Three Brock University community members were honoured this week for their longstanding contributions to accessibility and inclusion.
At an event Wednesday, Dec. 7 commemorating International Day of Persons with Disabilities, which is marked annually by the United Nations on Dec. 3, Bryan Cober, Manager, Structural Services, Facilities Management; Jennifer Thiessen, Head, Teaching and Learning, Brock University Library; and Nwakerendu Waboso, a PhD candidate in Child and Youth Studies, were each presented with the 2022 Accessibility and Inclusion Recognition Award.
The annual award is presented by the Human Rights and Equity Office and is distributed to individuals who have contributed to a community free of discrimination. One is given to a current student and another to a staff, librarian or faculty member.
This year, members of Brock’s Anti-Ableism and Mental Health (AAMH) Committee, which is a working group of the President’s Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Equity and Decolonization (PACHRED), chose to award three recipients, stating there were several outstanding nominations.
Cober was nominated by both students and staff, which AAMH Committee member Judith Brooder said is a testament to the impact he has on campus as a longtime disability ally and advocate for the built environment.
“His significant care and contributions, while unseen by many, do not go unnoticed by those for whom, through his care and attention, provide a more inclusive experience in navigating our campus,” said Brooder, who is also the Student Accessibility Services Manager.
Cober was recognized for his thoughtful approach to inclusion, especially for his efforts in consulting with equity-deserving populations before making facility decisions that impact the entire campus community.
Thiessen was recognized for her extensive and lasting efforts in creating a campus environment that is inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible.
As the University’s Accessibility Librarian for nearly two decades, Thiessen has provided leadership in ensuring the Brock Library’s services, spaces and collections are accessible, including playing a pivotal role in helping the library evolve as technologies, services and legal framework have changed.
She is also Chair of the Library’s Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Decolonization (IDEA+D) Committee and is the past Chair of the Library’s Accessibility Working Group.
Thiessen has been involved in many projects related to a broader inclusivity mandate, including leading the creation of an Indigenous Collection, creating a summer-long group reading of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, participating in “Free Mom Hugs” outreach to 2SLGBTQQIA+ students, advocating for a dedicated individual study space in the library for students registered with Student Accessibility Services, and training library colleagues on relevant procedures to ensure they keep accessibility top of mind.
Thiessen’s motivations are both professional and personal.
“As someone with a disability, I know what it is like to experience barriers and feel left behind,” she said. “I do what I can to ensure all students have access to the services and resources they need to succeed academically, but also to feel safe, included and respected.”
Waboso was recognized for her longstanding volunteer involvement with Brock’s Ability Empowerment Day, which is an annual event aimed to help high school students with disabilities from across Ontario build confidence in choosing their future path.
Over the past four years, Waboso has mentored other students and worked diligently to understand and accurately represent the life experiences of students with disabilities and provide them with the space and tools needed to succeed.
She assesses situations with an inclusive and accessible lens that inspires others to step outside of their personal biases to do the same.
Waboso believes it is important to connect with initiatives that have the potential to make a larger impact than she or any one person could contribute.
“My personal impact is mobilized within larger initiatives and there is great strength in amalgamating voices to speak truth into the process of interrogating existing inequitable standards across intersections and particularly for equity seeking groups,” she said.
Following the presentations of the three award recipients was a virtual presentation on “Engaging and Celebrating with Disability Communities” by Nathan Shipley, a disability self-advocate, activist and public speaker, and interactive roundtable experiences with disability community members.
The event was organized in collaboration with the Office of Human Rights and Equity, the Brock-Niagara Centre of Excellence in Inclusive and Adaptive Physical Activity, and PACHRED’s AAMH Committee.