3. Welcome and Opening Remarks

Meric Gertler

We wish to acknowledge this land on which the University of Toronto operates. For thousands of years, it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit. Today, this meeting place is still home to many Indigenous People from across Turtle Island, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land. 

The National Dialogues series is a collaborative effort on the part of universities and colleges across Canada. It is a powerful source of positive social change as we have already seen through the launch of the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion. It’s so wonderful that colleagues from so many member organizations take part in this year’s gathering. 

This topic is of the greatest importance. There is strong consensus among Canada’s universities and colleges that in order to fulfill our educational mission we must embrace the full diversity of human experiences and perspectives. To that end, post-secondary institutions across Canada as well as the umbrella organizations representing our sector have integrated accessibility into their policies on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Those policies reflect our country’s human rights codes and related legislation, which address persons with disabilities alongside women, Indigenous people, and members of racialized communities as well as other equity-deserving groups. 

Accessibility is therefore one of our core shared values as scholars, teachers, administrators and as Canadians. It is a priority, not an afterthought, and it must be intentional and comprehensive. We’ve made considerable progress in the last couple of years. We can point to the work being done by the Accessibility Institute at Carleton University, the programs in Disability Studies at Bow Valley College, and the program in Disability and Citizenship Rights at Université du Québec à Montréal, the first of its kind in the Francophonie. Also, the Spatializing Care Lab at the St. Francis Xavier University, and our own Centre for Global Disability Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, to name just a few examples.

There are many other accessibility initiatives at your own institutes, but we need to redouble our efforts. Universities Canada, of which I am currently the chair, instituted a survey of EDI policies and practices at our member institutions in 2019. The results have helped provide the data we need for benchmarking, capacity-building and information sharing. They show a strong widespread commitment to accessibility across our sector, but they also confirm that a lot more remains to be done to fully meet that commitment. The survey was conducted again in 2022 and the results will be published soon.

As we emerged from the pandemic, our institutions are re-thinking how we use space as we reflect on the experience of working from home and respond to the increased demand for hybrid work arrangements. We are also re-thinking how we integrate digital technologies into our teaching and learning. As we ponder these questions, we have a tremendous opportunity to consider how to advance accessibility in the classroom and the workplace.  

We can use this process to accelerate the integration of universal design principles into our planning so that our teaching, learning and work environments, both in-person and virtual, will be increasingly accessible to all.

I want to thank all of you for your contributions in addressing ableism and accessibility in our institutions. Your expertise, passion and commitment are making a difference for the better. I would also like to thank the organizers of today’s gathering and colleagues across the country for actively engaging in the National Dialogues process. 

Meric Gertler
President, University of Toronto


Kelly Hannah-Moffat

The theme for this year’s UN International Day for People’s with Disabilities was transformative solutions for inclusive development: the role of innovation in fueling an accessible and equitable world. Under this theme, the UN encourages global conversations about how to remove barriers in both public and private sectors for those with lived experiences of disability.

It also encourages conversations about what innovations can support full access to employment in a rapidly changing world of work. Hosting these types of conversations is exactly what we want to do with these sessions. It’s exciting to have panelists from post-secondary institutions across Canada from the public and private sectors and more than 1,000 registrants.

We are here to embrace diverse perspectives, to confront current practices and assumptions, and as institutions co-create solutions with people who have lived experiences of disability. I want to thank all of the participants. Thank you for recognizing the urgency of what we are here to do, to ensure all members of our respective communities can participate fully in the activities and aspirations that define our institutions.

We will emerge from these dialogues with concrete strategies and ideas to apply to our own contexts, and we will as the UN suggests, work towards transformative solutions for inclusion and design our spaces, systems, language, and attitudes in ways that are accessible to all.

Inclusion is a necessary mindset. Without it we are not honouring the very reason post-secondary institutions exist, which is to nurture the success of all those who learn and work here. Nurturing this success involves creating an institutional culture that integrates principles of accessibility and belonging, and ensuring this culture engages and supports those with a lived experience of disability.  

When every member of our community experiences a sense of belonging, they can do their very best work, be their most creative and make their greatest contributions. Our learning, working and research environments can in turn be enriched by a wide range of lived experiences and ideas and that is when an institution can achieve excellence. By taking part in these dialogues all of us are making a commitment to achieving that goal. 

Kelly Hannah-Moffat
Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity and Culture



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