Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Equity
By Kelsey Morris and Chrisaleen Ciro
The Equity of Access Office exists to ensure that students with disabilities at TWU have equal access to all aspects of educational programs at TWU in accordance with the Human Rights Code of BC and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Directed by David Stinson, Equity of Access allows students with documented disabilities to request accommodations, such as permission to record lectures, alternate locations for writing exams, and classroom accessibility, that reduce barriers to their education.
The importance of this survey rests in an apparent lack of awareness of and accessibility to the procedures, policies, and processes available to students with disabilities at TWU. Many students have been burdened unnecessarily by the processes available to them.
The purpose of this survey is to ultimately improve campus accessibility by bringing specific issues that students have experienced to light. Changes to these processes and the communication of them must be made, and are, in fact, underway. In fact, just last year, Equity of Access moved out from under Student Life and now reports to the Learning Commons under the Office of the Provost. This is an important shift given that Equity of Access is responsible primarily for issues in academic accessibility.
Additionally, in the summer of 2019, the Learning Commons, together with the Equity of Access Office, will move from the second floor of the Reimer Student Centre to the first floor of Norma Marion Alloway Library, to create a more integrated approach to learning and resources on TWU’s campus. The renovated first floor will continue to feature the SAMC gallery and circulation desk, but will also include the services offered at present by the Learning Commons.
Our hope is that, with increased visibility of the Equity of Access office, students that need accommodations will be able to maximize their learning potential and overall TWU experience.
Out of the 78 people that participated in this survey, 35 identified as having a disability. Therefore, because of the relatively small sample size, these results should be interpreted as not necessarily reflective of the entire student body that has some form of disability.
One of the survey participants brought to our attention that we did not add an “other” option to our question asking participants to identify their specific disabilities. Since we added the “other” option after the survey had launched, the results may not accurately represent the percentage of students who have disabilities not listed and described in our survey.
I registered with Equity of Access at the start of my second year after being diagnosed with ADHD, and while they are genuinely caring, they are generally not knowledgeable enough to be a great deal of help. In my experience, they don’t have a clear understanding of what ADHD truly is, how it affects people who have it, and do not realize that no one understands my disability as well as I do.
Going into my initial meeting with Equity of Access, I had a list of recommended accommodations from the psychologist I’d been working with. They were standard accommodations that students with ADHD are provided with at most schools. I was allowed to record lectures, write exams in the exam center, and have extra time to write exams. My psychologist had also recommended that I be given the ability to request deadline extensions where needed, but Dave Stinson, director of equity of access, did not include this in my letter, saying that it usually just leads to bad time management. There have since been countless occasions where I could have benefited from having this included in my letter. The severity of my executive dysfunction means that there’s a limit to how much I am capable at undertaking at once, and because of that, there’s only so much that good time management can do for me. Had I been allowed to request extensions, I would’ve been able to balance out my workload in a way that could’ve been manageable for me and might have had a hope of passing classes that I ended up failing.
Because the EoA office misunderstands my disability and doesn’t trust my knowledge of myself, I’ve been left with the choice to either spend my limited energy advocating for myself, or to try and fail to perform to the same standard as my abled peers, with no help. The purpose of the Equity of Access office is to provide disabled students with the accommodations they need in order to have the same learning experience as their peers, and I’m pretty comfortable saying they’ve failed me in that regard. In order to be truly beneficial to students with neurodevelopmental disabilities, Equity of Access needs to make more of an effort to learn more about how these disabilities really work beyond the surface level. They could make a lot of progress by acknowledging that students are often their best resource.
I am one among the many who have fought through education unaware that I was battling against a learning disability until part way through university. Finding out was bittersweet—on the one hand, I had answers, but on the other hand I had questions and no clue what to do with them. As a student navigating this new dynamic in my life, I quickly found myself confused and exhausted. I wasn’t only trying to juggle the everyday demands involved in being a university student. I was also faced with the challenge of figuring out how to process this new information at an emotional level, learning how to work collaboratively with professors at an academic level, and discovering how to access and understand a system that was developed with the purpose of supporting students such as myself. Professors know that some students who come into your class are coming in at a disadvantage, and your role in allowing for the accessibility of our education is crucial and does not go unrecognized – we thank you. Equity of Access, we desire to thrive, we need your proactivity as we navigate a complex system that has some of us quite petrified. Fellow students, genuinely listening lightens the load, your support and advocacy matters – just a little bit goes a long way. Let us band together to build a campus that supports and advocates for one another as a unified body of Christ.
