How do you spell accessibility? READ.
The READ (Research Education Accessibility and Design) Institute is currently a concept but within the next two years a small group of people at Carleton – led by the Paul Menton Centre’s Larry McCloskey and Dean Mellway – expect it to become a reality.
The idea behind READ is simple – identify challenges facing the disabled community and bring together engineers, architects and industrial designers and get them to incorporate solutions in their designs.
“We want to enact the realization of human rights by creating solutions to the problems raised by people in these courses,” says McCloskey, director of the PMC.
“Where Carleton is at today – in terms of the leadership here – there are a lot of reasons why the timing is right.
He says that the initial reaction to the READ Institute has been “electric.”
“The reception, the amount of research being done in the area already and the sense that this is not only a good idea that should happen … but that it has to happen, has been phenomenal.”
While disability studies programs currently exist at post-secondary institutions, many focus on human rights but McCloskey believes the READ Institute will go further.
Last spring, the READ Institute project received two-year funding from the Carleton Innovation Fund to conduct feasibility research. And McCloskey says four months into it tremendous progress has already been made.
“Let’s keep in mind that this is accessibility in the broad sense – building into products, planning, architecture, thinking about social issues inclusive of disability but not just about disability. It’s a universal design,” says McCloskey.
The core group driving the project is McCloskey and Dean Mellway from the PMC, and Carleton professors Ray Haines from social work, and Karen March, from sociology.
“We are trying to get this thing going but this is not about the Paul Menton Centre. The READ Institute will be an entity unto itself,” explains McCloskey.
The goal is to develop partnerships within the university – among faculty, departments, grad students – and externally, with community groups.
“A lot of the work that can be done will be enhanced by the partnership aspect,” adds McCloskey.
Also, the research potential of READ for graduate students is huge.
“The third priority is creating partnerships with the disability community so that the work they want done is a priority and we work together to find funding to research the issues that are of current concern to people with disabilities,” adds Mellway.
“The concept of the institute is to bring all that energy together – to get the right people around the table to come up with the ideas of what needs to be done … getting the scientists, engineers, computer scientists and the industrial designers to have a better understanding of disability issues.
“Instead of simply developing their designs and concepts based on market trends, they would be bringing a perspective of disability to it and hopefully from that, they will develop better designs and better products,” says Mellway.
The first milestone of the institute will be the establishment of a minor in disability studies, he says.
“The institute itself is a catalyst to bring all these groups together. Whether we have the courses as part of the institute or we have them as interdisciplinary studies – the institute is just the vehicle that brings everyone together and promotes the development of research and teaching opportunities.”
So, what’s next?
The goal is to have a formal structure for the institute in place within a year. In the meantime, there is a researcher examining what is currently already being done at Carleton, in Canada and globally regarding disability studies programs and how they’re structured.
“There are centres that are focussed on technology, great disability studies programs but there isn’t a focus on bringing the two sides together and that’s what we see the READ Institute as doing,” explains Mellway.
The timing for such a forward-thinking idea is good too, says McCloskey, because the Ontario government – under its AODA legislation – has said its goal is to be fully accessible province by 2025.
On the community engagement side of the project, McCloskey and Mellway have already starting reaching out to organizations that will play a valuable role in the broader education process about READ.
“The institute itself doesn’t run programs, it’s simply a catalyst. It’s a community-connected board (made up of representatives of all the stakeholders) that identifies the priorities for Carleton in the area of disability and promotes the good things Carleton is doing and gives us the opportunity to suggest things they need done and give people in their various academic silos to see what other people are doing and to collaborate,” says Mellway.
“We’ve had nothing but interest in every corner of the university.”