Briefs News

Helping students feel safe while dealing with their mental health

The Access Centre for Students with Disabilities offers workshops to give students the tools they deserve on their journey

On Sept. 19, the Access Center for Student with Disabilities (ACSD) held the third part of their Coping with Anxiety online workshop, focusing on our thoughts and how to build a healthier relationship with them. The workshops are a four-part series offered to students registered in the ACSD. 

Moire Stevenson, the lead for disability accommodations at the ACSD, started doing these workshops at the university last year to help students with severe anxiety. 

She explained that a lot of students suffer from double down anxiety. This phenomenon happens when something triggers one’s anxiety and they start experiencing physical symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, heavy breathing, sweaty palms and weakness in the body. They then ask themselves why they’re getting anxious in the first place. The trigger, the physical response and the questioning topple on top of each other, causing double down anxiety. 

While the compilation of factors happening at once may be scary, Stevenson reassured students that anxiety itself doesn’t need to be scary.

“I think it’s really important for people to understand, especially if they’re struggling with [double down anxiety], that anxiety is natural and it protects us. So, that first trigger when the anxiety goes up, that’s supposed to happen,” Stevenson said. “It’s how we interpret all of that that starts to create more and more anxiety and we go from a functional level of anxiety to a less functional level of anxiety.”

Students begin the workshop by understanding the basics of anxiety and mindfulness: the present moment. Stevenson explains that the level and impact that anxiety has on students can influence change in their own life to remind them they are safe.

“What I’m really trying to do is to give tools and skills that we can continue to use for life.” Stevenson said.

“One of the main things I wanted to tackle going in is that sensation of not being able to do something because of the anxiety,” Stevenson said. “When I started here at the Access Center, that was something that concerned me, because I know we have a very high population of students with anxiety. I wanted to see, what is something I can do that will help these students not further feed that loop.”

Stevenson plans to restart this series for the Winter semester as a recurring workshop.


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

Student Life

What I learned from working at the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities

On Feb. 6, I was reading Jean Vanier’s “Loneliness” from his book Becoming Human as part of the required reading for a graduate course in the department of Theological Studies. In 1964, Vanier founded L’Arche, a community where people with disabilities could share their lives together. His remarks about the “love that grows in and through belonging,” the “discovery of our common humanity” and “working together for the common good” made me reflect upon my own experience of working with students with disabilities and my desire to communicate and share my experiences with my fellow Concordians. 

I thought about contacting The Concordian for some time, but an idea never came into fruition until now; I thought what I had to say would not be interesting enough or worthy of publication. Yet, as I was reading through “Loneliness,” I could not help but be overwhelmed by a deep feeling of sadness, but also hope.

I came across the opportunity to help students with disabilities in 2014, while still an undergraduate student in the process of completing a double major in Honours English literature and theological studies. During this time, I volunteered as a note-taker, still unaware that I could somehow get paid (not that the money should matter for such a great cause, even though when you’re a university student, let’s face it, it kind of does). At the end of every semester, I would receive an acknowledgment of gratitude in the form of a certificate and a $20 gift card to the Concordia Bookstore.

One day, I asked the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) if there were other opportunities to receive financial compensation for my notes. Having the opportunity to work with all of these wonderfully talented students has fulfilled me in a way that striving for success in our capitalist society can’t. They continue to remind me of what it means to be human every single day.

Disabilities should not define a person—they are merely a part of the person, not their entire story. These students have demonstrated ambition, strength, courage and perseverance despite all the odds, obstacles, stereotypes and judgments thrown their way. I can see drive in each and every one of them to make a name for themselves, to succeed and prove all of those who doubted them wrong. 

I am currently employed with the ACSD as a note-taker, tutor, exam invigilator and most recently, academic coach. I have taken notes for students in courses that span several programs. The way I see it is I’m basically getting paid to learn while making a difference in these students’ lives. I can see the difference I’ve made just by looking at them. Seeing a smile on their faces and just the manner in which they thank me and have continued to request me as their note-taker and tutor for future classes has been so gratifying to me. 

Although my experiences can’t be compared to Vanier’s tremendous output in providing a secure environment for people with disabilities to flourish and grow, working with students with disabilities has taught me a great deal about what it means to be human. Working in retail, I’m exposed to countless people on a daily basis who always seem very rushed. We sometimes forget what it means to be human, to take a step back and be grateful for just being alive on this particular day. We would be so much kinder and more humble towards one another if we took the time to reflect on ourselves and the vulnerability of the human condition. 

Working with students with disabilities is like being in front of a mirror; they mirror your own humanity and vulnerability. Notes are a gift and a sign of hope which remind students with disabilities of their own humanity and their potential to succeed. Rather than simply disregarding invitations to participate as a volunteer note-taker, I encourage students to share their notes with other students in need. It really doesn’t take that much, especially if students are already typing their own notes on a laptop. All you need to do is upload your notes onto the site. Imagine the difference it would make if more students joined; if we all come together, we can make an even greater difference. 

Graphic by Sasha Axenova


ACSD responds to accommodation concerns

CSU councillor surveyed students on experiences with Access Centre for Students with Disabilities

“If a student feels a faculty member is acting in a discriminatory way, they need to report the incident to the ombudsman office,” wrote Concordia spokesperson Mary-Jo Barr in an email to The Concordian following the publication of an article on March 27 about student concerns regarding the university’s Access Centre for Students with Disabilities (ACSD). “The role of the ACSD is to help secure access and provide academic accommodations to students with disabilities.”

During a Concordia Student Union (CSU) special council meeting on March 14, John Molson School of Business councillor Rory James announced his ongoing initiative to improve accommodations for students registered with the ACSD. During the meeting, James said he had spoken to “a couple” of students who felt the centre did not properly address their complaints about alleged discrimination by professors.

According to James, both students and faculty have reported a perceived lack of communication between the ACSD and professors. When a student registers with the centre, each of their professors receives a letter informing them that one of their students has a disability. However, these letters do not disclose the name of the student or the nature of their disability, which places the responsibility on the student to approach their professor about appropriate accommodations.

“The ACSD is bound by confidentiality and cannot discuss the nature of a student’s disability without the student’s consent,” Barr explained, noting that, “on occasion, the ACSD will coordinate [appropriate accommodation] directly with the professor (as long as permission is given to do so from students).”

James told The Concordian he wanted the university to include student-parents and pregnant students in its accessibility policy, since they have unique needs. According to Barr, these groups of students are not included in the policy because parenting and pregnancy are not disabilities. However, she said accommodations for pregnant students and student-parents are being discussed as part of an ongoing administrative review of the health and wellbeing of Concordia students.

Based on his discussions with students, James also claimed student requests for accommodation and specialized tutoring sometimes go unacknowledged for weeks. Although Barr admitted that delayed responses happen on occasion, she insisted “the ACSD is working to improve the system by acknowledging students’ requests quickly and informing them that someone will get back to them within a reasonable time period.” Barr also recommended students visit the university’s Student Success Centre for tutoring and learning support.

Finally, Barr said the ACSD is “not aware of exam rooms being uncomfortably hot,” another common complaint James found in his surveys. “However, the ACSD will contact facilities management and request to have room temperatures examined,” she added.

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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