Why These Disabled Carleton U Students Can’t Go Back to Campus


The Attendant Services Program helps disabled students live an independent life. With classes returning to normal, why hasn’t the university brought it back? By Sarah Trick – Published on Oct 21, 2021

OTTAWA This fall, students at Carleton University returned to campus. The school’s residences are open, most classes are now being held in person, and clubs, activities, and sporting events have resumed.

But Kimberley Chiasson can’t go back. The 20-year-old fourth-year journalism student has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and needs assistance with personal-care activities, such as dressing and using the washroom. That’s why she went to Carleton in the first place: it offered her the physical accessibility and attendant care she needed to live on campus.

“Once I found Carleton, I was kind of dead set on that,” says Chiasson. “It was the only option that seemed like it would really fit.”

Carleton’s Attendant Services Program, founded in 1986, offers 24-hour attendant care to disabled students in residence (those who live off-campus and require care can receive services at the residence complex). Through ASP, disabled students get the chance to live independently and participate in campus life to a degree that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Its employees are mostly fellow students, who receive on-the-job training while pursuing their own degrees. The program costs nothing for clients: the Ontario government funds it (those from other provinces or countries need to have a funding agreement between ASP and their respective governments).

The program shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic began. Its students, both at Carleton and at the satellite site located at Algonquin College, also in Ottawa, had to return home. “I was disheartened, but I understood,” says Sydney Weaver, 21, a fourth-year communications student at Carleton who has cerebral palsy. “The entire university was closed.”

When Carleton announced its residences would reopen for the fall term, many were excited to go back. The university’s vaccination mandate, they thought, would make things safer. But in the summer, after some students had already made plans to return, Carleton told them attendant services wouldn’t be offered this fall. The school says it is protecting the client and staff safety but some argue they should have the right to make their own decisions about risks and benefits.

The university has not indicated its threshold for safety: Is it a certain vaccination rate in the population? Is it case numbers dropping to a certain level? If so, what is that level? Either of these might be decent metrics. But the university did not respond to TVO.org’s questions as to which one it is using, if any.

I can’t pretend to be disinterested in this topic, because for me, too, attending Carleton seemed like my only chance at an independent life. Like Chiasson, I have cerebral palsy. I went to Carleton for a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s. I lived in residence and used attendant services for a total of nine years. I’m still friends with staff and clients I met. When I moved to Ottawa at 18, I had never bought my own groceries, paid my own rent, or managed my own schedule. I didn’t know how to use transit. In British Columbia, where I’m from, every university I’d considered attending had a clause in its residence contract that students must be “independent”: attendant-care users need not apply.

Without the program, I would have had a completely different life. I probably wouldn’t have pursued a career in journalism. It would have been difficult to find accessible housing that wasn’t with my parents, and I definitely wouldn’t have had the same friends.

Asked why the program has not yet reopened, a spokesperson for Carleton tells TVO.org via email that ASP “does not allow for safe distancing, thereby heightening the risks of COVID-19 for participants and employees” and that “the university has been in contact with all affected students to provide online learning assistance and information on additional community resources.” (Algonquin College, which contracts with Carleton to deliver the program at its residence, tells TVO.org that “when Carleton University suspended service delivery for their residences they suspended the program in the AC Residence as well.”)

Online classes, however, don’t work for everyone. Chiasson, for example, says she can’t take required courses in radio and TV. “Logistically, there wasn’t an obvious way to physically adapt my bedroom and living room to be an audio studio,” she says, adding that, if the program doesn’t return next semester, she’ll have to delay her graduation.

While students could access funding to hire their own attendants, they would require accessible housing to do so, and that’s in short supply in the city. “It’s fairly obvious that Ottawa is in an accessible-housing crisis right now,” says Chiasson. As clients found out this summer that they wouldn’t be able to return, she says, there was no time to procure alternative accessible housing a process that can take years.

