A&E Reviews

SFU Accessibility Programming

by Maegan Thomas

Notes from our April 20  & April 27 stories on the SFSS Accessibility Funds.

Listen to our content here, our episode live in studio and the full on air interviews:

SFU Ideas & Issues - Accessing the SFSS Accessibility Fund - episode and related interviews

We are still collecting comments and statements from all involved and will post anything that cannot be contained on air, online here or on our mixcloud (above).

VP Student Services Darwin Binesh's response to our questions:
[Note: Binesh has not accepted a request for interview, and did not provide substantial comment on specifics on the process of funding or student consultation past or future. We have not received verification on the interpersonal aspects in this statement. Binesh and the Board have denied access to exit report for his year as VP External. Binesh  has referrred our questions to the incoming SFSS President.]

           There has been a lack of clarity around the Accessibility Fund. The way the fund was granted was broken, and was taken advantage of for a long time. Before I took over, people would go to the committee to get funds for their friends with incomplete forms, inaccurate invoices, and sometimes no invoices at all. Consequently, this process needed to be changed in order to ensure proper accountability around these student funds. I know many people did not like the delays and the lack of clarity, but as per provincial law, I did what I though was best in regards to the management of Society funds. 

The SFSS Board received a presentation on the way forward, and the board has endorsed that process. It will be used this summer to grant funds. The premise of the new process is to provide all students access to funds, regardless of whether or not they are in a club or are an individual member. If anyone would like a presentation please let me know. [We have requested a copy of this presentation and have not received as Wed April 27 12p]
I recognize there have been challenges with AFAC, and many of them were a result of change. I wanted to implement these changes myself, for a variety of reasons. The way the SFSS has granted funds until this year has been very strange. Without getting into specifics, I will say that I've received several apologies for the way I was treated regarding AFAC, and what people said about me personally as a result of how they felt about the proposed changes. I'll admit frankly that I could have done a better job throughout the process and a few things that came up were unexpected. Timelines were also delayed and the board is aware of that as well. Though they were not intentional, I can tell they were not appreciated. 
The exit report I am writing this year will include information from both years my years on the board, and that will be posted online.
Recommendations from Weldon Haywood, former Students United for Disability Support President, who submitted this statement after Part 1 aired April 20 and we requested input on future SFSS Accessibility strategy from students with access issues. 
Here is my list of recommendations for the Accessibility Fund

(1) I would like the undermining of the Accessibility Fund Committee to come to an end, with no more decisions being made regarding grant applications and changes to the Accessibility Fund without full consultation with the Accessibility Fund Committee.
(2) I do not expect much from the Current Accessibility Fund Chair who has been quite disrespectful towards students with disabilities on the committee and towards students with disabilities in general. I hope the new chair will turn the Accessibility Fund in a more positive direction, by promoting inclusion not exclusion.
(3) I would like the new chair of the Accessibility Fund to be engaged with the disability community on campus by attending events, meetings put on by disability groups and for them to hold public consultations.
(4) [Because of a] lot of disrespect towards SUDS, AFC members with disabilities and the wider disability community on campus that a lot of work rebuilding positive relations needs to happen, but has to start with acknowledging the many problems before any real change can take place.
(5) I would like to see more undergrad students with disabilities on the Accessibility Fund Committee, not just two SUDS members, and for the AFC to have regular meetings then has been the norm this past year.
(6) I would like all attendees of AFC (including staff) to be trained in Disability Justice, Radical Access, Accessibility, Anti Bullying, Ableism, and collective modules of engagement. This work should only be put on by disability community members, that are involved in this form of education. This to also extend to all board members and staff.
(7) I would also like more education provided about how Student Unions and SFSS groups can apply for the fund and the importance of making their events fully inclusive and accessible. Groups need to be informed on how to make their events accessible and what this looks like.

SFPiRG's official statement:

              The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group, or SFPIRG for short, is SFU's centre for social and environmental justice. Part of our approach to social justice includes a commitment to disability justice, accessibility, and inclusion.
In August 2015, six community organizations came together to run Fat Camp, a 9-day intersectional exploration of the ways in which systems of oppression intersect with fatness. The community organizations include Out On Campus, the SFU Women's Centre, PeerNetBC, Fat Panic! Vancouver, the Radical Access Mapping Project, and SFPIRG.
Several participants for Fat Camp registered and indicated that they required ASL interpretation, Deaf-Blind interpretation, and Deaf-Blind intervention in order to fully participate in the series of events. Organizers were confident that these accommodations could be provided. Because Out On Campus and the SFU Women's Centre are both departments of the Simon Fraser Student Society, or SFSS for short, they have access to the SFSS Accessibility Fund, a fund that students created to ensure that events and programming at SFU are fully accessible.
An application to the Accessibility Fund was made, requesting over $16,000 in funding for these accommodations. Although this amount may seem quite high, it is consistent with similar accommodation costs incurred by SFU's Centre for Students With Disabilities. When it became clear that the request would not be funded in a timely manner, SFPIRG paid for the accommodations upfront, with the intention of being reimbursed via the Accessibility Fund.
From the initial application in July 2015, through to the present day in April 2016, there has yet to be an official and clear response from the SFSS regarding the application.
We have been told that there was no process in place for receiving applications.
We have been told that it was unclear whether the event was an SFSS event.
We have been told that retroactive payments cannot be made from the fund.
We have been told that a new policy has been developed to address applications to the Accessibility Fund.
We have been told that requests for accessibility funding now require at least 30 days' notice before an event takes place.
We have been told that changes to securing accessibility funding will occur again next year.
We have been told many things. However, many things remain unclear.
It is unclear whether the request for accessibility funding for Fat Camp has been denied.
It is unclear whether ANY SFU student or student organization could successfully apply for funding through the Accessibility Fund, whether it be for any event or for any accessibility measures.
It is unclear whether the SFSS will honour its obligations to the student body, who voted in 2005 to establish the Accessibility Fund for the very purposes it has been used for in the past, and for which it should be used in this very instance.
All SFU students should be deeply troubled by the fact that the Accessibility Fund seems to be no longer accessible. Accessibility and inclusion are how we show that all members of our community matter. The Accessibility Fund is one way that SFU students have shown over the past decade that they care about the inclusion of EVERYONE at SFU.
It is worth noting that the Accessibility Fund is quite large, and many, many thousands of dollars are currently sitting in the fund at this moment. Rather than limiting the use of the fund, the SFSS should be identifying ways to increase spending from this fund on direct accessibility measures and on community education of the importance of accessibility, inclusion and disability justice.
As long as the application process for the Accessibility Fund remains unclear and in flux, and as long as dollars pile up unused in this fund, it is clear that priorities are not in order. The consequence is that SFU students, their communities and their loved ones are left divided, isolated and excluded.
We look forward to the day when accessibility and disability justice are once again at the forefront of all student organizing at SFU.
To quote Mia Mingus, a brilliant writer and advocate for disability justice, "I imagine a world where our organizing and activism is less segregated, where our movements and communities are accessible and don’t participate in the isolation of disabled communities. I imagine places where we fight for whole and connected people, families and communities."

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