(In)accessibility in McMaster courses

September 12, 2019
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Ember, Contributor

Every day, I am faced with choices that others may perceive as rather trivial or inconsequential. I choose whether to take the stairs or elevator, whether to take the bus or walk to campus or whether to watch a required video for class from 2010 on YouTube that only has auto-generated captions or turn closed captioning off.

What people may not realize is how often I must make these choices, how they can make or break my day and how McMaster University’s campus contributes to and reinforces the issues that I and many other disabled students deal with every day.


For starters, I use a mobility aid and I have auditory processing issues — neither my brain nor my body can keep up with what society demands from me. When I choose to take the stairs instead of the ramp or elevator, it doesn’t mean my disability magically disappears. By taking the stairs, I’m further crippling myself, because I unfortunately do not have the time to wait for the elevator. When I have to get to class quickly, I take the stairs because I’m either running behind, or because the elevator is overrun by able-bodied people who have decided that taking the stairs was too inconvenient. 

When I turn off the auto-generated captions on a nearly decade-old YouTube video, it’s because I've decided that incorrect words and sentences popping up on the screen will confuse me more than my delayed processing abilities. Having to make this decision in the first place is very strange, since McMaster University is supposed to abide by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act which requires that all videos be closed captioned.

According to AODA requirements, “any video added to a [McMaster] website AFTER 2014, or being used in a class, presentation, public talk, or online course MUST be properly closed captioned – either as part of the production process, or retroactively.”

Now, take a second to think about how many times you’ve had to watch a video in lecture that used auto-generated captions. If it’s been more than one occurrence, then it’s already too many. 

To add insult to injury, it is stated in McMaster’s own Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities Policy that they are actively choosing not to follow the social model of disability.

“It is our institutional aspiration to work towards a campus community that adopts the social definition of disability … However, this Policy acknowledges, upholds, and aligns itself with the medical definition of disability to be in accordance with the OHRC’s definition of disability and accompanying policies and statements,” states the policy.

For those who don’t know, the social model of disability refers to the idea that environments (physical, auditory, visually, etc.) are inaccessible and require accommodations. The medical model of disability refers to the belief that disability itself is the problem and needs to be solved. 

McMaster’s policy is painfully performative: it acknowledges that the social model of disability exists and is favoured by literal disabled people but then contradictorily states that the university abides by and reinforces the medical model of disability. This does nothing for me and other disabled students on campus except let us know that we cannot rely on the university to support us, as they are too busy playing respectability politics and listening only to the disabled people who don’t cause a rukus.

My own education, as well as the education of copious other disabled students, is constantly under the control of our professors and Student Accessibility Services (for those lucky enough to qualify for accommodations since the university lives and breathes by the medical model). Our success in academia is equivalent to if you had to flip a coin, roll a die, and play Russian roulette simultaneously — it’s essentially impossible.

There’s also the issue of being a “good disabled person” — you have to be proactive, be able to predict when your disability will incapacitate you from completing assignments, contact your instructor immediately when an issue arises and be amicable and apologetic about your existence and inconveniencing your instructor (as well as the rest of the student body) with your accommodations.

I will not apologize for pursuing education — if I have to pay to be here like anyone else then I should be given opportunities to succeed like everyone else.

If your syllabus doesn’t account for disabled students, then your syllabus is garbage. You can’t just slap the word “accessible” wherever you want and then do nothing to achieve accessibility. Accessibility is an ideal to strive for and needs active participation and effort to be implemented. It is not a buzzword to be thrown around just because you don’t want to be called out on your complacent violence.

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