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.

How remote education benefits students who experience disabilities

By: Yvonne Syed, Contributor

Since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020, educators and postsecondary institutions have been hard at work transferring their teaching to online delivery methods. To accommodate everyone’s health and safety, remote learning has become a norm and is something we will be engaging in for at least a year. 

Earlier this year, McMaster University students completed the remainder of their winter 2020 term online and offered spring and summer courses remotely. Then this past week, through a letter from the provost, it has been confirmed that the university will remain online until the end of the winter 2021 term. 

To accommodate for remote methods of teaching and learning, the university prepared for the fall term by making pre-recorded lectures, posting slides on Avenue to Learn and offering remote office hours. While online learning may not be a preferred method of learning for some students, remote delivery has undoubtedly made life easier in the sense that learning is more accessible for some students with some of the flexibility it brings. This is evident in the ability for students to learn at their own pace in some courses that are now being offered asynchronously, or for courses that now pre-record, podcast or post lecture recordings, as it does not constrain students to set times for learning. The adjustments made related to COVID-19 are showing us that more effortful accessibility accommodations for students with disabilities could have always been arranged.

Prior to the adjustments made as a result of the pandemic, students who experience disabilities were at a significant disadvantage in terms of access to an educational experience that best facilitated their learning and met their individual needs. For instance, students with attention and concentration problems may have trouble focusing during in-person lectures and some students with physical and invisible disabilities may be unable to maintain regular in-person attendance as a result of their conditions. Additionally, deaf and hard of hearing students benefit from the closed captioning made available on the pre-recorded lectures the university is now offering for some courses. 

While Student Accessibility Services is available for students to seek accommodations to support their learning, the services provided by SAS are limited and may fail to completely meet the needs of students. For example, SAS note takers are provided on a volunteer basis, meaning that if there are no student volunteers that come forward to provide notes for a given course, the students requiring accommodations will not receive the support they need to be successful in the course. Thus, students have had to rely on minimal and potentially unreliable accommodations such as having a note-taker for their courses, when they could have more support ensuring that the delivery method of their education is made more feasible for their learning needs. While it is disappointing that these students’ needs were not given priority and that it took a crisis like a pandemic for everyone to realize that these measures could have been implemented earlier, it would be extremely beneficial to have these accommodations implemented in future. 

While it is disappointing that these students’ needs were not given priority and that it took a crisis like a pandemic for everyone to realize that these measures could have been implemented earlier, it would be extremely beneficial to have these accommodations implemented in future. 

Moving forward, it is imperative that McMaster University re-evaluates the extent to which it offers accommodations so that they can support all types of learners, including neurodivergent students and students with disabilities. The current accommodations with online learning may not be necessary for all students once the pandemic improves, but remote or blended learning should still be offered as an option for students who learn better this way. Making access to class materials online and not just in-person allows students who are unable to attend every class, due to mental health symptoms or disabilities, to catch up. The same goes for students who need mobility aids during a harsh winter semester with many snowy days, which may hinder their ability to make it to class.

While creating these accommodations are undeniably a timely and effortful process, it yields results that support an inclusive learning environment and ensures that all students can excel in their educational endeavours. Empowering all students in education, beyond those who are neurotypical and able-bodied, is a matter of great importance. Accordingly, postsecondary institutions must transcend beyond using the universal design for instruction in order to meet these needs.

Photo By Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

It was my second year of university and I was finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with my studies because I was having traumatic flashbacks every day and night terrors every night. I was seeing a counsellor and a doctor to address my poor health. Despite this, my marks continued to slip.

Luckily, I was able to register with Student Accessibility Services when I realized I needed some extra help with school. This lifted a lot of weight from my shoulders, as I was able to access lecture notes through the SAS website and spread out my tests over a longer period of time. However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from there. 

One of my accommodations under SAS is for instructors to provide an alternative to missed classwork. Knowing this, when I was unable to write a midterm due to my disability, I emailed the instructor to let them know. 

