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District puts accessibility plan in action, opens surveys for public feedback

iStock-1007179030-accessibility.jpgThe Surrey Schools accessibility plan has taken effect to address issues of accessibility in Surrey and White Rock schools. The plan is guided by an accessibility committee, and the district is currently running two surveys to gather feedback on the plan and to identify barriers to accessibility. (Image via iStock)

Initiatives in the Surrey Schools accessibility plan are well underway as the district works to increase understanding of accessibility and reduce barriers for persons with disabilities throughout schools and other district facilities.

Launched last September, the three-year plan sets a course for the district to make changes aimed at improving the experiences for students, staff, families and community members with disabilities, and provide equitable access to opportunities.

The plan includes two surveys, which are open now, one to provide feedback on the accessibility plan and a second to identify barriers to accessibility in the district.

The plan follows the B.C. government’s introduction of the Accessible British Columbia Act in 2022, a provincial effort to support and further raise awareness for persons with disabilities to meaningfully participate in their communities. The act required more than 750 public sector organizations – including all 60 school districts in B.C. – to create accessibility plans and committees, and district staff quickly went to work.

“We really wanted to centre our work around the sentiment, Nothing About Us Without Us, that was key,” said Colin Reid, District Principal with Student Support. “What that means is, we’re not putting policies in place or creating regulations or setting up plans that will impact a group of people without ensuring that their voice is heard right from the beginning. They have to be the part of this important work.”

The act stipulates that advisory committees should feature a broad spectrum of people to represent B.C.’s diverse population. Committees must include an Indigenous person, and at least half of the members must be persons with disabilities or people who are a part of disability-supporting organizations.

Reid said they took one look at the minimum 50% requirement and made a conscious decision to exceed it, ensuring everyone on the seven-member committee is either a person with a disability, someone supporting a person with a disability, or someone who works with an organization that supports persons with disabilities.

“We said, ‘If we’re going to do this right, we have to be far above that minimum, we need to show the community how much we value their voice,’” he said. “Within the committee, we have an Indigenous teacher who shares an important voice and lens with us. We have a student, several staff members, a CUPE representative, an STA representative, a principal representative, a parent of a student with a disability and a community member. We are really proud to share that all of those members have their own lived experience with disability or supporting someone with a disability.

“It really is a fantastic representation of the idea behind the legislation.”

In addition to the committee, the district also established a working group made up of leaders within departments and schools who will carry out the work devised in the accessibility plan. The committee and working group collaborated to create the plan, setting a course for the district moving forward.

“It was amazing to have the working group support all of the accessibility plan recommendations that the advisory committee suggested,” said Reid. “That is quite significant, and it’s a testament to our district’s support for accessibility and the value we hold in hearing from the community. That’s something we should be really proud of.”

The plan aims to address four priorities for accessibility in Surrey & White Rock schools:

  1. enacting accessible recruitment and hiring practices;
  2. creating accessible schools and district facilities;
  3. establishing a common understanding of accessibility; and
  4. ensuring accessible employment with Surrey Schools.

The work includes reevaluating how job postings and interview questions are presented through a lens of accessibility, undergoing school and district site surveys to assess accessibility and prioritize related renovations and upgrades, and developing a uniform, districtwide understanding of such key terms as “accessibility,” “barrier,” “disability” and “inclusion.”

While the plan is dated 2023-26 and is to be reviewed and updated every three years, Reid said feedback from the ongoing public surveys will inform the committee and working group throughout the three-year span and allow them to adjust as necessary during the school year. He noted the feedback they have received to date has been affirming of the district’s work to improve accessibility and the goals they have set for themselves.

“We’re constantly engaging in the process of measuring if we’re going in the right direction, listening to the advisory committee and public feedback, and we’re able to make changes between now and then,” said Reid. “What we glean from that feedback will really help us set our targets and our goals moving forward.”

The surveys are both designed to be as accessible as possible, offering ways to give feedback beyond typing, including recording audio or video, or uploading an image.

To learn more about the district’s efforts to improve accessibility, click here. To provide feedback, click on the survey links below.

Accessibility Plan Feedback Survey | Accessibility Barrier Survey

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