Creating our future: On Campus and Beyond

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Photo of Yolaine Ruel

Yolaine Ruel


Yolaine Ruel has worked at the University of Ottawa since 1988, acting as Head of its Access Service since 1999. She also coordinates activities and resources involved in the preparation, follow-up on and writing of the Annual Accessibility Plan under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 (ODA) and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). Yolaine supports values related to equity, diversity, accessibility and environmental protection. She is a member of the Advisory Committee on Employment Equity, the Advisory Committee on Security on Campus, the Advisory Committee on Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Committee and the United Way Organizing Committee at the University of Ottawa. At the provincial and national levels, Yolaine is a member of Ontario’s Inter-University Disability Issues Association (IDIA) and Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-secondary Education (CADSPPE).


Changing the Paradigm: Changing Perceptions and Culture

Yolaine Ruel, Head of University of Ottawa Access Services

Yolaine Ruel spoke about leadership and becoming an agent of change. She began by noting that, although the United States has had an Americans with Disabilities Act for 16 years, proactive regulations that support accessibility do not necessarily lead to a change in culture and people’s perceptions. Ruel referred to a chart that showed that, in 2005, the unemployment rate for disabled persons ranged from about 50% to 80% in the United States. It is shocking to see these statistics in a society in which the movement for accessibility has existed for so many years, she observed.

Ruel then compared two models of change. The medical model sees the specialist as the expert on the disability, defines classes of disability by medical symptoms, promotes stigmatization, views disability as a problem or anomaly, and is transactional in nature. The socio-political model, on the other hand, sees the individual as the expert, acknowledges that disability exists in the social environment, fosters inclusion, views disability as a social construct, and is relational in nature.

With respect to accommodations, the medical model sees them as disposable, one-time, non-reusable modifications to the environment; the socio-political model sees them as sustainable and embedded into the system by design. For example, in the medical model, transcribing one Braille brook for one student takes 200 hours, and the transcript is used once and is often delivered late. On the socio-political side, publishers automatically provide accessible files to bookstores even before classes begin.

Institutions need to make a philosophical shift from disposable to sustainable accommodations, Ruel said. A movement towards universal instructional design is underway, and designing accommodations into the environment itself has begun. Creating sustainable accessibility means changing institutional culture, and this change requires leadership and the adoption of principles of change management.

Celebrating 20 years