The end of the volunteer note-taking program continues to negatively affect students with disabilities

Although the program hasn’t been operational since the start of the pandemic, the return to in-person classes is making note-taking services even more necessary for students with disabilities.

As students head into Concordia’s first finals session since their return to campus, many students with disabilities are facing an uphill battle. The university has not reinstated its peer-run note-taking program, leaving those who relied on Zoom transcripts for a year in the dark.

University Spokesperson Vannina Maestracci expanded on the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities’ (ACSD) decision to end the program. “During the winter of 2020, the ACSD completed a review of its service offerings and the peer note-taking program was ended for a number of reasons mostly related to the difficulty in finding reliable peer (or volunteer) note-takers as matches.”

Kaity Brady, a fourth-year student who deals with cystic fibrosis and is registered with the ACSD, is not impressed with the university’s handling of her health and safety needs.

“Because of my medical condition, I have to miss a lot of class due to chronic pain. It wasn’t an issue last year because I was already home,” she said. When asked about safety concerns, Brady had some choice words for the school.

“Do you really think the Hall Building is the safest place for me to be when the school won’t even enforce a vaccine mandate? I would feel safer in my journalism classes in the CJ building, but something as big as Hall? I feel way less safe. I also want to point out that for some disabled students, going back in person has been very beneficial. But because my issue really is physical, it’s been a challenge. I didn’t think they could do it, but Concordia found another way to disappoint me.”

Maestracci confirmed that students registered with the ACSD were notified about this change last year. However, the situation regarding in-person classes was radically different in the summer of 2020 than in the fall of 2021. As of September 2021, Concordia has implemented a hybrid teaching method that combines online classes with in-person ones. Students who relied on lecture transcripts automatically produced by programs like Zoom only have that luxury if their classes happen to be virtual. Every faculty within Concordia has been abiding by the university’s general health and safety guidelines, but some have been more cautious than others.

Brady can attest that before the note-taking service was taken away, the quality was not great. “It really wasn’t fantastic, but it was better than nothing. Now school has never been more inaccessible for me.” One of Concordia’s main reasons for the suspension of the program, as pointed out by Maestracci, was mostly due to a lack of reliable peer notetakers.

Maestracci added that “Students registered with the ACSD can still request professional note-taking at the beginning of the semester, if they face barriers related to written output or accessing print or visual information, for example. Each student’s request is reviewed on a case-by-case basis and when deemed as a reasonable accommodation, the ACSD will hire and pay a professional note-taker for that student.”

In the coming weeks, thousands of students will be entering exam periods in order to complete their fall 2021 semester. The community of students with disabilities who relied on note-takers could face additional obstacles in the final sprint to the academic finish line.


Graphic by Madeline Schmidt

Edit: A paraphrased comment by Vannina Maestracci in this article was corrected

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