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


International students’ tuition hikes are added hurdles

One student’s experience with epilepsy, expenses and finding hope at Concordia

The debate over raising tuition at Concordia, particularly for international students such as myself, fails to acknowledge the various reasons we chose to study in Canada. When I applied to 12 universities at the end of my high school career, I had no idea Concordia University even existed. That all changed in 2016, the day before Thanksgiving, when I had my first seizure.

At the time, I had started college in Kalamazoo, Mich. I had chosen to attend that university because of a generous scholarship, but the annual price of $45,000 still took a toll on my parents’s finances. As my seizures grew in intensity, my parents’s budget shrank. They now had to pay for an American education and increasing medical costs. Granted, their insurance handled a portion of the financial burden, but nothing could prepare them for the massive bills to come when I started my second year of college.

Two weeks into the academic year, while walking home from a party, I had two massive seizures, each lasting for a dangerously long few minutes. In the aftermath, unbeknownst to me, my mind became overwhelmed with paranoia, delusions and confusion (known as the postictal state). These post-seizure symptoms can manifest in a variety of ways and usually last anywhere from a few seconds to a few weeks. After refusing to be taken to a hospital, aware from previous experiences the ambulance ride would cost $6,000, I became convinced my anticonvulsant drugs were prescribed by a malicious doctor intent on provoking seizures and taking money from the pharmaceutical industry.

A year later, I am aware that delusion is absurd, but in the days following the seizures, my mind deteriorated to the point where my behaviour became noticeably concerning. The college chaplin I worked with took me to the medical centre. Following a brief evaluation, I was involuntarily committed to a for-profit neuro-psychiatric facility in nearby Indiana. As each day passed, my postictal state subsided and in its place, I developed a tremendous sense of guilt. Even with my parents insurance, the hospital, ambulance and tuition would cost my parents tens of thousands of dollars.

After a few days, I received a notebook and pen, an incredible privilege at an institution where many mentally impaired individuals have violent tendencies. In the notebook, I wrote down the pros and cons of staying in Michigan, and I ultimately decided that when I got out, I’d apply to Concordia. I knew of the university because, the previous spring, I had visited a friend in Montreal and fell in love with the city.

My acceptance letter filled me with mixed emotions; I felt sad to leave my internship and friends behind, but was also excited for the adventure ahead. In January 2018, I started classes at Concordia. Meanwhile, my parents continued paying off the never-ending stream of medical bills.

The annual cost of tuition, housing and living expenses in Canada saved my parents over $20,000 a year. Insurance, as part of the university health plan, reduced my monthly medication cost from $260 to $0.

According to The Concordian, Concordia president Alan Shepard said the recent tuition increase for international engineering and computer science students matches tuition hikes for non-international students. At first glance, this new financial approach makes sense, but fails to acknowledge the complex circumstances that motivate international students to study at Concordia. Raising international students’ tuition in order to maintain proportionality to what Canadian citizens pay is simplistic, and harms international students with unique circumstances like me.

I love Concordia University, and have made a home here. Canada and Quebec’s principle of the right to affordable education and medical care is something the United States desperately needs. Many of my American friends view their northern neighbours’s values with awe. Let’s work to ensure they are preserved so international and domestic students alike can obtain an education and fulfill their dreams.

Note: All costs mentioned have been converted from American to Canadian dollars.

Graphic by spooky_soda


The final straw in ignoring the disabled community

The straw ban might help the environment, but it completely disregards one group of people

The excessive pollution the Earth has been plagued with in the last few decades is no secret to anyone. One can simply take a stroll down any beach to realize how we have failed to maintain a certain level of purification. Discarding cigarette butts, beer bottles and plastic water bottles in the sand and the ocean, as if the world is our dumpster. Shame on us. What happened to the world being our oyster?

In spite of the blatant disregard some humans have for the planet, one cannot ignore the numerous initiatives taken against excess pollution, urging individuals to take action. Greenpeace, for example, is a world-renowned organization aiming to restore the Earth to its former clean-slate glory and minimize environmental crises as best they can.

Lately, many countries and even some corporations around the world have taken it upon themselves to reduce plastic waste by banning plastic straws, since it is one of the many sources of ocean pollution. While this may be a step in the right direction for environmental issues, there is one thing that has not been taken into consideration.

When political, social or environmental solutions are discussed among government officials, I imagine they have a list of people they wish to please. Will this benefit women in general? Do we fear negative repercussions for people of colour? Are we sure the LGBTQ+ community is not badly affected by this? I am by no means critical when using this caricatural image of governmental discussion concerning serious matters. On the contrary, I believe I am being quite utopian when I say governments actually take all these people into consideration when making decisions.

