Dec. 2 was the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and to commemorate, the secretary-general of the UN encouraged officials and the general population to do more in raising awareness of the daily struggles disabled people face. This initiative was welcomed by councillors and students alike at Concordia, but some think that the quality of services to disabled students could be better at the university.
Leo Bissonnette, the manager of the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities, said he is quite proud of the level of accessibility in the university’s facilities.
“All of our buildings have been built with accessibility in mind,” explained Bissonnette. “There are elevators, washrooms, mechanical doors and ramps designed with accessibility for all individuals in mind. If you travel on our shuttle buses, you will notice they are all wheelchair accessible. In terms of the accessibility of our facilities, I think we reflect not only a medium standard, but a great standard of accessibility for all of our students.”
Bissonnette explained that the architecture of older buildings, such as those located on Bishop and Mackay Streets, cannot be changed. However, employees at the Access Centre are able to relocate students with physical disabilities to one of the newer buildings.
Sharie Clarke is a second-year, visually impaired student studying human relations at Concordia. She believes that although most facilities are accommodating, a lot more could be done to facilitate the academic life of students with disabilities on campus.
“Although getting around campus is not difficult, and the advisors at the Centre for students with disabilities are quite accommodating, [things] are not as accessible as people think they are,” said Clarke. “For example, they closed most of the services at the Loyola campus and that is where most of my courses are. This means that even though they still have the facilities for me to do an exam, they do not have qualified personnel working there and that makes it difficult to accomplish my work,” explained Clarke.
Bissonnette added that another growing problem is that many students are faced with “invisible disabilities,’ such as learning disabilities, and that people sometimes forget that those students need as much support as those with physical disabilities.
“We need to raise more awareness for them,” explained Bissonnette. “Faculty and others do not always understand many students with learning disabilities and invisible disabilities because their disabilities do not always show. One of the biggest challenges now and in the future is to encourage students with disabilities both visible and invisible to maintain their self-confidence and become part of the solution by approaching their teachers and saying “this is my disability, this is how I’m dealing with it and here is how you can help,'” Bissonnette said.
Many students are proud of the progress made at Concordia, and emphasize that little gestures go a long way in making the university an easy and safe learning environment for all students.
“‘I believe that every human has the right to be respected and valued despite of his or her race, gender or disability,” said George Kousioulas, a first-year student doing a specialization in Ã©tudes FranÃ§aises. “The truth is, if every person would hold the door, give a seat on the bus, help in any way possible a disabled person, the university would be a much better place.”