11 Accessibility and Disability Inclusion in Research, Instruction, and Course-Level Enhancements

Publications and Research Projects

40+ years enhancing disabled student learning experiences at McMaster University: Reflections from an intergenerational web of accessibility workers

People at McMaster University have been engaging in access work—the labour of proactively enhancing accessibility for persons with disabilities—for decades. In this chapter, we contribute to the recognition and preservation of these efforts by documenting forms of often invisible “behind-the-scenes” accessibility work that support disabled student learning experiences. We do so by sharing interconnected reflective snapshots from nine disabled and nondisabled students, alumni, staff, and educators. We argue that enhancing accessibility in teaching and learning is not just about physical accessibility, legislative compliance, or the domains of the classroom, course content, or the student-instructor relationship. Accessible education also requires the creation of a campus environment where everyone is embedded in relations that make access work possible and sustainable: community, paid employment, colleagueship, friendship, and mentorship. Overall, this chapter sheds light on several dimensions and evolutions of access work over the last 40+ years at McMaster University.

Citation: de Bie, A., Woolf, E., Brown, K., Hamdon, O., Hesson-Bolton, K., Hirji-Khalfan, R., Joslin, R., Marquis, N., & Pottier, A. (2022). 40+ years enhancing disabled student learning experiences at McMaster University: Reflections from an intergenerational web of accessibility workers. In A. de Bie & C. A. Grisé (Eds.), Where learning deeply matters: Reflections on the past, present, and future of teaching at McMaster University (Chapter 11). Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching, McMaster University.


Contributors: Dr. Lee de Bie (Postdoctoral Fellow, MacPherson Institute), Emunah Woolf, (School of Social Work), Kate Brown (Equity and Inclusion Office), Omar Hamdan (User Testing Team), Katherine Hesson-Bolton (Student Success Centre), Raihanna Hirji-Khalfan (User Testing Team), Ryan Joslin (User Testing Team), Nick Marquis (Faculty of Social Sciences), and Anne Pottier (McMaster University Library and McMaster Accessibility Advisory Council)

Representative-Negotiated i-deals for Employees with Disabilities

People with disabilities encounter challenges when seeking and maintaining employment. As such, employees with disabilities must often negotiate idiosyncratic deals (i-deals)—unique employment terms (e.g., flexible hours, expansion in job duties) that align with their strengths, career goals, and support needs. However, unlike the i-deals negotiated by most employees, i-deals for employees with disabilities are frequently achieved when a representative negotiates on their behalf.

In their April 2022 paper, Representative-negotiated i-deals for people with disabilities, Jennifer Ho, Silvia Bonaccio, Catherine Connelly, and Ian Gellatly explore this job design process which can create the conditions for long-term employment for people with disabilities.

They explore the factors associated with the development and success of representative-negotiated i-deals for people with disabilities. Using focus groups and interviews with employers and job developers, they identify nine factors and two prevailing conditions that explain the contexts in which representative-negotiated i-deals will be successful.

Contributors: Jennifer Ho (PhD candidate, McMaster University, DeGroote School of Business), Dr. Silvia Bonaccio (University of Ottawa, Telfer School of Management), Dr. Catherine Connelly, (McMaster University, DeGroote School of Business), Dr. Ian Gellatly (University of Alberta, Alberta School of Business)

Distory, Then and Now

Distory, Then and Now is an inclusive community project led by Dr. Ann Fudge Schormans that brings together institutional survivors and younger people labeled/with intellectual disabilities, artists, community members, and academic researchers to develop education materials for post-secondary students to learn about institutionalization and ongoing struggles and resistance of people labeled/with intellectual disabilities. Over 2021-2022, COVID-19 safety protocols, lack of access to technology for most co-researchers labeled/with intellectual disabilities, and ongoing restrictions on in-person activities imposed by developmental services, have continued to pose significant barriers to our collaborative ways of working. Some of the work of a planned art project was completed by using the post to send art supplies and receive completed art pieces, followed by telephone chats about the work. The next step involves co-development of the art that was created into a virtual exhibit.

