Thursday, August 24, 2017

Disability Accommodation

You may not think student rights topics are the sexiest thing to talk about, but they are critical to you and your experience as a post-secondary student. Inclusivity, advocacy, equality, these are cool things to talk about, these are important topics to discuss, these are things that affect you as a person. Every month our Advocacy Coordinator will address different topics, situations and scenarios related to student rights, this month it's all about Disability Accommodation.


Disability accommodation is a complex and evolving area, but also one of huge importance to the students involved, and which goes to the heart of KPU’s educational mandate. KPU’s Vision 2018 strategic plan identifies inclusion and access as values. The Student Rights Centre also participates in the Presidential Diversity and Equity Committee, which has discussed disability access at length during the years it has existed.


KPU is obliged to accommodate students with disabilities up “to the point of undue hardship”. In the classroom, this means that you can access learning technologies and other assistance by presenting medical information to KPU’s Services for Students with Disabilities department. You are only obliged to provide medical attestation of the limits of your ability and to work with SSD to find accommodations that will work for you. You do not need to divulge the nature or cause of your disability, or any symptoms that do not impact on your time at KPU. Since every disability is unique, every request for accommodation should be considered individually. Students coming to KPU from high school may not be able to access exactly the same accommodations and may need to update some documentation, but KPU should not make unreasonable demands or deny you accommodations arbitrarily. Common accommodations include writing exams on a computer in the KPU testing centre, extended time for exams, ASL translators, or the use of classroom assistive technology like laptops. Once you have completed the accommodation process, SSD will probably hand you a letter to take to your instructors, describing your accommodations.

Students who need help acquiring assistive technology should inquire with Assistive Technology BC.

It’s rare, but sometimes at the Student Rights Centre we hear of instructors responding negatively to an SSD accommodation letter, either resisting providing approved accommodations or making unwelcome comments about your medical situation. It can also be a challenge for students to keep their medical situation confidential if their accommodations are evident to other students in the classroom. Like I said above, no one is entitled to know more than they need to know in order to provide accommodations, but faculty and especially other students can sometimes let their curiosity override their respect for others. SRC staff will not ask for medical information unless it becomes necessary in order to assist you, and will not disclose it without your express consent.

Technical issues with exam accommodations can also pose sticky problems. If the testing centre staff have technical issues or the instructor doesn’t provide the exam in the necessary format, it is often difficult to impossible to resolve those issues without losing out on exam time.

Photo from KPU PDEC Twitter Account
Fixing any of these problems can be difficult, and KPU’s internal procedures, such as the complaints process, can place a significant extra burden on disabled students. SSD may not allow you to bring a family member or SRC advocate to meetings to discuss concerns, but we can help you to understand your options and make informed decisions. Disabled students can also seek support from fellow students at the Peer Support program or from KPIRG’s Disability Action Movement Now action group, and can participate in PDEC meetings. If you think that someone at KPU has done something seriously wrong, you can also look at KPU’s protected disclosure system, KPU Listens; the BC Human Rights Tribunal; or the Runner. The National Educational Association of Disabled Students can provide access to numerous other off-campus organizations and resources.

Only a few of KPU’s campus spaces are accessible for students with mobility challenges. Some spaces, such as washrooms on the Richmond campus, have been specifically audited for mobility access, but many other spaces, especially in older buildings, are known to be seriously deficient. KPU has stated that future construction will meet high standards of accessibility, and we’re keeping an eye on the new construction at Civic Plaza in Whalley and the Wilson School of Design in Richmond to make sure that high standard is met.

Overall, disability access has been a growing focus at KPU in recent times. Students, faculty and staff are engaged in the issues and are critically re-examining KPU’s past practices.

-- John (KSA Advocacy Coordinator) 

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