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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2001

Universities Must Act on Accommodation Issues

In June, the University of British Columbia Faculty Association released the results of its first survey of disability accommodation at UBC. The results indicate more than 150 faculty members have experienced disability, and many continue to face barriers to inclusion and well-being in the workplace.

Respondents have concerns associated with a range of physical and/or mental impairments, including back problems, mental health, alcoholism, depression, chronic pain, hearing loss, low vision, cancer, arthritis and heart disease.

The survey reveals different strategies used by faculty members to attempt to meet the accommodation needs associated with illness and impairment — both those which utilized institutional resources, and those which did not. The latter included strategies of trying to 'make do,' such as not disclosing an illness or impairment, and struggling to work without needed accommodations.

"The personal risks and suffering associated with such strategies should not be underestimated," said educational studies professor and report co-author Allison Tom. "Respondents mentioned fears about employers or co-workers finding out about chronic illness and impairment, worsening health, and ultimately losing their jobs or academic careers."

The faculty association report adds to a growing body of evidence indicating that disabled workers often have difficulty obtaining the information and support services they need, even for those services that are available.

The report also draws attention to the role of the academic culture in discouraging the accommodation of disabled faculty members: "the university environment makes it difficult to acknowledge disability and request accommodation. Faculty peers are capable, high achieving individuals and the academic culture rewards high performance and demanding schedules."

Tom said addressing the needs of ill or disabled faculty members in Canadian universities is a pressing challenge. "It will require leadership and vision if we are to create academic workplaces that not only accommodate faculty and staff with disabilities, but also help to prevent others from becoming disabled in the first place," she said.

Although employers often fear that accommodating disabled workers will be an overwhelming and expensive task, there is growing evidence that most accommodations are neither elaborate nor costly. The report states the number of UBC faculty members needing accommodation due to illness and impairment "is neither trivial nor overwhelming." Evidence of some "success cases" suggests solutions are possible but "there is a need for system-wide solutions."

The report recommends formulation of explicit university accommodation policy for faculty, staff, and job applicants with disabilities, design and implementation of a partial disability program, and implementation of a campus-wide campaign to educate the university community on the nature of disability and the cultural and personal biases surrounding it.

The full report will be available this fall at For more information and/or a copy of the report contact Allison Tom (