‘More than just a job’: School of Social Work director reflects on two decades of accessibility advocacy

Judy MacDonald receives 2022 Legacy Award

- November 29, 2022

Dr. Judy MacDonald joined Dal’s School of Social Work in 1999 as a targeted hire for a faculty member with a disability to promote disability scholarship and curriculum development.

Since then, she’s been a leading light in the quest to create a more accessible environment at Dal and beyond through her research, mentorship, advocacy, and community leadership. 

“The accessibility work I do across Dal is absolutely more than just a job,” says Dr. MacDonald, who lives with chronic pain causing mobility impairment. “It aligns with my personal and professional values, while integrating scholarship, policy development and organizational change.”

This year, Dr. MacDonald is being recognized for her work as the recipient of the 2022 Legacy Award in the President’s Award for the Advancement of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility (EDIA) individual faculty/staff category.

“Judy advocates for change that goes beyond words and moves into meaningful actions to make a difference to all who are historically underrepresented and underserved,” says Dr. Brenda Merritt, dean in the Faculty of Health. “She constantly demonstrates perseverance, tenacity, good judgement and advocacy for all members of equity-deserving communities.”

Director of the School of Social Work since 2018, Dr. MacDonald is also the Assistant Dean for Equity and Inclusion in the Faculty of Health. Her commitment and dedication to advancing supports, policy, scholarship and research for the disability community is inspiring.

Recommended reading: The path to accessibility: Inside Dal's plan to build a better campus for all

Helping student find their voice

Dr. MacDonald has a long history of excellence in national “(dis)Ability” research, with significant contributions to the field through publications in research journals, book chapters, formal reports and other media. But it’s mentoring students that gives her the most satisfaction. “I get the most joy out of  working with disabled graduate students in promoting their own research and helping them find their voice,” she says.

In fact, mentoring students is central to Dr. MacDonald’s work and promotion of EDIA across the university. She is actively engaged with students in doctoral programs and the MSW and BSW programs, and she has contributed to countless student dissertation and thesis committees as a supervisor, co-supervisor and committee member. 

“Judy is caring, thoughtful and passionate in her guidance of students with disabilities who actively seek her mentorship, and she deliberately seeks opportunities to work with these students,” says Dr. Merritt.

Accessibility Week

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3 promotes the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. For the first time, Dal has plans for an Accessibility Week leading up to that date. 

“This is a week where we can formally recognize the impact of  ableism on our community and promote the awareness of barriers that will then lead to institutional change,” she says. “The built environment poses  a challenge at Dal due to our  older infrastructure such as buildings that don’t have elevators or ramps, but even more challenging are attitudinal barriers where faculty or staff do not understand the right to accommodations or the importance of access and inclusion.” 

The rest of the year, Dr. MacDonald will continue to promote and celebrate disability on all levels — research, curriculum, rights and employment supports — but she insists she isn’t doing this work alone. “I am privileged to work with an amazing  group of people doing this work to break down barriers,” she says. “Dal is beginning to understand ableism’s impact, but we need to continue developing principles, policies and practices to guide our work to make Dal truly accessible to everyone in the future.”

While you're here . . . .

Check out What It's Like, a new web series launching for Dalhousie Accessibility Week. The series provides members of the Dal community an opportunity to share their experiences living with a disability. You can find entries here, updated daily.

Find information here on how you can share your own perspective. 


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