40+ years enhancing disabled student learning experiences at McMaster University

Reflections from an intergenerational web of accessibility workers


  • Alise de Bie
  • Emunah Woolf
  • Kate Brown
  • Omar Hamdan
  • Katherine Hesson-Bolton
  • Raihanna Hirji-Khalfan
  • Ryan Joslin
  • Nick Marquis
  • Anne Pottier




People at McMaster University have been engaging in access work—the labour of proactively enhancing accessibility for persons with disabilities—for decades. In this chapter, we contribute to the recognition and preservation of these efforts by documenting forms of often invisible “behind-the-scenes” accessibility work that support disabled student learning experiences. We do so by sharing interconnected reflective snapshots from nine disabled and nondisabled students, alumni, staff, and educators. We argue that enhancing accessibility in teaching and learning is not just about physical accessibility, legislative compliance, or the domains of the classroom, course content, or the student-instructor relationship. Accessible education also requires the creation of a campus environment where everyone is embedded in relations that make access work possible and sustainable: community, paid employment, colleagueship, friendship, and mentorship. Several themes echo across our interconnected web of accessibility histories, including different change strategies adopted based on diverse positions, timing within the university, and individual needs, skills, and motivations for involvement. Overall, this chapter sheds light on several dimensions and evolutions of access work over the last 40+ years at McMaster University.

This chapter is undergoing copyediting and will be published shortly.






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