The concepts of diversity and inclusion need to be more than slogans or add-ons, and they need to be embedded into every level and area of our society. The research of Adrian Chan, professor in the department of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton University and director of the Research and Education in Accessibility, Design, and Innovation (READi) program, is advancing a basic civic right that has been woefully under-represented: accessibility.
Dr. Chan believes physical and virtual spaces, such as residences, offices and websites, as well as products, services and information have to be designed to suit the disparate needs of our entire society – not just the able-bodied but the huge segment of our population with visible and non-visible disabilities. His work in adaptive technologies has been recognized all over the world.
“Everyone is beginning to recognize the big need in accessibility, but the education element was always absent,” says Dr. Chan, comparing accessibility scholarship to ‘environmental sustainability’, which was a small niche topic but is now pervasive, and like ‘accessibility’ encompasses many different levels of education. “That these discussions are now multidisciplinary is a big inroad because one discipline can’t solve all of the accessibility problems. However, we’re starting to all pull together right now: we’re on the precipice of a big moment of change.”
The moment was solidified and then bolstered when Dr. Chan won a CREATE grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada worth $1.65-million over six years. In addition to the much-needed funds, the grant, awarded in May 2017, also brought recognition to Dr. Chan’s research and development. His philosophy espouses design solutions imparted at the beginning of a project, as opposed to retrofitted, and encompasses physical as well as mental health issues, including autism and Asperger syndrome. Dr. Chan believes that in a just society, the playing field should be even for everyone. This human rights issue gives meaning to his work and his life.
From socialwork to musicand art, historyto engineering,accessibility isbeing addressedfrom allperspectives andit’s exciting.— Dr. Adrian Chan Professor in the department of Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton University
“Engineering attracted me because it’s the problem-solving profession, but one thing we often forget is that it’s also a service profession and should be to the benefit of society,” says Dr. Chan, who started his career as a computer and biomedical engineer and landed on accessibility later, as he resonated with the cause. “From social work to music and art, history to engineering, accessibility is being addressed from all perspectives and it’s exciting. I feel fortunate to contribute in my own small way.”
Contributions in accessibility have manifested from the grassroots disability community, where the slogan “nothing about us without us” is brought to every project and considered in every aspect of Dr. Chan’s work. And while universities from Carleton to Queen’s to the University of Ottawa update their curriculums to incorporate accessibility design, simultaneously large corporate entities are adding previously unseen positions, like a chief accessibility officer at Microsoft. In a world in which a significant portion of society is affected by a disability, accessibility isn’t only timely and just – it’s good for business and it’s good for society at large.
Dr. Chan, a father of four, hopes to make the world a better place for future generations. “The problems are complex and require new, multidisciplinary thinking to move the needle forward to develop solutions, but I see it happening and I feel the change,” says Dr. Chan. “If we’re going to move accessibility forward, then we have to develop the next generation of leaders. I believe that our biggest success will be found in the students who finish their program and change the world in their careers.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.