Feb. 25, 2021Print | PDF
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Brantwood Community Services had to figure out how to deliver its services to people with disabilities and their families in a safe and meaningful way. It turns out Wilfrid Laurier University User Experience Design (UXD) student Christina Stiller was just the person to assist.
Brantwood Community Services is a non-profit organization based in Brantford that helps adults with disabilities live the life they want through supports and services. Stiller was selected to work with Brantwood for a one-year co-op job as part of the User Experience Design program. She applied her skills to help the organization adapt its online presence to better serve clients in the context of the pandemic.
“We have been operating since minute one of the pandemic,” says Bridgette O’Neil, executive director of Brantwood Community Services. “After hearing a presentation by Professor and Program Coordinator Abby Goodrum about Laurier’s User Experience Design program, we thought it was a great opportunity for us to take a look at how people with disabilities and their families access different aspects of our supports.”
Launched in 2017, Laurier's UXD program equips students with skills in design thinking, interaction design, information architecture, project management and entrepreneurship. UXD students also work directly with local companies and community organizations to create design solutions for their content, products and service needs.
“We’ve been building on the core practices that we’ve been learning since first year. I feel confident, much more than I had been when I started this work term.”
Prior to the pandemic, Brantwood had hired students studying to become developmental support workers and personal support workers, but Stiller’s placement was the first opportunity for the organization to work with a university student on a technology-based project at the heart of its strategic goals.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were trying to manage the challenges of the day, but we recognized it was also a good opportunity to tackle some of our long-term goals,” says O’Neil. “We needed to find out how people with disabilities are accessing different aspects of our supports and how their families connect with us.”
When Stiller began working at Brantwood in July, the first priority was updating the organization’s website to help people with disabilities and their families efficiently navigate services and find the information they need.
“The process started with a lot of research because this was a field I was unfamiliar with,” says Stiller. “Going into it, I didn’t know what the website needed or didn’t need, so I’ve been talking with families and the people who work here to find out what’s necessary and how they interact with Brantwood online.”
The shift to a virtual world has brought the task to the forefront for Brantwood, says O’Neil. The pandemic has completely changed how the organization delivers its services and has opened doors to connect with families in new ways.
“The bank is proud to help provide opportunities for students to gain real-life experience. Our donation to Laurier is designed to help ensure that students learn the necessary skills to have a fulfilling career while supporting their communities.”
Stiller is also helping recruit new employees for Brantwood through virtual campaigns, interviews and training to minimize in-person risks.
“My team just doesn’t have the time to work through this process while we’re trying to figure out what our support delivery looks like as we change in the COVID-19 world,” says O’Neil. “Christina has brought this clarity and expertise to our organization.”
Stiller says the experience has allowed her to put what she has learned as a UXD student for the past three years into practice.
“We’ve been building on the core practices that we’ve been learning since first year,” says Stiller. “I feel confident, much more than I had been when I started this job placement.”
Stiller’s co-op position was partially funded by a donation from Scotiabank to Laurier’s UXD program.
“Scotiabank believes that investing in academic partnerships with a focus on digital technologies and analytics, positions our future leaders with the necessary skills to support their success in the digital economy,” says Charles Achampong, director of academic partnerships at Scotiabank. “The bank is proud to help provide opportunities for students to gain real-life experience. Our donation to Laurier is designed to help ensure that students learn the necessary skills to have a fulfilling career while supporting their communities.”
O’Neil says the UXD co-op program offers an excellent opportunity for non-profit organizations.
“Even though there are challenging parts to the pandemic, there’s also rapid opportunity,” says O’Neil. “There is a lot of opportunity and innovation that can happen during this time, which we wouldn’t have had the resources to dig down into. Christina is helping us do that.”