Managing Accessibility: A Case Study at the University of Waterloo
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This study examined how a quality management system, which includes a crowdsourcing application, could improve accessibility. As a result this research captured the interactions a person with impairment has with the built environment they encounter and how those experiences are facilitated. No person should be denied access to quality of life enhancing services based on ability. Currently, however, there is a deficient focus on accessibility. Despite legislative advancements, much of North America’s current infrastructure and facilities predate accessibility law. While standards regulate accessibility, current building codes offer few contemporary methods for improving accessibility beyond basic guidelines. In that regard, a quality management framework could provide attention and incremental improvement to accessibility. This case study analyzed connections between people and accessibility at the University of Waterloo. Qualitative methods allowed meaning to emerge from key informant interviews. Secondary sources revealed how university operations function. Observations provided data that illustrated effective or ineffective accessibility. Investigation was not limited to the physical provision of access. It included an inquiry of the patterns, behaviors, and mechanics of providing accessibility. Naturally, accessibility was not the only field where potential improvements were delayed or precluded because of systems concerns. For good environmental practice, the manufacturing industry’s reaction to environmental concerns led to the increased use of environmental management systems (EMS) that were based on quality management frameworks. ISO-14001 is an extensive EMS focused on improving quality, which manages tangible inputs (legal compliance, auditing, or reporting) to a larger less tangible concept (environmental conservation). Similarly, accessibility could benefit from recurrent managerial improvements that would identify, manage, and report barriers for improvement. The aspects of ISO-14001 can be adapted for improving accessibility. Based on the findings, management systems are not used to provide accessibility on campus. While there are no major barriers to impede a person from their educational pursuits, there are some limitations that affect equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Often the limitations remain unchanged. New construction of facilities affords opportunity for improved access. Existing procedures do not give accessibility the attention needed for regular improvements. A quality-based management system would incorporate the aspects of accessibility to gain incremental refinements. Including the crowdsourcing application would provide valuable feedback to assist the process.