Access Centre for Students with Disabilities is still open and active in the face of the pandemic
The Access Centre for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) is active and open — and has been since March 16. But how will resources for disabled students be applied to an online year?
Anna Barrafato, the disability accommodations specialist at the ACSD says there are four full-time advisors and herself on the team responsible for 3000 students.
“We provide students with reasonable academic accommodations that reduce barriers to full participation in an educational setting,” says Barrafato.
Accommodations typically include volunteer note-takers acquired through an online portal and extra time on exams, and can be adapted on a case-by-case basis. According to Barrafato, “it really depends on what your particular needs are. So, for example, we have some students registered with us who have mobility impairments, and they’re thrilled about this online environment.”
Students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and ADHD might struggle with motivation, time management, organization, and other aspects of online learning. Harrison Angel, a Concordia student, says, “I feel like when you go through [the ACSD], they are just pushing more people for you to go through [for help], you connect with people to take notes … it just feels like extra steps when there’s already been extra steps switching to online.”
Without the in-class environment, students may struggle more now than ever with motivating themselves. Barrafato says, “I think one challenge — and it’s not exclusive to people with disabilities — is going to be how to thrive in an online environment. And that’s a major challenge, not just for students with disabilities but for all students.”
Concordia student Jana Lamy explains that she struggles to stay concentrated in class without a little bit of help. She says that in previous online classes, “even if my camera is on, even if my mic is on, I am still so distracted in so many ways. The teacher can’t necessarily grab my attention and realize that I am drifting off.”
Dr. Hadas Av-Gay, an education specialist and coach, explains, “it is tricky because university students are adults, and they are in their own rooms in their own homes. So no one can or wants to control them. They really have to work on their own and be motivated intrinsically to develop discipline and commitment.”
In the past, the ACSD has mainly focused on student outreach through emails, in-person workshops, and office hours with an advisor when needed. However, in a time where most communication is online, some things fall through the cracks.
The ACSD still sends emails to the students registered with them and hosts drop-in Zoom sessions. According to Barrafato, these sessions were very successful in the summer.
“We started March 16, so the rest of March, April and May, on a weekly basis we were getting 10 to 15 students to each of these Zoom meetings,” says Barrafato.
Students must register with the ACSD to access accommodations. Registration happens through an online portal, where all the requirements and documents needed are listed. Students must register by Nov. 9 to access accommodations for Fall final exams.
Appointments can easily be made for registered students.
“We invite students to email us so we can book an appointment. They can either meet with us through email, or on the telephone, or we can set up a video chat… So there’s different methods that they can [use to] reach out to us,” says Barrafato.
Jana Lamy explains that in the past, having advisors check up on her work and her schooling would frustrate her.
“But now that I am older, and that I am able to realize that sometimes I need that push, I think it would be interesting, to a certain extent, to have somebody checking in and asking if you’ve finished, if you’re okay, if you need professors to help you with something.”
Without a doubt, this year will have unforeseen challenges. However, the ACSD is actively looking for more ways to help students.
“The best way to reach our 3000 registered students is to send emails,” said Barrafato. “A few years back we did try to have a Facebook page or something like this, but our students really weren’t interested in that, and it was really hard to get them to sign up. We’ve thought about different things at different times of the year, but for now our only method is through email.”
Graphic by @the.beta.lab