Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Library & Information Science


Hill, Heather


Although individuals with disabilities represent more than 22% of the Canadian population over the age of 15, they remain underrepresented in higher education, and especially in the university setting. Although some library and information science (LIS) research has focused on creating accessible webpages, resources for individuals with print disabilities, and the physical infrastructure of libraries, few studies have included the perspectives of disabled individuals themselves or attempted to understand how libraries are conceptualizing disability and accessibility. By incorporating a disability-studies lens into this study, we can develop a more comprehensive understanding of the obstacles that arise in the pursuit of university education for students with disabilities, and perhaps of the ways in which academic libraries may address some of these obstacles. This dissertation, then, examines what Canadian academic libraries are doing to support university students with disabilities and how students are experiencing services in practice.

To answer these questions, a comparative case study was conducted across two provinces, focusing on one institution in Ontario and one in Québec. Ontario has developed the most comprehensive accessibility legislation in Canada over the last decade, while Québec’s legislation remains relatively unknown and weak. At each institution, data was collected from a variety of sources: interviews with library staff members; survey with students registered with Disability Support Services; interviews with a selection of students; examination of library policies and reports; and a physical and informational audit. Analysis was carried out using grounded theory, interpretative phenomenological analysis, and thematic analysis.

Key findings suggest that while academic library staff members have good intentions and often support disabled individuals on a one-to-one basis, there is a lack of awareness about accessibility needs and about how services and resources might be adapted to accommodate more users. Students highlight positive experiences in interacting with library staff, but they face a variety of obstacles in accessing spaces, resources, and information about accommodations or accessible services.