One result of this work has been a second co-authored article. Thirteen DiStory co-researchers, Erin Kuri (SW, doctoral candidate), Chelsea Jones, and Ann Fudge Schormans wrote a found poetry piece, “Coalition-In-Process: Found Poetry Through Phone Calls with People Labeled/With Intellectual Disability During the COVID-19 Pandemic” which has been accepted for publication in Lateral, Special Issue: Crip Pandemic Life: A Tapestry.

Contributors: Thirteen DiStory co-researchers, Erin Kuri (PhD candidate, McMaster University, School of Social Work), Chelsea Jones, and Dr. Ann Fudge Schormans (McMaster University, School of Social Work)

CIHR/SSHRC Partnership Grant Team: ‘Mobilizing a Caregiver-Friendly Workplace Standard”

There are 8.1 million Canadians aged 15 years and older who provide care to a chronically ill, disabled, or aging family members or friends.  Many of these carers are engaged in paid employment or formal education; they are called carer-employees or carer-students.  Our partnership team works to improve, promote and sustain EDI through supporting the accessibility of supports/ accommodations for carer-employees and carer-students.  This is accomplished primarily by providing the evidence and tools needed by employers, institutions, and society to enact meaningful change in the creation of carer-friendly work and learning environments. The voluntary B701-17 CSA Carer-Friendly Organizations Standard and Implementation Guide was created in partnership with McMaster; it provides a ready guide to create/ sustain support for carers working/ learning at McMaster and beyond.  McMaster also partnered to create a voluntary International Standard (ISO 25551 – General requirements and guidelines for carer-inclusive organizations), which addresses many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Contributors: Allison Williams, and the CIHR/SSHRC Partnership Grant Team: ‘Mobilizing a Caregiver-Friendly Workplace Standard”

The iAM Human Conversation eXchange

As the number of aging Canadians continue to increase, we are learning more about the negative consequences of age-related bias and stigma on health and well-being. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has also been linked to a rise in ageism alongside other discriminatory and racially motivated rhetoric. Working with a diverse advisory committee from the McMaster community, developed in close consultation with the AccessMac Program in the Equity and Inclusion Office, the aim is to develop an educational initiative aimed at increasing awareness of intersectionality and aging; a topic that has not received much attention. Intersectionality refers to when individuals hold more than one social identifier (e.g., disability, age, race, sexuality, economic status). Coined the ‘intersectionality, Aging and Mobility (iAM) Human Conversation eXchange’, this one-of-a-kind teaching and learning platform brings together those from different ages, abilities and backgrounds to create a safe space for intergenerational dialogues that advance skills specific to equity, diversity, inclusion and Indigenous reconciliation with an aging lens. Dr. Brenda Vrkljan (Occupational Therapy, Faculty of Health Science) together with a cross-disciplinary team and community partners has received catalyst funding from the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) and MacPherson Institute. The platform is currently being piloted with the goal of expanding the initiative within and beyond the university in 2023.

Contributors: Dr. Brenda Vrkljan, the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) and the MacPherson Institute

Institutionalization of Mental Health / Substance Use Peer Support

Throughout the summer of 2022, I conducted research on the institutionalization of mental health/substance use peer support for my MSW thesis. I met with five peer support workers in Ontario to explore their everyday work and the tensions they experienced in institutional environments. I used institutional ethnography to explore how their work was shaped by institutional forces and various pieces of text (e.g., legislation, policy, discourse). Findings revolved around documentation work, de/valuing work, and values work.

Peer support workers were pressured to adopt clinical norms around documentation because the Personal Health Information Protection Act (PHIPA) normalizes sharing information within a circle of care. Peer support was devalued by compensation frameworks that don’t reflect the value of lived experience, reflecting a discourse which conceptualizes professions as requiring post-secondary education. Lastly, I described how peer drift can be minimized through “values work”: peer supporters engaging in peer community, and organizations fostering environments of peer culture.

