Some students who need accommodations at Dalhousie University said the process to access them is difficult.
Meredith Brison-Brown is the students with disabilities representative for the Dalhousie Student Union. She regularly receives complaints from students who say it’s taking too much work to advocate for themselves while focusing on their studies.
“A lot of students are saying, ‘It’s not worth it, I don’t have the capacity,’” Brison-Brown said in an interview. “Some students I [work with] just chose to drop out altogether. We don’t want to see that.”
The accessibility centre aids students requiring accommodations because of a disability or other reasons. Some accommodations for exams include extra writing time and being able to write in a quiet room.
Typically, students must prove their case for an accommodation with the accessibility office. Professors may also approach certain accommodations differently. Brison-Brown is often a last-resort contact for students struggling in these instances.
“It’s definitely getting to a boiling point. It feels like I’m not able to do enough,” Brison-Brown said.
Student shares accommodation difficulties
Adam Halliday, a first-year health sciences student, needs accommodations. He thought he would receive them after filling out the online form with proof from doctors, but his request was never filed because it was submitted incorrectly.
This isn’t uncommon and can be made even harder if a student does not have access to a family physician or psychologist. Accommodations such as needing more time to complete exams or essays often require an assessment from a doctor or psychologist, which is then submitted to the university.
Some accommodations are labour extensive too, such as requests for alternative testing conditions like writing a test in a quiet room. Deadlines to ask for these accommodations tend to be more strict come exam season.
Halliday said his experience left him feeling discouraged. He wondered why the accessibility centre hadn’t offered to walk him through how to make a request.
“It just made me feel more overwhelmed,” he said. “When I go to get accommodations, I have anxiety.”
DSU president Aparna Mohan said several students have not been able to access accommodations during recent exams, but the problem exists throughout the year.
“The number of things you need to do, from identifying that you have an issue to receiving support on a continual and ongoing basis that meets your needs, it’s a leaky pipeline and we lose so many students in the process,” Mohan said.
Halliday received guidance through the Indigenous student centre, but had to resubmit his request for accommodations.
“Basically I have to justify my challenges. Why am I forced to say this over and over?”
Recent accessibility centre understaffing
In April 2022, the Dalhousie Gazette reported the accessibility centre is understaffed, which limits its capacity to help students. The accessibility office did not comment by publication, including on updated staffing numbers.
Mohan said while the staff in the accessibility centre is doing what they can with limited resources, she believes the problem comes down to beliefs about misuse.
“The way the system is set up would lead you to believe that we are so much more scared of people abusing the system than we are of failing the people who need the support.”
While most accommodations go through the accessibility centre, other aids, such as lecture recordings and class notes, are often shared only at the professor’s discretion. If at all.
“It sort of comes across to professors that [accommodations are] optional, that it’s out of the goodness of their heart to follow through on the accessibility needs that a student has,” Mohan said.
The system for student notetakers, who are paid $75 a semester, is also outdated, said DSU vice president Sydney Keyamo.
“When we rely on a system of students supporting students, it’s hard to make sure [the system] is being honoured and followed,” Keyamo said.
Cover: Angela Capobianco