Nonetheless, throughout the years, certain decisions have been made for the benefit of the aforementioned communities. And yet, more often than not, a specific group of people are blatantly disregarded: the disabled community. Disabled individuals may have their own parking spots, but even those get stolen by disrespectful people. I have even noticed at times, public transport isn’t accomodating to individuals in wheelchairs.

And now, while the ban on plastic straws is helpful to the environment, it is detrimental to a significant portion of the disabled community. It is a wonderful step toward bettering the planet, something even the disabled community doesn’t fail to applaud cities for. However, people seem to forget that the purpose of straws is not just to make your iced coffee easier to drink; it is vital to many disabled people’s lives.

I am by no means well-equipped to say this nor do I speak on behalf of the community, as an able-bodied woman. Nonetheless, I do not fail to see that more often than not, they are being ignored.

British YouTuber and TV presenter Jessica Kellgren-Fozard explained her take on the matter in an 11-minute video, stating that as a disabled woman, the ban of plastic straws was “the last straw.” It is another instance where the disabled community has been ignored. Diagnosed at 17 with hereditary neuropathy with liability to pressure palsies, she has difficulty gripping objects due to her weak limbs. Therefore, the use of plastic straws in her everyday life is vital.

In the video, Kellgren-Fozard explained that while the ban is helpful for the environment, plastic straw pollution only accounts for 0.025 per cent of oceanic pollution. It kind of makes you wonder why there is a sudden insistence on banning straws when there are far worse things to take care of, right?

I personally believe this governmental initiative (adopted by the US, U.K., and parts of Montreal, among others) is a step in the right direction. However, it is not perfect, as members of the disabled community have highlighted. It also made me think how we are often quick to take into account gender equality, racial issues and sexuality, but disabled people are oftentimes forgotten. While taking positive steps like banning plastic in general to help the environment is good, we shouldn’t forget about certain groups of people who might be deeply affected by such a ban. I believe with constant communication and learning, we can all build towards a clean planet suitable for all.

Graphic by spooky_soda



Neurological disorders and education

A student’s realization that help is offered at Concordia for those who need it

University is a wonderful experience that allows you to grow mentally and emotionally. However, if you are living with a neurological condition, your time spent in higher education may be muddled by the difficulties of coping with your disability.

A 2017 Statistics Canada report shows that 31 per cent of Canadians aged 25 to 64 without disabilities have a university degree at the bachelor’s level or higher. In comparison, less than 16 per cent of people with a physical or mental disability between those ages have a university degree. The report also indicates that “the percentage with a university degree decreased as the severity of the disability increased.”

These statistics baffle me. I believe every individual has the capacity to succeed, given the proper resources. These figures make me wonder if Canadian universities, including Concordia, offer the proper resources for students with such conditions to reach their full potential.

This year, I learned about a neurological disorder I had never heard of: dysorthographia. My friend, Audrey Lamontagne, a first-year Concordia student in the Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) program, is affected by this condition. I asked her to speak candidly about how it impacts her learning and if she has benefitted from any resources at Concordia.

First, I wanted to know what dysorthographia was in Lamontagne’s words. She explained that the condition makes her incapable of identifying spelling mistakes and she has difficulty solving mathematical equations. It also impacts her social skills, notably her ability to understand sarcasm. Moreover, she said, “I practically don’t have short-term memory,” meaning she quickly forgets what she studies.

In contrast, her long-term memory is above average. If she ingrains something in her mind, she will remember the information for the rest of her life. However, Lamontagne said she needs to work three times harder than an individual without dysorthographia to store information in her long-term memory.

This all seems difficult to cope with, especially in an academic setting, so I asked her the burning question I had in mind: Does Concordia help you cope with your condition?

According to Lamontagne, the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) offers her 15 hours of free tutoring per semester for any class she struggles with, and a notetaker so she can focus on lectures better. When doing tests or exams, she is alloted extra time and given access to a computer with Word Q and Antidote—programs that help her identify and correct her spelling mistakes. Overall, Lamontagne said she is very satisfied and appreciative of everything the university has offered her.

I am happy to know that students who struggle with neurological conditions have access to resources that can drastically improve their situation in school. I am even happier to know that students are taking advantage of these resources. According to Statistics Canada, 14 per cent of the Canadian population aged 15 years or older—that’s 3.8 million individuals—reported having a disability that limited their daily activities.

As someone with a mental health condition, I can empathize with those struggling with neurological conditions. The weight of your responsibilities as a student anchor you down, and it feels extremely unfair that you have to deal with an extra infuriating hurdle. All schools should help their struggling students. After all, those students will be going out into the world with all the knowledge they acquired from school.

If you or someone you know is affected by a neurological condition, know that you are not alone. You deserve help, support and guidance in order to perform to the best of your ability. Most importantly, you need to be kind and patient towards yourself. Take advantage of everything that is offered to you. Why struggle alone when help is available?

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin 

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