In their reply to my email, I was told, “We do not offer an alternate date to write the midterm. If you are unable to write the midterm today, you will need to use a [McMaster Student Absence Form]. Using an MSAF will move the weight of the midterm to the final exam making the final worth a total of 94%.” 

Despite having SAS accommodations, I was rejected of the accommodations that were supposed to help level the playing ground when it came to succeeding in courses. I remember being upset and frustrated because I’ve always had the impression that educators should be focused on helping their students succeed. Because of my instructor’s response, this situation dragged out for over a month as my assistant dean had to talk to the instructor to advocate for me. Meanwhile, I was constantly studying for a midterm whose date was unknown to me. Since I was having difficulties rescheduling my midterm, I fell behind in class and ended up dropping the course.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, educators must accommodate their disabled students. Furthermore, accommodations should be unique and individualized — meaning, “blanket” accommodations that are meant to cover all disabilities often don’t work because disabled students have different needs. Educators should be cognizant that an accommodation, which may seem helpful in their eyes, may not actually be helpful for a student. As a result, they could be putting undue stress on the student who needs the accommodation.

Saying that I can use an MSAF to redistribute the weight of my midterm is not an accommodation. I don’t know about you, but having a 96 per cent exam doesn’t exactly exemplify a good ‘accommodation’. In fact, I’d argue that most non-disabled students would find a 96 per cent exam overwhelming. Maybe someone else might be okay with this accommodation, but it just wasn’t going to work for me. And that’s okay.

The unfortunate thing is that even with SAS, I still faced many barriers in receiving adequate accommodations. However, many disabled students go through their undergraduate career without SAS because registering can be a long process. For example, SAS registration requires medical documentation from a doctor, meaning that a formal diagnosis is necessary even though many conditions can be difficult to diagnose or may be highly stigmatized, which may result in the lack of diagnosis. 

The unfortunate thing is that even with SAS, I still faced many barriers in receiving adequate accommodations. However, many disabled students go through their undergraduate career without SAS because registering can be a long process. For example, SAS registration requires medical documentation from a doctor, meaning that a formal diagnosis is necessary even though many conditions can be difficult to diagnose or may be highly stigmatized, which may result in the lack of diagnosis. 

Instead of focusing on formal diagnoses, instructors should concentrate on providing support to students who need it. Evidently, there can be many complications that prevent someone from receiving disability status at McMaster. As a result, disabled students can fall behind in their coursework just because they cannot provide an accommodation letter from SAS to their instructors.

Even when you do have SAS, advocating for your accommodations can be taxing. Meeting up with your professors to discuss accommodations can make you feel vulnerable. Emailing professors every time you’re absent from class and having to reschedule several midterms after a flare-up can be exhausting. 

Even after all of this, you may still face resistance regarding your accommodations. I have faced the risk of my SAS accommodations expiring even though my disability is permanent. As a result, I had to get medical documentation again to verify that my disability wasn’t going away anytime soon. I’m not the only person who has faced this problem — I’ve heard from many peers that they’ve faced a similar situation where their SAS status expired and they were unable to access accommodations when they needed them most.

The accommodation process is made more complicated by negative perceptions that students who ask for course accommodations are “cheating the system.” Of course, there’s always the possibility that there will be a student who asked for an accommodation they don’t actually need. But, more often than not, it’s because they really need it. A student’s SAS status shouldn’t be the only reason why an instructor should provide course accommodations. If students are reaching out to you about how they might need some extra help in class, consider giving them the support they need to succeed in your course.

Often times, accommodations can be easy to arrange. Providing a student with notes, lecture slides or an extension for an assignment doesn’t usually require extra effort on the instructor’s behalf. However, it’s important to note that even if the accommodation isn’t ‘“convenient’” to provide to a student, they still deserve to be adequately accommodated. To ensure that accommodations are properly handled, there should be a clearer follow-up process of accommodations within each faculty. Students should know who to go to when something isn’t properly handled, as well as be able to access support from their faculty during this process.

