Employee Spotlight: Catherine Roy

Headshot of Catherine Roy

Catherine Roy has been McGill’s Accessibility Advisor since July 2021. She has been active in the not-for-profit sector for over 30 years. She has worked with various stakeholders (community organizations, government agencies, academia, and private enterprise) on a variety of key issues such as access to the built environment, culture and information, health and social services, education, and employment as well as public policies and programs. She has coordinated or collaborated on research projects and initiatives, presented at numerous conferences and has written and collaborated on papers relating to access to information technologies. Catherine has also served on many working groups and boards of organizations concerned with issues related to disability, accessibility, and inclusion. We asked Catherine a few questions to learn more about her work as McGill’s Accessibility Advisor.  

What does an Accessibility Advisor do? 

Well, accessibility is a multifaceted issue that is fundamental for the inclusion of people with disabilities. And it concerns pretty much all areas of human activity. Whether we're talking about access to residential resources or transportation, access to the built environment such as buildings and public installations. It includes accessible hiring processes and access to workplace accommodations, and to information whether it's in written form or videos or web pages, etc. And it doesn’t stop there, because another piece of it pertains to access to decision-making processes and ensuring that accessibility is embedded systemically in an organization.  

So, to answer your question, my role as Accessibility Advisor is necessarily multifaceted as well. I work with various entities in the university to ensure that accessibility is included in the projects or activities I consult on so persons with disabilities feel welcomed and supported at McGill. For example, I work with Design Services at Facilities Management and Ancillary Services (FMAS) on construction or renovation projects. I help manage the Universal Access Capital Projects Fund. I also work with HR to support and strengthen accessible hiring and onboarding processes. I manage the Central Accommodation Fund, a centralized fund set up in 2020 to help streamline workplace accommodation requests from disabled staff and faculty. I work with Digital Communications to support the work they do with an accessibility lens. 

Another important part of my role is capacity building. I offer several workshops to help increase awareness and knowledge regarding disability, accessibility, and inclusion. So, for example, I offer workshops to faculty regarding accessibility in the classroom or in field studies and to staff on subjects like accommodating employees with disabilities or accessible onboarding practices. I also help others ensure their workshops and public-facing activities are accessible to all. 

Finally, I lead or collaborate on various ad-hoc projects and initiatives that can help elevate persons with disabilities at McGill and foster a culture of inclusion and disability pride. My door is always open to discuss issues or ideas related to disability and accessibility. 

Why is it important for McGill to have an Accessibility Advisor? 

That’s a great question. In the last 5 years and the last 2 years especially, an increasing number of organizations have begun to see the value in having accessibility specialists in advisory or leadership roles to ensure their efforts to build a culture of inclusion doesn’t leave out people with disabilities, as it often does.  

There are many reasons for this, but I think that recent legislative changes have had a huge impact. For example, the Canadian government recently adopted the Accessible Canada Act and that’s had ripple effects across many organizations all over Canada. Here in Quebec, the Quebec government’s accessibility standard for online resources was recently updated to include significant requirements for all learning establishments. I also think the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the many inequalities people with disabilities still face and the disability community has been working hard to keep those concerns front and center.  

McGill also sees the value in elevating disability issues across the university and, like many Higher Education institutions throughout North America, has decided to dedicate specific resources to accessibility, for example, by creating the Accessibility Advisor role in 2020, within the Equity Team at the Office of the Provost (Academic). One major motivation behind the creation of this role is to support the university in developing policies and practices that will have a systemic impact. 

As one of the world’s most prestigious, not to mention oldest universities, McGill faces several important and complex challenges in its accessibility journey. And as we saw earlier, accessibility requires a multidisciplinary perspective and must also be informed by lived experience. So, the Accessibility Advisor role is one way to help the university rise to those challenges. 

What are you working on this coming year? 

I’m so glad you asked! One of the things I’m working on that I’m very excited about is the McGill Accessibility Strategy. As we discussed, accessibility permeates all activities at the university. And we know that we also need to look at the underlying problems, like ableism and systemic barriers, if we are to succeed and really resolve accessibility issues and foster meaningful change for people with disabilities. 

Like several Canadian universities, McGill recognizes the immense value in developing a strategic vision for accessibility and the importance of gathering input, ideas, and recommendations from all stakeholders (students, faculty and staff) to advance that vision. To that end, we have created a Working Group whose mandate is to help inform and guide the development of the Accessibility Strategy, whether by identifying barriers to accessibility, developing and recommending goals to enhance accessibility, proposing resources and accountability measures, etc. 

The Working Group began its mandate last fall (2022) and this year, the work begins in earnest as we prepare to hold open consultations in the Spring with members of the McGill community to crowdsource ideas and perspectives that should find reflection in the Accessibility Strategy. Our goal is to finalize the plan by early summer at the latest, with a view to getting the plan to Senate and the Board in September 2023.  

I’m very excited about this work because it signals a meaningful commitment from the university to take accessibility to the next level and I’m thrilled to be a part of that! 

What does a healthy workplace mean to you? 

It’s no surprise that as a disabled woman, a healthy workplace means an accessible workplace, whether it’s the physical environment, the working conditions and employee benefits, the possibility to do remote work when needed, etc. For the most part, those things go without saying in any healthy workplace. But more generally, it means a workplace that fosters compassion, empathy, understanding, as well as one that supports creativity, initiative, and teamwork. A place where you can really be yourself and where diversity is embraced and celebrated.  

And I think I’m very lucky as that is exactly what I found when I became a McGill employee. 

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