This month we’re taking a look at some issues at OCAD. Can you think of any common problems, or have you experienced any difficulties here?

Actually, there is something that I think OCAD really needs to improve. It’s kind of a sensitive topic, though, for me and for a lot of people, I think. When I started at OCAD I saw an advisor at the CSD, which is the Centre for Students with Disabilities. I get accommodations that are meant to help me get the most out of school and support me so that I can, as cheesy as it sounds, reach my potential.

A lot of universities have systems like that, and a lot of standards are set by the government to make sure that organizations like universities provide accommodations for people who need them. But it can be difficult to talk about stuff that’s so personal. So, when something goes wrong or doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, it’s tempting to just… not do anything about it. But I also believe in the CSD and the importance of supporting students who need it with accommodations, because it means providing all students, regardless of ability, a quality education.

So you think the CSD could be improved?

Not so much the CSD as the rest of the faculty and staff. Like, their awareness about accommodations. The advisors at the CSD are really good at figuring out what kind of support each student needs and which accommodations would actually help and make a difference. But there’s a difference between being given accommodations and actually receiving them. And it’s the professors that make that difference and have that responsibility.

But they don’t really have a choice, right? Or is it up to them to make the final decision when an accommodation is necessary?

Well it’s tough because, no, they can’t deny a student an accommodation that was approved by the CSD, but sometimes they do. Whether its out of ignorance, or a misunderstanding, or some other reason. The reason I think the faculty at OCAD needs to improve with this is because, at least personally, the accommodations are almost doing more harm than good. I haven’t made it through a single semester at OCAD without facing some obstacle with my accommodations. One of my accommodations allows me to be granted an extension for assignments if symptoms associated with my disability prevent me from meeting the deadline, with the understanding that I would speak to the professor about needing an extension before it’s due. Though it’s a little awkward to do, having this accommodation to fall back on has kept me from straight up failing an assignment a couple of times. The first time I was denied an accommodation by one of my professors was just before midterms, or maybe just after, I just remember the midterm season stress. I had something due in an upcoming class, and I had almost finished it, but not quite. I asked for a one-day extension. The CSD had sent my accommodation letter, basically just a list, to all my profs at the beginning of the semester. And I had spoken to this professor in person about the accommodations at the beginning of the semester as well, so it’s not like they didn’t know. It wasn’t a mistake. They just said no. Well, actually, they said something like “Try to get it done on time,” but I still didn’t get an extension.

So what did you do?

I handed it in late, got marks taken off for handing it in late, did pretty poorly, and felt like crap about it. It was just one assignment though, so in the end it wasn’t a big enough deal for me to actually, I don’t know… confront the problem? Like, I don’t want to deal with the stress of it, but I also just feel like… this shouldn’t be on me, you know? I’m sure a lot of students have accommodations, and I’m sure a lot of them have had to deal with getting those accommodations denied. The whole reason students with disabilities get accommodations is to provide them with support, and this is the opposite of that.

Are there any other experiences you’d like to share?

Well, recently actually, I had coordinated with a professor throughout the semester and gotten a couple different accommodations. I had a few absences that my accommodations allow, as long as I email the professor beforehand, which I did. I also had asked for two extensions throughout the semester, each time well before the due date, and the professor granted me a week-long extension for each of them. For the final project I coordinated with the CSD and my professor to adjust my accommodations. The whole semester I was so happy to be having such an easy time getting my accommodations met without obstacles or trouble. But then my final grade came in, and the professor had marked without taking into account all the accommodations. Each of the assignments I’d gotten extensions for had marks off for being late, and my final grade was 15% lower than what I had calculated (without a final grade or participation grade). I have no rubric or grade for my final project, but given the difference between my average before it was marked and my average after, I either failed or did really poorly.

That can’t be allowed.

It was resolved, but I can’t even describe how I feel about this. My accommodations are a problem every single semester. There has been absolutely no improvement. The CSD literally says in their policy that the university is required to accommodate students with disabilities. Not to mention the legality of accommodations, since the Human Rights Code, Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act all exist to protect the rights of people with disabilities. But despite this obligation, I’ve been denied accommodation. Sometimes I wonder what the point is in registering with the CSD for accommodations if the professors don’t follow through. But I want to receive the accommodations I deserve. I don’t want to have to sacrifice anything to get support. Right now, OCAD is failing to support students with disabilities. They are failing to hold up their end and to meet the standards they set in their own policy. I think they can do better.