barriers in education which had previously been reduced when the alleviation of such barriers was seen as essential by post-secondary administrations (Titchkosky, 2010; Moritz et al., 2022). A closer examination is required to evaluate the efficacy of higher education policies, systems, and their capacity for inclusion and diversity. Historically, accessibility services were developed for early education before they were applied in post-secondary contexts (Danforth et al., 2005; MoriƱa, 2017). Additionally, higher-education institutions included accessibility-based initiatives on top of their existing organisational structures in response to disability-related regulations and policies (Hannah-Moffat et al., 2021). Existing organizational structures, processes, and policies shaped the dynamics between departments, staff, and students. This study, conducted in two phases, will examine both administrative and student perspestives on the experience of providing and receiveing accommodations and other accessibility-related services.


October 2023
Start of the second phase of the project; we will be interviewing students and activist groups to understand their perspectives and experiences September 2023
Analysis finished and paper submitted for publication July 2023
Conducting final interviews and starting thematic analysis April 2023
Currently conducting interviews with university staff and administration