Monday, February 27, 2017

Know Your Rights: Disability Accommodations for Waterloo Faculty

This month, FAUW's Status of Women and Equity Committee hosted Margaret Price, an award-winning scholar of disability, to present findings from an international study examining the experiences of disabled faculty members. Professor Price will continue in an official role as a consultant to FAUW as we navigate accommodation processes at Waterloo. Unlike the clear and consistent accommodations process in place for students, faculty navigate a much more difficult terrain.

Here’s what we know

Ontario Human Rights Commission

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) states that:
Costs of accommodation must be distributed as widely as possible within the organization responsible for accommodation so that no single department, employee, customer or subsidiary is burdened with the cost of an accommodation. The appropriate basis for evaluating the cost is based on the budget of the organization as a whole, not the branch or unit in which the person with a disability works or to which the person has made an application.[1]
Employees should be aware that necessary accommodations are not subject to budget limitations at the departmental or unit level. The University of Waterloo can and frequently does take financial responsibility for accommodation provisions at both the faculty and the central administrative levels.

Moreover, administration of accommodations must be central, and disclosure limited to protect the privacy and dignity of the individual.


Faculty should not feel compelled to disclose disability diagnoses to their chairs or deans, or anyone else in a position of power over their hiring, tenure and promotion, salary, teaching assignments, performance evaluation or other benefits and responsibilities. A chair or dean may need knowledge of an accommodation, but they won’t ever need to know a diagnosis. Your chair or dean might be the nicest, most accommodating person in the world, but, as the OHRC guidelines show, they have too much control over your career to be involved in the accommodation process without the danger of bias. Removing your superiors from the process protects them as well. And, as the OHRC tells us, this is your right.

The precedent set by almost all of our peer institutions across Ontario, Canada and North America also reinforces this message: accommodations must be paid for and administered centrally. The OHRC guidelines are common sense and common practice.

Research-based guidelines

During her presentation, Professor Price, along with her research partners, laid out a similar set of guidelines for faculty accommodations, in even greater detail.

These included the following clear guidance:
Neither upper-level administrators nor chairs/directors should require faculty members to arrange accommodations with the same person who makes salary, scheduling, evaluation, or promotion decisions about their work. [Universities should:]
  • Ensure there is a central office or system to arrange faculty accommodations, so that faculty do not have to negotiate disability issues with their chair, dean, or provost.
  • Ensure that accommodations are funded centrally, so that a faculty member’s accommodation needs are not charged to their department or program. Access is an institutional responsibility, not a departmental or programmatic responsibility. Involving departments or programs in paying for faculty members’ accommodations leads to discriminatory outcomes such as avoiding hiring disabled personnel, and/or resentment from colleagues or supervisors.
  • Ensure that all accommodation requests and negotiations can be carried out confidentially. Contact information for the central office/person who handles faculty accommodation should be easily findable via every department’s or program’s web page, so that faculty seeking accommodations do not have to “ask around,” which may involve making unwanted disclosures. In addition, this information should be included in all orientations and relevant faculty trainings.

Seeking accommodations at Waterloo

As we work with Waterloo’s administration to ensure that these guidelines are followed, we encourage faculty members to do three simple things:
  1. Feel empowered to disclose disabilities and ask for help and accommodation. Far too few faculty seek and obtain the accommodations to which they have a right. We are a more productive, inclusive, and effective workplace if we all seek the accommodations we need, when we need them. FAUW will support all faculty members who need assistance.
  2. Do not disclose disability to superiors. Instead, contact Linda Brogden or Karen Parkinson at Occupational Health to begin the accommodation process. If you would like to discuss any questions, concerns, or if you encounter barriers in the accommodations process, contact Katie Damphouse or Christopher Small from FAUW’s Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee.
  3. Share this blog post, and these procedures, with all of your colleagues. We are all likely to need accommodations at some point in our careers. More than this, we need to be prepared to help our disabled colleagues. Currently, many of your friends and neighbors are afraid to seek accommodations, or confused or frustrated by the system. Conveying these guidelines to one another, to make them common knowledge, helps us all.
Waterloo aims to be one of the top employers in Canada, and these guidelines will help us to achieve this goal.

Update, June 12, 2017: Price and co-authors have just released an article on the same study, “Disclosure of Mental Disability by College and University Faculty: The Negotiation of Accommodations, Supports, and Barriers,” published in Disability Studies Quarterly (DSQ), which explores their findings and recommendations in more detail.

Know your rights: disability accommodations for waterloo faculty



1.       Ontario Human Rights Commission (2016).  Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability.  ISBN/ISSN: Print: 978-1-4606-8602-7 | HTML: 978-1-4606-8607-2 | PDF: 978-1-4606-8612-6. [This document is intended to provide clear, user-friendly guidance on how to assess, handle and resolve human rights matters related to disability]

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