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Students shouldn’t need accommodations for a course because they should be accessible to begin with

This week, I had a very pleasant meeting with one of my course instructors and it made me wonder: why can’t courses be set up in a way that is accessible to begin with?

Let me backtrack a bit. I’m registered with Student Accessibility Services, which is a service that allows you to request accommodations for your courses. To receive your accommodations, you must register and confirm your accommodations every term. Once you register, an accommodation letter is sent to your instructor and you are expected to communicate with your instructor about your accommodations. This is to ensure any details of your accommodations are taken into consideration and that you and your instructor are on the same page.

This can be a tedious process and if I’m being honest, I often forget to schedule a meeting with my course instructors. Unfortunately, this avenue is the only way to access “formal” accommodations from the university and as a result, many disabled students are left advocating for their needs.

Last week, I set up a meeting with my instructor. I was very nervous to meet her as I have had issues with accommodations in the past. Yet, I felt a glimmer of hope — the course had lecture transcripts, which is not something I’ve seen in any of my other courses in the past three years that I’ve attended McMaster University. With in-person classes, many lectures were not podcasted and if they were, they were rarely captioned and never had a transcript. Online classes have obviously been better with recording lectures, but many of them are still not captioned.

Yet, I felt a glimmer of hope — the course had lecture transcripts, which is not something I’ve seen in any of my other courses in the past three years that I’ve attended McMaster University.

As I mentioned previously, the meeting was great. My instructor was very kind, understanding of my situation and made sure to ask me if she could alter anything about the course to make it better for me. She asked me if I needed a notetaker, but I mentioned that the lecture transcripts were very helpful — maybe even better than having course notes. I brought up my concerns surrounding the quizzes and exam, as one of my accommodations included extra time and I wasn’t sure if that would be accounted for on Avenue to Learn. But she assured me that the quizzes were not timed and that the exam was a take-home exam. She also let me know that if I needed any extensions on assignments to just let her know a few days beforehand and that it would be no problem to grant an extension.

When we started discussing the course as a whole, she mentioned something that gave me an interesting perspective on course accessibility. My instructor told me that she could empathize with my disability as she also took medication for anxiety. She let me know that because of her experience with mental illness, she tried to set up the course in the way that she would have liked to take it as someone with anxiety. This meant providing transcripts, offering untimed quizzes and being lenient with deadlines. Since she set the course up this way, I didn’t really need to use my accommodations because I was already accommodated for.

During this meeting, I felt like I was able to sigh a breath of relief. I hadn’t realized until now how often I had to advocate for accommodations. Sometimes it would be just a meeting, but sometimes I had to contact my SAS coordinator because my instructor refused to accommodate me. For this class, though, my instructor considered students’ disabilities when designing the course. Accommodations were considered not as an afterthought but during the preparation of the course. As a result, I didn’t need to push for my needs to be heard because the course was accessible to begin with.

Accommodations were considered not as an afterthought but during the preparation of the course.

This made me reflect on other courses I’ve taken throughout my undergraduate career. Most courses I’ve taken were not set up in a way that I didn’t really need to use my SAS accommodations; they were more of an afterthought. If you had accommodations, the instructor would find a way to incorporate them into the course. Otherwise, the course would just run as the instructor intended it to be, even if the course is inaccessible.

I’m grateful to have SAS accommodations. If a course isn’t set up in a way that is accessible for me, I can meet with my instructor and figure out an accommodation plan. But not everyone who needs accommodations is able to use SAS. If you don’t have accommodations, it’s up to you to figure out how to make the course accessible, whether that’s through asking your peers for notes or asking your instructor for extensions even though you don’t have an official letter to back up your disability.

Although this is the norm right now, it shouldn’t be. We’re paying to take these courses, so instructors should make sure that we are able to take the course. The responsibility of making courses accessible should not fall on disabled students. Instead, courses should be set up in a way that considers disability. Offering accommodations is a good start, but we should strive to make courses accessible to begin with.

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