Contributors: Calvin Prowse with Tracey, Jodie, Angela, “Hannah,” and Tyrone

“I hate to be cynical about technology, but I’ve seen too much of it not driven by pedagogy”: A 60-year history of McMaster University’s educational technologies

This chapter recovers and reflects on nearly 65 years of instructional uses of technology at McMaster University, from the launch of McMaster’s remote television learning experiment in the 1960s, to the rapid mass-migration onto virtual environments during the COVID-19 pandemic. We draw on archival material, literature on educational technologies (edtech) published by McMaster educators, oral history interviews, and some of our own experiences with edtech to review four eras of evolution: Initial Experimentation (1958-1969), Early Adoption (1970-1989), Centralized Infrastructure (1990-2009), and Ubiquity of Online Learning Technologies (2010-2020). We focus on themes that have repeated over time in the human and social context surrounding educational technology development and use, including several ways technologies have been used to advance accessible education. We end by discussing how we might carry lessons from the pandemic into the university’s strategy for digital learning.

Teal, W., de Bie, A., Kehoe, J., Kruithof, J., & *Montes, A. (2022). “I hate to be cynical about technology, but I’ve seen too much of it not driven by pedagogy: A 60-year history of McMaster’s educational technologies. In A. de Bie & C. A. Grisé (Eds.), Where learning deeply matters: Reflections on the past, present, and future of teaching at McMaster University (Chapter 6). Paul R. MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching, McMaster University.

Contributors: Will Teal (PhD Candidate, Department of History), Dr. Lee de Bie (Postdoctoral Fellow, MacPherson Institute), Joanne Kehoe (Educational Developer, MacPherson Institute), Jon Kruithof (Educational Developer, MacPherson Institute) and Alek Montes (Student, Department of Psychology, Neuroscience & Behaviour)


Four disabled people of color gather around a table during a meeting. A Black woman sitting on a couch gestures and speaks while the three others (a South Asian person sitting in a wheelchair, a Black non-binary person sitting in a chair, and a Black non-binary person standing with a clipboard and cane) face her and listen.
Four disabled people of color gather around a table during a meeting. A Black woman sitting on a couch gestures and speaks while the three others (a South Asian person sitting in a wheelchair, a Black non-binary person sitting in a chair, and a Black non-binary person standing with a clipboard and cane) face her and listen. Published by Disabled And Here.

Courses and Instruction

Making Coding Instruction Accessible to a Variety of Students with Disabilities

A group comprising of McMaster Computer Science researchers, instructors and instructional staff, students, and external community members, are working collectively to make coding instruction accessible to groups who are underrepresented in Computer Science.

  1. We have run two pilot programs with Lumenus to teach coding to children with autism.  In the pilots, a coding instructor works with a therapist from Lumenus to modify our current educational program to meet the needs of children with autism.  Most of the changes are connected to delivery of education and not educational content.
  1. To support children’s mental health, we are working with Health Science students to develop educational apps.
  1. Stage 1 to make coding fun for low vision and Blind children is ElmMusic, which we tested in a summer camp, but we are still working on step 2—a structure editor to edit programs which eliminates grammatical errors and can provide deep contextual information for those accessing the app.

Contributors: Christopher Anand, McMaster Start Coding, Foundation STaBL Foundation, Margaret Secord, and many students, mostly from McMaster Start Coding, STaBL Foundation, and Lumenus Mental Health, Developmental and Community Services

Using AI to Improve Accessibility in Anatomy Education

Over the past two years, an interdisciplinary team of students, faculty, and staff of McMaster’s Education Program in Anatomy have been working to develop the AI-OSPE — an online, AI- based study tool that will increase the accessibility of anatomy learning. Objective structured practical exams (OSPEs) are a commonly used evaluation in anatomy education, and student success is largely dependent on their ability to access the anatomy lab and instructors for practice and feedback. Our tool, intentionally designed to meet the Web Content Guidelines for Accessibility, promotes accessibility and disability inclusion by providing virtual OSPE practice with AI grading, so that anyone can practice anytime, from anywhere, and still receive personalized, immediate, and accurate feedback without limits. For more information, read our publication: Development and Implementation of an Online OSPE Test Bank Graded by Artificial Intelligence.