Because at the end of the day, educators should be concerned about a student’s success — not their disability status.


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Photo by Kyle West

Every so often, students walking through the McMaster University Student Centre are met with faces of The Beatles, large maps of the world and even prints of Banksy’s most popular works.  

The Imaginus poster sale, which has been touring Canadian university and college campuses since 1975, is a staple of the university experience. It is not uncommon to see their posters plastered over the walls of dorms and off-campus housing.

The Imaginus poster sale is happening right now in MUSC!

Make sure to check it out before they leave tomorrow 🙂#McSU

— MSU Campus Events (@msucampusevents) January 31, 2019

At first glance, the poster sales seem innocent enough. For under $10, you can get away with two good-sized posters of your favourite band or quote — what could be wrong with that?

A lot, actually. The Imaginus poster sale has been critiqued in the past for selling posters that promote cultural appropriation, and poster sales in general have been scrutinized for the ethics of selling reproduced and borderline copyright-infringement artwork. This can especially raise eyebrows as it is rare that the collected profits ever reach the original artists.  

But beyond the possible problematic nature of the content of their posters, the Imaginus poster sales take away opportunities from student artists. As it stands, McMaster University students cannot sell their artwork on campus for a profit.

According to the Policy on Student Groups, student groups on campus “may not engage in activities that are essentially commercial in nature.”

This policy is what caused the shutdown of an art sale by McMaster’s Starving Artists Society last year. The club is made up of student artists and creatives that are looking to expand their portfolio and reach a wider audience.

The event that was shut down was meant to be an opportunity for student artists to market their artwork to their peers and even profit off of their hard work. Many of Mac’s student artist community are involved with SAS and were negatively affected by the university’s decision to shut the event down.

Essentially, the university has allowed Imaginus to have an unfair monopoly on selling art on campus. For a university that already arguably disvalues the arts, to dissuade student artists from profiting from their work is a serious matter.

This brings to light a larger issue at hand. Why should any students be disallowed to sell their products on campus — especially when outside companies are given space in our student centre to sell their products?  

This situation unfortunately reflects the situation of many non-student local artists within the community. In our corporate world, it is extremely difficult to establish a reliable clientele and profit off of one’s work. Mass commercialized products inherently cost less and as a result, this drives away sales from local artists.

As the university makes a profit from the poster sales, and in general from any vendors on campus, it is unlikely that this issue will be addressed anytime soon.

Until it is, you can support local and student artists through sharing their work, reaching out to them and contributing towards their sales. The SAS also runs art crawls and other events where students can get in contact with student artists!

Everyone has a Friends poster in their house. When you buy local and student, not only are you supporting your peers, but you’re likely acquiring higher quality and truly unique works of art.


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On Jan. 11, McMaster Daily News published an article by Catherine Munn, an associate clinical professor from McMaster University’s psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences and lead psychiatrist at the McMaster Student Wellness Centre.

Titled ‘Why are so many students struggling with mental health?’, the article discusses the factors that may lead to why students are struggling with mental health and the support systems in place, both on and off-campus, for those who find themselves struggling. It also demonstrates that students are in severe need for better mental health support on campus.

From inadequate funding for Student Accessibility Services, severely long wait times to see a counsellor and over 23,000 students accessing support from SWELL, it’s interesting to see that candidates in the McMaster Student Union presidential election aren’t prioritizing mental health in their campaigns.

Out of the four candidates in this year’s race, only three of them have a single platform point related to mental health support on campus. Out of these three, only one platform is feasible in theory, while still remaining financially unclear.

Generally, once these platform points are simmered down, they don’t amount to anything more than a relatively ambitious and opportunistic points to gain your vote. Each platform that has a talking point about mental health support has no plan that is feasible or realistical to implement structures that support students on and off-campus.

