Case study: Housing

Accessible Housing Process Improvement 
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Performance Indicators Details 
What work was completed?

Incoming students to the University of Waterloo are guaranteed housing and it is a part of our responsibility to ensure the appropriate and/or accessible accommodations are available. During the spring of 2016, there were a number of challenges with our past process. This resulted in poor customer service, incomplete applications, and a low-level of awareness of student issues.

Housing and Residences (in coordination with housing providers at Renison, St. Jerome’s, and St. Paul’s) collaborated with AccessAbility Services to host a process mapping session with an external consultant (Scott Smith) to outline our current process and develop an ideal future state.

The resulting process allowed for students to better understand expectations related to registering for Accessible Housing, staff have clear communications, the development of new submission form, and a better understanding as to how on-campus housing providers are able to meet the (medically documented) functional limitations of incoming students. Now students are able to arrive with fewer concerns and an awareness that their accommodations on campus meet their needs.

What determined the focus in this particular area?

Through issues brought forward from students, parents, and staff members it was determined that:

  • AccessAbility Services was not focusing on their key areas (vetting and verifying documentation),
  • Housing providers were not able to articulate the steps in the process,
  • Students were incorrectly entering a process not intended for them,
  • Medically documented functional limitations were not known to housing providers, and
  • Student housing accommodations were at a risk of not meeting a student’s needs.

These issues were then discussed openly between AccessAbility Services and each of the Housing providers on campus to determine a change was necessary. These gaps (and bottlenecks) were identified during the process mapping exercise that spanned two days.

What were the overall results?

The overall results benefited students, families, and staff members here at Waterloo.


  • Fewer students entering the Accessible Housing process with applying into residence. 270 in 2016 (175 of those applications were incorrect), which was decreased to 139 in 2017 (50 of which were incorrect).
  • Clear delegation of roles and responsibilities for the overall process. AccessAbility Services focused on vetting and verifying medical documentation while housing providers provided the student service.
  • Stronger connections between staff members in different departments. This was accomplished through meetings, training, and collaboration opportunities.


  • Clear understanding of the Accessible Housing process, which was outlined through a separate website and reinforced by each housing provider.
  • New submission form, which required a medical professional to complete and verify a medically documented need.
  • Follow-up communications regarding the decision and recommended adjustments for housing accommodations.
  • Greater opportunities for students to be placed in communities where they would prefer to live (i.e. more opportunities for students to live at a University College residence).
  • More welcoming environment for students when arriving on campus by ensuring the modifications to the accommodations were complete prior to arrival.
What did you learn (positives and challenges)?


  • Campus collaboration allowed for some efficiencies in each department
  • Clear documentation allow for better training/cross-training opportunities for staff involved in the process.
  • Outlining our ideal process (regardless of the technology/system) produced powerful results.
  • Having clear requirements for the process resulted in fewer incorrect and frustrated students.
  • Staff who either modify the space (Facilities) or create the positive environment (Residence Life) had more time to prepare to welcome students with medically documented needs.
  • Awareness of functional limitations and modifications needed to spaces


  • The new process was intended to affect the incoming first-year student process, but was quickly modified and adjusted to support the assessment process for non-first year students looking to secure housing accommodations. Not all staff were prepared for this adjustment.
  • The ideal state was not achievable (due to constraints in technology changes), but improvements were apparent.
  • Automated messages were not sent, which created a time where there was not a clear understanding of the next steps in the process.
  • Challenges in sharing confidential documentation between departments (SharePoint vs. SendIt)
  • Opportunities to involve more departments/areas on campus in the process were missed. For example, many students are bringing forward issues with food related allergies. Food Services should be involved in the future.

Please contact Kimberley Snage for any questions.