Contributors: AI-OSPE Team for McMaster’s Education Program in Anatomy

Speech to Text Software Evaluation Research and Developing a McMaster Course on ASL & Deaf Culture

I (Dr. Magda Stroinska) co-supervised Carla Weigel’s MSc thesis with Dr. Daniel Pape on Speech to Text software evaluation that was started before COVID but gained more general applicability due to the need for subtitles in all on-line recordings. Please read more about Carla’s achievement during the McMaster Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) competition at the Current Research in Engineering, Science and Technology (CREST) meeting on March 12-13, 2021.

Also, I have been working with the American Sign Language instructor on the new course on Deaf culture that is being offered this term for the first time. To learn more about this exciting course, please visit the Course Calendar > New Courses Approved for Inclusion in the 2022-2023 Calendar > Linguistics > LINGUIST 3DS3 – ASL & Deaf Studies

Contributors: Dr. Magda Stroinska (Department of Linguistics & Languages), Carla Weigel (MSc Canidate), and Dr. Daniel Pape (Department of Linguistics & Languages)

Engineering 1P13 Course Content Remediation

A team of teaching assistants and instructional assistant interns, led by Professor Colin McDonald, remediated outlines and other course content for the course Integrated Cornerstone Design Projects in Engineering (1P13) to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Legislation this past year.

The team completed the audits and corrected the colour contrast issues on 1P13 videos. All lecture recordings and video tutorials now also have closed captions available for students.

The 1P13 course will continue to minimize the use of PDF and upload lecture files in their original and accessible formats.

Contributors: Dr. Colin McDonald, Jing Sui, Lazar Vlacic, Mackenzie Brooks, Nina Tran, Oliver Foote, Shanthika Ravindran, Abdullah Al-Fadhli, Dami Orole, Faculty of Engineering

Institutes and Centres

Symbol of an institution with 4 columns and text below that reads 'created by vector portal from noun project'.Developing McMaster Institute for Research on Aging and Labarge Centre for Mobility in Aging

The McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) is a cross-Faculty research institute focused on advancing the science of aging. While the growing population of older adults in Canada should be celebrated as a success, there are also challenges in developing policies and solutions that consider the older adults and citizens who will be most impacted.  MIRA encourages researchers to engage the older adult community, their families, healthcare providers and other key stakeholders through every stage of our activities. Their input ensures that research is, from the outset, optimized to create useable, practical, older adult-centred solutions that promote aging in place.

MIRA’s website is currently undergoing a complete redesign that, in line with larger university initiatives, aims to incorporate new accessibility features and align with the latest standards for accessible websites.

The Labarge Centre for Mobility in Aging (LCMA) was created in 2016 to facilitate and amplify research initiatives that help support older adults to maintain their mobility, both social and physical, as they age. The Centre fosters interdisciplinary research approaches to all aspects of mobility in aging.

Both MIRA and the LCMA support a range of research projects the impact accessibility. For more on MIRA and LCMA research projects, please visit: MIRA Research Projects.

Contributors:  McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) and the Labarge Centre for Mobility in Aging (LCMA) 

MIRA | Dixon Hall Centre Partnership

In 2021, the McMaster Institute for Research on Aging (MIRA) created the MIRA | Dixon Hall Centre, a unique partnership between MIRA and Dixon Hall, an established multi-service agency located in the heart of downtown Toronto. Through working with Dixon Hall, MIRA and its researchers seek to enhance research with, and services for, older adults who are facing housing insecurity, barriers to mobility, transitions in care (such as from the hospital to community) and equitable access to digital technology for older adults. These individuals historically have experienced barriers to accessing services and being represented in research. The centre is funded through a generous donation from Suzanne Labarge whose contributions to Dixon Hall are also assisting with technology, enabling critical enhancements to client data storage and supporting client connectivity – something that has never been more vital.

For more information, see our Daily News article: $5M gift aimed at supporting Canada’s most vulnerable seniors.

Contributors: McMaster Institute for Research on Aging and Dixon Hall


The Annual Accessibility and Disability Inclusion Update Copyright © 2022 by McMaster University. All Rights Reserved.

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