Learning disabilities. Mobility and vision impairments. Chronic health conditions. Deafness, brain injuries, fractures and serious infections. These are just a few of the conditions dealt with by U of T’s Accessibility Services (AS) staff, whose job is to help academia fit the needs of students who are considered “handicapped” by the world at large.
In the 2001-02 academic year, more than 800 students registered with AS, getting help with everything from counselling and transportation to note-taking and specialized computing equipment. Last year AS served more than 1,000 students, and with this year’s increased enrolments, manager Janice Martin is expecting her department to be busier than ever.
AS’s professional staff includes occupational therapists, learning strategists, interpreters, nurses and psychometrists (specialists who measure patients’ mental abilities). Each student who registers at AS is assessed for his or her individual needs. “There is no cookie-cutter approach,” insists Martin.
But AS is determined to do more than help their clients “get along.” Martin is striving for a totally barrier-free campus. In a February report in response to provost Shirley Neuman’s Green Paper on U of T’s academic plan, AS called for attitudinal changes throughout the university. Noting that many students are reluctant to disclose their disabilities for fear of being stigmatized, AS wrote, “The university community must take responsibility to understand disability issues and provide support in an inclusive, integrated environment, both in and out of the classroom, in order for students with disabilities to be included and accepted.”
While the need never ends – indeed, the definition of “accessibility” is always expanding – U of T is making headway. Last February the Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons cited the university for its ongoing efforts “to guarantee all students with a disability full access to academic and social life on its three campuses.”