For the past three years, I have had the beautiful opportunity of being part of the TWU community. When I first started here, my chronic pain condition was in remission and I rarely felt its symptoms. However, God had a very different plan for my first year than I did. I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (a syndrome that affects my nervous system causing chronic pain and other symptoms linked to such) in December of my first year. Professors and resources that TWU had employed astonished me; professors provided extensions and accommodations when I went to the hospital or was unable to attend class due to my conditions. The grace that filled my professors amazed me. The Equity of Access office has given me a voice when I felt as though mine was too weak to fight. Each staff member has a great desire to give struggling students a hand in their success. While my interactions with the office have been lesser than some, I would without a doubt send a fellow student to the Equity of Access office if they felt like they needed help.
My friends, boyfriend, and student mentors over the past three years have allowed me to be fully myself without feeling shame of the chronic fatigue or inability to be social. They would show up and just sit with me to pray or talk about anything that would distract me from how I was feeling. I have found the community at Trinity to be exceedingly accommodating: whether that be the people brought me meals when I was unable to prepare them myself, or those who walked a little slower with me when I use my mobility aids, or those who took me to the hospital so I wouldn’t be sitting alone. I have found a home in the community that Trinity has provided for me. I pray that our university’s accessibility only continues to grow.
“It’s just that I don’t really see why you need to write in the exam center.”
I’m in my first year, listening to my prof explain to me why it would be much easier for everyone if I would just write my midterm with the class instead of at the exam center. It takes some convincing, but eventually I change her mind.
Politely asking professors to reconsider denying accommodations doesn’t always work, though. When I’m in my second year, my professor tells me he sees no reason why I can’t do the class hike for lab so no, I can’t get my data from a classmate, I have to hike and get it myself. On the hike, I can’t keep up with my class, miss most of the data collection, and face a weeks’ worth of bedrest to recover, putting me behind in all of my classes.
Professors not being able to understand my chronic illness means that every time my disability interferes with my schooling, I have to re-explain my situation to each professor and try to convince them that my accommodations are not me being lazy; they are a legitimate need.
Attending university with chronic illness is hard, but continually having to justify why I need accommodations only to have professors turn around and refuse them makes everything unnecessarily more difficult. There are many professors on campus who are incredibly supportive and have no issues meeting accommodations, but there are just as many who look at me and see a student trying to find an easy way out of work. Constantly running into that mindset is an onerous and exhausting process, but unless better communication is opened between students, Equity of Access, and Faculty, it is one that students like myself will continue to have to deal with.
I started at TWU enrolled in science courses, seeking to pursue a Biology major. While I have a passion for the sciences and an excellent memory, the big problem for me lies with the small mistakes I make in labs. ADD and ADD with hyperactivity both affect executive functioning, which in my experience hinders my ability to plan my time effectively, execute difficult processes correctly the first time, and utilize my working memory. All three of these things are essential for labs, which made my lab experiences much more difficult. I had to choose to pursue other areas of interest, eventually changing my major and minors, because accommodations in these settings weren’t made clear. In hindsight, I could’ve requested help in the form of extra lab time to practice the weekly lab or accommodations in the way assessments were conducted. At the time, however, for fear of being different, I found it difficult to speak up for myself. As I have progressed in my time at TWU, I’ve learned to care less about those fears because they actually hold back my own ability to progress and meet my goals.
My experience with Equity of Access at TWU has been largely positive, but indeed the process has been complicated and unclear. Even now I couldn’t accurately describe the steps needed in order to be registered with a disability or exceptionality at TWU. Making a more streamlined and clear process of disclosure is perhaps the largest area of improvement that could be made.