Graphic C/O Ember

By: Ember, Contributor

I have previously written about how institutional ableism affects me and other students, but there’s another topic that is also overdue for discussion: casual ableism.

There are things that myself and other physically disabled people face on a consistent basis that an able-bodied person may not even realize are ableist. Using elevators, ramps and public transport, as well as navigating the campus in general — these activities are imperative to my everyday life, but are also an absolute nightmare.

The McMaster University Student Centre is home to many student services and it also acts as one of the main social hubs on campus, so it makes sense that it is very busy. I’m involved with and use multiple McMaster Students Union services within MUSC which span multiple floors of the building. I have lost count of how many times during those between-class rushes as well as during lunch hours that I have been bumped into, almost knocked over or completely plowed past by students and staff alike when walking to the elevators or using the ramp.

My cane is purple, it is loud, and it is very unlikely that able-bodied folks cannot hear it. I know you can see me — it is hard not to. My disability does not afford me the luxury to be subtle and small, so when you push past me, you’re making it clear that you have chosen to ignore my existence for your convenience. Is getting to your destination a few seconds earlier really worth disregarding basic human decency for myself and other physically disabled people?

Speaking of elevators, stop pressing the button and then walking away to take the stairs when it takes too long for the elevator to arrive. The reason why it is taking so long is because there are people on every other floor doing the exact same thing, and when I finally get on the elevator, it stops at every single floor. Somehow going from the first floor to the second floor of MUSC suddenly takes five minutes instead of 30 seconds. If you can take the stairs, just take the stairs — what have you gained by attempting to use and delaying accommodating utilities?

A side note: pressing the button for the elevator only to have it filled with able-bodied people who refuse to make room — all bearing sheepish or indifferent looks on their faces — is humiliating and degrading. The selfishness and misplaced entitlement to disability resources and accommodations make it that much harder for disabled people to exist and get around in public spaces.

Now let’s talk about public transit. Fellow students, I know that you love taking the bus for a couple of stops from inside campus into Westdale Village, but when you push past me to get on the bus when the bus driver specifically stops right in front of me to let me on first, know that I see you. When you fill up priority seating, placing down your bags or groceries beside you on another seat, I see you. I’ve lost count of the number of times that I end up standing on a crowded eastbound bus.

Not only do I feel pain, but I feel ashamed and dehumanized when able-bodied students see my physical form but refuse to acknowledge my need for accommodations. It wears me down and weighs on me day after day — my disability is hypervisible as I cannot hide it, but able-bodied people choose to not perceive me and my presence in order to absolve them of their guilt and responsibility for their actions.

Just because you hold the door open for me or press the automatic door button once does not mean you are at the apex of disability allyship. Check yourself, reflect on your actions, and deconstruct your saviour complex. You are not as perfect as you think you are.


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Photo by Kyle West

It’s that time of the year where a large majority of students are strategically avoiding the atrium of the McMaster University Student Centre. The campaigning period for the next McMaster Students Union president is currently underway and will continue until the end of polling on Jan. 24.

Elections for MSU president are held annually, and are voted on by the MSU membership. While this sounds fair on paper, this translates into the consistent underrepresentation of co-op and internship students during elections. These students, who are not technically MSU members, are not allowed to support presidential candidates which includes voting or being a member of a presidential campaign team.

This is especially concerning considering co-op and internship students make up a large per cent of McMaster’s undergraduate population, with some programs like the bachelor of technology mandating co-op. If graduating students are afforded the right to vote and influence the MSU, despite not being present to actually experience the changes themselves, it makes little sense to deny returning students the same rights.

The argument in defense of excluding these students is that they do not pay the MSU fee. For the 2018-2019 academic year, this fee was $573.07, paid by each full-time undergraduate student at McMaster University in addition to their tuition and other fees. Note that $230 goes towards the MSU Health and Dental plan where students have the option to opt-out.

While it is true that co-op and internship students do not pay MSU fees or tuition, they still are required to pay co-op fees. For example, students in the faculty of science are required to pay a $3050 co-op fee over three years, which includes a yearly $150 administration fee. Similarly, students from the DeGroote School of Business must pay around $900 to participate in the commerce internship program.

A solution could be to allow these students the option to opt-in to the MSU fee and thus become MSU members with all the rights and privileges afforded with MSU membership, including the right to participate in MSU elections. But should students be forced to pay the full MSU fee in order to be represented?

Other student unions like University of Victoria’s Students’ Society collect partial fees from co-op students. Payment of this partial fee allows these students to only access services that are relevant towards them. This includes access to the health and dental plan, ombudsperson, university bursaries and democratic participation in students’ society elections.

If a system like this was introduced to the MSU, it would allow co-op and internship students the ability to benefit solely from services and activities that pertain to them, while not unnecessarily paying for services which are less relevant to students away on placements like participating in MSU clubs. This could then essentially be a reduced version of the $130.26 MSU operating fee that full-time undergraduate students pay as part of their MSU fee.

Alternatively, the MSU can make it so that returning MSU members are afforded electoral rights without having to pay an additional fee. Co-op and internship students spend the majority of their degree at the university. They have most definitely paid MSU fees in the years preceding their placements and will continue to pay fees upon their return. Why should they be charged additional monies during their short term away just to be represented?

Students on co-op or internships are still returning students that deserve to have an input on their union’s representation. Whatever change is made for future elections, it stands that the current unfair treatment of co-op and internship students by the MSU is a disservice to us all.


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