ANTIGONISH: Accelerating efforts to advance accessibility on its campus, StFX University launched its first ever multi-year accessibility plan.

Vice President, Finance and Administration, Monica Foster, explained the plan identifies specific goals and initiatives to advance accessibility in StFX’s community and ensure that the university supports the Province of Nova Scotia’s goal of being an accessible province by 2030.

“It is our first accessibility plan. Although it’s good for in and of itself, it should have always been done,” Foster, who was also the co-chair of the StFX Accessibility Advisory Committee told The Reporter in an interview. “It’s a real important step in our progress to becoming a fully equitable, diverse, inclusive, and accessible institution. The overall purpose of the plan is to provide barrier-free access to all individuals who come to StFX, whether that’s faculty, staff, students, or visitors.”

The StFX Accessibility Plan identifies six key areas where improvements are needed; teaching, learning and research; information and communication; goods and services; employment; transportation; and the built environment.

“Being fully accessible is a huge, huge, initiative, so these are steps to get to that final outcome. It’s a three-plus year plan that will be revisited and change as needs or different aspects of accessibility change,” Foster said. “What was considered accessible in the past is not near to what is deemed accessible now.”

StFX University’s commitment to accessibility begins with identifying, removing, and preventing barriers to accessibility in all aspects of university life. These barriers, she said, may be attitudinal, organizational, physical, or within the design of information, communications, and technology systems.

“We are undertaking a huge project at the Saputo, the lens of accessibility is all through that project,” Foster said. “Anytime you’re not accessible to employees, staff, students, you are not servicing the needs of your community, so as much as we can do, as fast as we can do, with the quality that it needs to be done with, we need to do.”

The StFX Accessibility Advisory Committee and StFX Student Accessibility Advisory Committee, which guided the plan’s development, were cross-functional and received input from the community via a campus-wide consultation process.

Foster suggested to become fully accessible, it will require some amount of financial contribution from the provincial or federal governments.

“The legislation does allow for some grandfathering, but grandfathering doesn’t get you fully accessible, so it’s a balance of what can you do for the money you have, how can you get more funding to do the incredibly important projects that are needed,” she said. “And you have to prioritize what you’re doing, and 2030 is really just around the corner, so the plan is ambitious, we want to get there, we’ll be working towards it.”

While highlighting StFX’s new buildings, which are for the most part, very accessible to all, Foster acknowledged the university also has buildings that are over 130-years-old.

“And they are not accessible in any way, shape, or form. That does pose huge problems for us to ensure accessibility to where we have our education faculty, where we have our modern language faculty, those buildings are not accessible,” she said. “The annex, which is well beyond its years of productivity, is not fully accessible; the built environment has a considerable amount of challenges for StFX.”

Foster advised while it’s a very comprehensive plan, there are 65 initiatives that have gone through the wringer, and have been endorsed by the Board of Governors and the vision is endorsed by the university’s Senate.

“Some you would consider to be important and easy to accomplish, those are the ones we can get done relatively quickly, we also have ones that are important but require resources and or funding from other areas, they’re no less important but they will be harder to undertake quickly,” she said. “There are some that are important but require cross-collaboration from many areas, those will take additional time you have all parties doing the work and effected by the work, involved. We need to build StFX the way it’s meant to be, and that is a fully-accessible institution.”

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Drake Lowthers has been a community journalist for The Reporter since July, 2018. His coverage of the suspicious death of Cassidy Bernard garnered him a 2018 Atlantic Journalism Award and a 2019 Better Newspaper Competition Award; while his extensive coverage of the Lionel Desmond Fatality Inquiry received a second place finish nationally in the 2020 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards for Best Feature Series. A Nova Scotia native, who has called Antigonish home for the past decade, Lowthers has a strong passion in telling people’s stories in a creative, yet thought-provoking way. He graduated from the journalism program at Holland College in 2016, where he played varsity football with the Hurricanes. His simple pleasures in life include his two children, photography, live music and the local sports scene.