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Student (in)accessibility services A note taking system that is set up to fail

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By Alex Wilson

As many people reading may already know, McMaster Student Accessibility Services facilitates a notetaking programing for students who experience disability to receive notes for their classes. This voluntary program relies on students registering to be a notetaker and regularly uploading their notes. However, with a lack of resources dedicated to the program and the issues of accessibility on campus, the system is sets up students for failure.

While the ability to request a notetaker is a very common accommodation provided through SAS, the supply is nowhere close to meeting the increasing demand. This was demonstrated through the past three Student Accessibility Forums as well as Maccess’s (In)accessibility Week last year. Students have been saying there is a problem for years, yet no one has taken accountability. When students do have notetakers, they may stop posting throughout the year, and because there are no contingency plans in place, the students requiring these notes are left with no support. Additionally, once students have selected a notetaker they can’t see any other notes provided by other notetakers in the class.

Who has access to these resources, as limited as they may be, is a continuous concern for students. Only students registered with SAS are able to request a notetaker. While this may make sense to those who immediately jump to conversations of “leveling the playing field” or people “taking advantage of the system”, having certain conditions diagnosed and receiving necessary documentation can take several years and cost upwards of $1,000.

Additionally, ongoing violence and associations of eugenics by medical systems against certain communities prevents individuals from reaching out to these systems in the first place. What we’ve created is a note taking system that rarely works, and when it does only for a select few.

This is unacceptable. When we look at the numerous financial, social and physical barriers as well as medical gatekeeping that already bars so many disabled students from attending post-secondary education, conditions like these only further the message that post-secondary education has not been developed with disabled people in mind and that we are undesirable. Accommodation services, being afterthoughts and band-aid solutions to an inaccessible environment that will never allow for universal access, we all need to start thinking about accessibility from the beginning.

However, with a lack of resources dedicated to the program and the issues of accessibility on campus, the system is sets up students for failure.

The current system fails because it relies on certain people in certain roles being responsible for accessibility, allowing others to remain passive. It is also awkward and disconnected from the rest of the teaching environment relying on students to continually offer labour for no compensation. So where do we go from here?

One solution not only addresses problems with the current system, works to create a culture of accessibility and is pedagogically supported. Offer a portion of participation grades to those who upload notes regularly to Avenue. This system incentivizes the provision of notes, integrates it into the classroom environment, removes the need for systems of gatekeeping and normalizes accessibility. Additionally, we know that diversity in assessment allows students to excel and better meet educational outcomes.

This is one potential solution, of what are literal thousands that could drastically improve accessibility in McMaster classrooms. Other solutions include podcasting more courses, posting lecture notes for all students to access and providing multiple ways to engage with class material.

When it comes to accessible pedagogy, my point is that none of us are exempt. The siloing of accessibility to certain people in certain roles allows for bystanders. Frequently we have conversations about better resourcing SAS (and while that is important), we also need to ask why so few individuals have a role in creating an accessible campus in the first place.

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