Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our experience is unique to us. For example, I was in a lecture last semester where we were having a class discussion and a student needed something repeated. The professor said that it was in the chat box and the student had to speak up and say, “I have a visual disability, the chat box is hard for me to read.”
In an ideal world, we would have universal design. Universal design is a way of creating products that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, in the widest possible range of situations. It’s strongly related to accessibility.
A lot of people have had to think about accessibility because they face barriers in many different ways, whether the barriers have to do with mobility, mental or physical health, or more. These are all things that some of us may or may not have thought about and that’s why I wanted to meet with someone from York’s fabulous Student Accessibility Services Team!
Karen L. Swartz who is the Associate Director at Student Accessibility Services met with me (virtually, of course) to provide some insight.
Student Accessibility Services
When asked about the services Student Accessibility Services provides, Karen had a lot to say because the unit offers a wide range of supports and resources for students.
“We work with students to create an accommodation plan. The accommodations are then delivered to faculty members through a Letter of Accommodation. The purpose of the letter is to provide faculty with recommendations on how they can meet the needs of their students. Accommodations are meant to remove a barrier while maintaining academic integrity,” Karen said. “Some of the supports could include having access to alternate exams, extra time on tests or access to a scribe if they can’t write. Students will also benefit if they have a mental health issue or a flare up of their condition, as the accommodations provide them with support for extra time.”
Karen also said that the Accessibility Counsellors support students navigate the Bursary for Students with Disabilities that is attached to their eligibility is tied to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). “If you are a student with a diagnosed disability, then we can pursue student financial aid coverage for disability educational-related service or technology costs to support and enhance students’ learning. For example, software to help a student organize and track work and assignments might be an eligible expense.”
Support and Accommodation
All accommodations are based on the students’ documentation and are assessed by the counsellors. “For example, students who are deaf and hard of hearing may have varying degrees of individualized supports such as having access to different modes of interpreting that fit the student’s main mode of communication, from American Sign Language (ASL) or having Note Takers.”
Student Accessibility Services will work with a student to get them the customized support they need. “Our Assistive Technology Lab has quiet study areas, access to different technologies for different abilities and access to a low sensory space.”
There is also the academic skills programming from September to April to help students find tutors. Other programs Karen mentioned are ones such as, Connect for Success, which allows students to ask questions. There is also a Virtual Lab Help Zone, which is held twice a week for an hour with different support people to answer questions or to help students with academic or tech questions. Alternate Exams is also present to clarify the alternate exam process. There is also Time Management Tuesdays where tutors conduct the program and Wellness Wednesdays, which feature bi-weekly mindfulness and alternating virtual visits with Lucy the therapy dog.
If you are registered with Student Accessibility Services, you will be provided with details about all of these programs directly by email.
Adapting to Remote Learning
Students are now able to access drop-in appointments on eClass remotely through Zoom or by phone.
“We try to give students enough opportunity to connect with us and with their peers,” she said. “It is hard as some of them are still overseas but even with that students have shown up. It’s very exciting to build our programming to keep people informed and engaged so that there is a presence. Students know we are here to connect with them, and we have, in fact, had more students attend virtual programming then can commit to attending in-person.”
In addition to email communication, information about the sessions are on eClass for students registered with Student Accessibility Services.
How to Register with Student Accessibility Services
The Student Accessibility Services website will present students with two options: new or returning. Once you click on the appropriate choice the steps to register will follow. You will need to provide medical documentation.
Whether you are a new or returning student, “you are a student who was coping but maybe now with the move to online learning you are struggling it’s really important to get the support you need.”
If you are an avid note taker, there may be an opportunity for you with Student Accessibility Services. They are always looking for note takers to support other students. Not only will you be helping students, you will also get a volunteer letter of recommendation at the end of it for sharing your notes in a secure online website!
Students at Keele Campus can access and activate their accommodations by contacting Student Accessibility Services. Students at Glendon Campus should contact Accessibility, Well-Being and Counselling at Glendon.
Have you learned anything new about accessibility? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @YorkUStudents.
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