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Laverne JacobsLaverne Jacobs hopes the research she conducts in California will ultimately help improve accessibility for people with disabilities in Ontario.

Windsor law professor named Fulbright Visiting Research Chair at UC Berkeley

A year engaged in research in what many consider the epicentre of the disability rights movement will help a law professor better understand how people with disabilities can have a greater voice in making Ontario more accessible.

Laverne Jacobs was recently named the inaugural Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Canadian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, a position she’ll assume when she goes on sabbatical next year.

“It’s a great honour,” Dr. Jacobs said. “I’m very excited. The Fulbright name is a very prestigious one and I’m delighted to represent the University of Windsor as a Fulbright scholar.”

While in California, Jacobs will study the development and implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a wide-ranging civil rights law enacted by U.S. Congress in 1990 that prohibits discrimination based on disability.

She’ll compare that to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, legislation enacted in in 2005, which lays the framework for developing province-wide mandatory standards on accessibility in such areas as customer service, employment, information and communications, transportation, and the design of public spaces.

The province’s aim is to make Ontario fully accessible for 2025 and Jacobs hopes a better understanding of the process that went into developing accessibility regulations in the U.S. will lead to the government achieving that goal, and ensuring that people with disabilities have a say in the matter.

“I’m curious about people with disabilities and their chance of having a voice in the establishment of those standards,” said Jacobs. “It seems that in the U.S. it was a very consultative process. There are a lot of opportunities to see how those regulations were created.”

Jacobs, who sat on the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Service’s Accessibility Standards Advisory Council between 2009 and 2012, will publish the results of her work when she returns and also hopes to make a presentation to the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, which manages the implementation of the disabilities act.

“It’s meaningful to me as a person with a disability,” said Jacobs, who teaches administrative law and a course called Law, Disability and Social Change. “I take my area of scholarship very seriously and I think it’s very important to expand the area of administrative law research. We need to talk about how regulations function on the ground and what kind of real impact they have on people. It’s a social justice issue that I think we need to address more rigorously.”

Studying in a city that was instrumental in launching the independent living movement is especially exciting, she added.

“It’s one of the places where a lot of barriers began to be broken,” she said. “Disability studies really began there.”

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