Sure, there is only so much that can be done within a year’s term. But within a year’s term, the MSU president’s role is to advocate on behalf of students and to bring your concerns to higher levels of governments and to university administration.

We can turn these talking points into feasible opportunities to support those who are struggling on campus by prioritizing their needs over self-indulgent platforms from our presidential candidates.

So let’s be clear, we can do a whole lot better for the many students who are struggling with mental health.


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Photo by Kyle West

By: Steffi Arkilander

Content Warning: Contains mentions of sexual assault

McMaster University has a strong reputation among Ontario universities for offering a variety of diverse student-oriented resources and supports. However, McMaster has consistently failed in making support for sexual violence survivors accessible and effective.

On Aug. 19, I was sexually assaulted by someone I trusted, just a few weeks before I started my second year at McMaster. I decided to give university resources a chance and reached out to the sexual violence response coordinator, Meaghan Ross, in October.

I needed academic accommodations to support the extensive and difficult emotional turmoil I was experiencing. My grades were falling and I was not ready to write any tests. To receive academic accommodations, I had to use Ross in my letter for Student Accessibility Services, which meant disclosing my sexual assault to numerous administrative individuals.

Unfortunately, getting registered with SAS is a long process and often my deferred midterms fell on days where I had other assessments or midterms. As a result, instead of my work being manageably spread out, my work and emotional distress were compounded together.

In December, I decided to report my assault to the university. Not only was it unfair to me to have to constantly interact with my perpetrator, but it was also unfair to other students that had to interact with him. But when I contacted the McMaster Students Union and the Residence Life Office, I learned that undergoing the reporting processes is an extensive and exhausting endeavour.

The process forces you to disclose your story to multiple organizations, to staff and non-survivors and brings your sexual assault to the public forefront. Even if my perpetrator is removed from positions without contact from me, he will know I caused his removal and that I decided to take action. Moreover, people will be able to piece my story together. While I am personally okay with this, many others are not.

Thus, to receive accommodations,such as an apology or to remove him from a position, I took the informal route that is offered through the McMaster University sexual violence protocol. To my disappointment, this route requires survivors to detail the incident. This creates an incredibly re-traumatizing experience and gives your perpetrator access to your disclosure, allowing them to reject the requested accommodations.

This process has clearly become incredibly legal, despite pursuing the university route in order to avoid legal involvement. As this process is painfully slow, my perpetrator continues to hold positions of power and interact with the student body without consequence. My perpetrator is free to roam campus while I am forced to anxiously avoid him.

My story is not uncommon. In fact, in comparison to other survivors, the university has responded well. Students generally don’t report their sexual assaults because of the university’s response; the survivor often feels interrogated and is led to hope for an unsatisfactory compromise with their perpetrator.

Survivors need to be prioritized. MacLean’s nationwide survey found that 29 per cent of McMaster students were not educated on how to report a sexual assault and 24 per cent of students weren’t educated on McMaster’s services that support survivors. This needs to change.

The system should be more navigable and transparent, so that survivors are more likely to reach out for help. Reporting assaults needs to be standardized university-wide so that survivors do not need to recount their experience to multiple organizations.

Training does not teach perpetrators not to assault people. My perpetrator has attended over five trainings on anti-oppressive practices and sexual violence throughout university.

Instead, training needs to emphasize on supporting survivors, and tangible means by which we can all work to dismantle the barriers impeding support mechanisms. The fact that only three in 1000 assaults results in conviction only becomes horrifyingly real when you have to support a survivor or become one yourself.

Survivors have nothing to gain from reporting, only lots to lose. So please believe us.


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Photo by Kyle West

By Karen Li

Ten-year-old Karen had an ambition: to learn American Sign Language.

The idea of communicating with my face and hands fascinated me. I borrowed a book from the library and watched videos online, but eventually, I abandoned my goal.

On Oct. 18, 2018, I attended the ASL workshop held by the McMaster Hearing Society. David Wiesblatt, a deaf instructor at McMaster University, and his interpreter gave an instructive presentation on audism with some basic ASL vocabularies and phrases.

