More than meets the eye: Supporting students with disabilities

By in Opinions

University should be accessible to anyone. On campus, Disability Services for Students ensures accommodation and equal opportunity for all, including those with disabilities that may not be obvious.

DSS exists at the University of Saskatchewan to assist all students with temporary or permanent conditions that impact their daily lives and/or academic work.

For students with physical disabilities, it’s necessary to ensure all classes are accessible. As it stands, all buildings on campus used for teaching are equipped with elevators or ramps — not always at the most convenient entries — but definitely not impossible.

Additionally, if a student with a physical disability is required to take a course that they aren’t able to reach by some circumstances, the class will come to them, so to speak. DSS will move any class — from anthropology to toxicology — to a room that best suits that student’s needs, without compromising the class a whole. 

“Disability,” however, is a broad scale term. In fact, only about six per cent of the 1200 students currently registered with DSS at the U of S are classified as having a physical disability.

Most DSS students — about 65 per cent — are identified as having mental health or neurological disabilities. Other classifications include communications and learning, medical, and sensory disabilities.

Most of the work DSS does to provide for students with disabilities might not be apparent to the onlooker. This can include students with attention deficit hyperactive disorder, acquired brain injuries, visual impairment, epilepsy or learning disabilities.

Such students might have trouble concentrating during lectures or deciphering textbooks. Others might be on medications that make it difficult to retain information. There’s a lot of variety when it comes to disabilities, and what works for some might not work for others. It’s important to offer a wide array of services to cater to the needs of each individual and DSS aims to do just that.

If they need it, students are able to request more time to complete exams or even to take them in a different location altogether. There is also an option to get electronic versions of textbooks that can be used with software that will read aloud the material.

Many students will also be familiar with the note-taking program, where volunteers submit their notes from a class to be used by a student who is unable to personally take them. Being a notetaker has some benefits as well: it’s helpful to have a reason to take comprehensive notes in class and volunteer work looks good on a resumé. Worried your notes aren’t good enough to submit? It’s completely confidential, meaning no one will ever know it’s your imperfect handwriting.

Academic aids available through DSS can also be funded by individual student grants from CanLearn, a program run through the federal government. A student with a disability can apply to receive up to $8000 from the government to cover costs. Arguably the best part of this? DSS is there to help you through every step of the application process, meaning no stressing over complicated forms.

DSS also works with non-profit organizations to provide students with the best available technology. Organizations such as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind provide assistance to individuals living with vision loss or impairment. Also, Media Access Production at the U of S provides multimedia solutions such as FM receivers to students who might find classrooms too noisy or distracting.

Every student deserves a chance to prove themselves, without hindrance. Accommodations must be provided to ensure that students with disabilities are successful in their learning while meeting the set credit requirements for their courses. Far from being exclusively for students with physical disabilities, at its core, DSS exists to provide an even playing field for all.

Emily Migchels