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Counselling and Accessibility ensuring there are no barriers for students with academic accommodations

Emily Stewart | Interrobang | News | January 9th, 2017




Fanshawe College’s Counselling and Accessibility Services has slightly changed the process of letting professors know what accommodations their students need.

Suzanne Book, the senior manager of Counselling and Accessibility Services, explained that in the past, students would meet with their counsellors and develop their accessibility plan. Then, the students would send their accommodation letters to their professors.

Now, Counselling and Accessibility Services will send the students’ accommodation forms to their professors.

Book said that students are also able to opt out of that if they feel they don’t need to use their accommodations for a particular class.

“Sometimes they feel that their accommodations are really things like access to the lab or the software that they’re using, and they really don’t feel that they need any classroom based accessibility accommodations. Or they feel that they don’t relate to a particular classroom because of the way that it’s taught and things are already posted, notes are posted etc,” Book said.

According to Book, while students have that choice, she recommended only opting out if there was a specific reason to do so.

“Sometimes it can be helpful just for that professor still to know. Maybe the student doesn’t feel that they need that right now in terms of time for tests or things like that, but it still might be helpful for that professor to have that information,” Book said.

Brenda Ryan, an accessibility advocate in London, said that interpersonal conflict is key in the discussion about students choosing which professors know about academic accommodations.

“It doesn’t mean the prof is a good prof or a bad prof. Sometimes the personality types may not fit,” Ryan explained. “If you have a particular disability or challenge that you have to deal with over and above the standard of being successful at school, it just makes your life really difficult if you’re not comfortable in confiding with your professor what accommodation you need.”

Book said the change in the process came after the Ontario Human Rights Commission recommended that post-secondary institutions break down barriers for students with mental health issues and other accommodations last spring.

She said that Counselling and Accessibility Services emailed the students, asking them to let them know whether or not they want the information shared. The accommodation letters were sent out during the first week of the winter semester. She also said students who come in regularly are informed about the process.

Book added that professors at the college are contacting Counselling and Accessibility Services to learn more about their students’ accommodations. She explained that while the counsellor’s contact information is always included on the form, professors are now able to reply right away.

“They can more easily email back and say, ‘Well, how might this work?’ or, ‘Does this student still need to request an extension, or is it automatic?’” Book said. “We can clarify some of those questions and still encourage every professor to offer students with any kind of accommodation the opportunity to discuss things individually and how that might work.”

Book added that there will be surveys and feedback forms available for students in the lobby in the future.

Carlie Forsythe, the Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) president, added that professors can check off when they see the students’ accommodations on Fanshawe Online (FOL).

“By having it automatically done through this process and having a teacher mark off ‘yes, I’ve seen it’. We’re hoping that doing that, more profs actually follow the rules of AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act).”

She worked with a group, including a student and people from a variety of departments spread throughout the campus, to come up with strategies to improve accessibility during the summer. She said that the group worked on several projects relating to accessibility services, and the change to the accommodations section on Fanshawe Online is significant.

“It’s pretty proactive, in my opinion,” Forsythe said, adding that they’re focusing on addressing the accommodations to part-time faculty.

“A lot of the full time staff are on board. They understand it, but you pull a part-time staff member last minute, and you expect them to understand all this stuff, it’s really difficult.”

Forsythe added that students can be on the lookout for future Q&A sessions about accommodations. They are held from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in E2037.
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