The two voices soon merged together; one silent, one bright and projecting. Eight years after my first attempt to learn ASL, I was once again mesmerized by the language. Together, through movements of face and fingers, they told a story that words could not quite replace.

For me, ASL was just a hobby, something that I could take or drop at my leisure. Until I attended the workshop, I was not aware that the term audism referred to the oppression and discrimination of Deaf people and that this definition was only included in some dictionaries. I was not aware of the terminological differences between deaf and Deaf. I was not even aware that there were deaf students studying at this university.  

[spacer height="20px"]At the workshop, Tim Nolan, director of McMaster’s Student Accessibility Services, emphasized his strive to “bridge the gap” between Deaf and non-Deaf communities. Learning ASL not only provides a potential means of communication but also transcends culture and raises awareness of the issue of audism. It is the first step to erasing the stigma that exists in all levels of government and society.

ASL can also improve cognitive functioning. When we use a language, we do not simply “turn off” other languages. Knowing multiple languages therefore strengthens the control mechanisms in our brain that regulate and maintain the balance between two or more languages. As a three-dimensional system, ASL can also improve visualization skills and spatial recognition.

Many groups at McMaster offer free ASL lessons and workshops. The McMaster Hearing Society holds multiple workshops throughout the year. The McMaster Sign Language Club meets once a week to learn basic signs. Online classes are also excellent and convenient resources but may lack the physical interaction and motivational factor that aid the learning process.

If possible, however, one should always take classes taught by deaf instructors to learn from the native-speakers and to support deaf workers. The Canadian Hearing Society offers ASL lessons in locations throughout Canada, including Hamilton. One can even take LINGUIST 2LS3 at McMaster, which is an introduction to ASL.

Beyond learning ASL, there are so many other ways to support the deaf community on campus. For example, students can enroll in the notetaker program with SAS or ensure that front row seats in lecture halls are vacant for those who need it.

With the multitude of opportunities available, students really have no excuse. We all have a responsibility to help make our school as accessible as possible and this can start with supporting our deaf students on campus.

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Aurora Coltman

Silhouette Intern

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McMaster University has quite a few services designed to help students navigate their school, career options, and career paths. Distinguished among them is Student Accessibility Services, now celebrating its 25th year in action.

The program has dedicated itself to providing students with the tools they need to navigate their school environment. For some students, that encompasses physical disabilities; for other students it is a service that offers them support with mental illnesses or learning disabilities.

These programs first appeared on the McMaster University campus 25 years ago, and have since transformed under names such as the Office of Ability and Access. In May of 2011, the title changed to become Student Accessibility Services.

Much of SAS’s earlier campus work targeted how to make the campus accessible to the physically disabled. That included adding ramps or elevators to buildings, ensuring doors were automated, and making washrooms available. Now, although SAS still handles such issues as they arise, they are also focusing their efforts on other projects.

“Probably the most dramatic changes that will take place now [is with] technology, the use of technology in classes to help teach students – the use of video displays, and other technologies that are useful to help gather and create things,” Tim Nolan, the director of SAS said.

Nolan explained that they cater to the needs of the students, but also attempt to comply with what the individual wants. For example, if a student with a writing or sight disability wanted to “write” their work themselves, they could speak to a digitized system that would then transfer their words onto a digital platform. Likewise, if the student felt uncomfortable with such technology, they could have their work scribed by someone else.

“Or if they are prepared to learn [to use the technology],” Nolan said, “then we will train them on it. We will work with them [to better their academic experience].”

Nolan and the rest of SAS have worked towards fulfilling the needs of students for 25 years now, and shall continue to do so for many yet. “We’ve hopefully touched a lot of students, and helped make a difference to them,” Nolan said. SAS will continue to operate to achieve its goals and help fundamentally increase the livelihoods and academic experiences of those who wish to take advantage of SAS’s services.

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