Emerson Bartel, 23, finished his accounting program during the shutdown. He has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive disease that weakens his muscles. Because of ASP, he could watch hockey games as late as he wanted and didn’t have to have a set bedtime, something that is common for attendant-care users, as most services are scheduled (the program schedules a few services, but, generally, they’re provided on an on-call basis). ASP gave Bartel a freedom he’d never had: “Before the program, I never thought I could live away from my parents.” Today, he’s on an accessible-housing wait-list, but he says the city told him it could take five years to find a place. In the meantime, he’s living at home with his parents in Arnprior.

Yugh Ajuha, who also has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, came to Algonquin from Iqualuit. During the shutdown, the 20-year-old office-administration student says, he ended up taking a break from school altogether because online delivery was hard on him and his family: “Being at home, I just didn’t have the energy or the support.” Despite this, he believes it would be too risky for ASP to return before “mostly everybody [in the community] is vaccinated.”

But while it’s true that many clients are at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, Chiasson and many of her fellow students want ASP operational again. “Others get to have the experience of living away from home while we just get to sit back and wait,” she says. She helps manage an Instagram account featuring clients and advocating for the program’s return. On September 22, she and other clients invited students to stage a walkout on campus (around 20 people participated, according to the Charlatan, Carleton’s student newspaper). The group plans to organize another later this year. “We thought the student body should be more aware of why they weren’t seeing us around campus this term,” Chiasson says.

The fact that ASP is closed does not mean that its students don’t face risk, she notes. While she waits to return to Ottawa, she’s living with her family in a rural area near Sudbury. Although she requires 24-hour care, agencies have allotted her only two hours per week from a personal-support worker. This means her parents need to help her with most of her daily-living activities. This has been extraordinarily difficult for the family, Chiasson says, as she’s still taking what courses she can virtually, and her parents have both returned to in-person work. She says she would need attendant care regardless of where she’s based, which increases her risk of exposure to COVID-19: “It’s still a risk that I have to live with. And that’s part of my reality.”

Alacia McIntosh has been an attendant with ASP: I was once her client, and she sometimes still provides care for me in emergencies. Even though she has long since graduated and gotten another job, she worked one day a week at Algonquin until the shutdown because she loves the program and its clients. She wants to return to the program whenever that becomes possible. I’ve known her for several years and consider her a friend, and I’ve rarely seen her get angry.

She’s angry now. “I was extremely upset that they allowed able-bodied students to return but not our clients,” she says. “I think it’s discriminatory. I think they’re segregating a group of people and preventing them from a fundamental human right, which is to access education.”

McIntosh says she would return “in a heartbeat” despite the COVID-19 risk. “I think it’s no different than me walking into a grocery store or gas station,” she says, adding that vaccination mandates reduce risk.

Some experts, too, question the school’s risk assessment. “It sounds like the university may not be thinking about the risks involved in not bringing back that program,” says Holly Witteman, a professor at Laval University whose research focuses on public-health communications and making health decisions with inherent risks. “Yes, the risk is higher, and that does need to be incorporated into these calculations. That being said, I think it’s tricky to impose a decision on people, to decide for them whether it’s safe or not. Many people who live with complicated health conditions are very used to making decisions about their own health, based on choices between two or more imperfect options.”

The independent-living movement, upon whose principles the Carleton program was founded, has a concept called “the dignity of risk.” It means that disabled people should have the right to decide which risks they are and are not willing to take. Those students who were allowed back to campus are being trusted to assume a level of risk, says Frank Smith, national coordinator for the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, which has an office at Carleton: “Every single day on campus, students, whether they have disabilities or not, are going to be faced with situations where they could be exposed to the virus in close quarters.”

And it’s not just disabled students’ academic careers that the shutdown jeopardizes, he says: their professional careers could be, too, because the lack of attendant services on campus could put students at further disadvantage when entering the labour market. “We know that disabled graduates have more difficulty finding employment,” he explains.

Witteman says that any decision-making should involve the people most affected by the outcomes: “If the university wanted to help disabled students make decisions that are right for them, they would involve them in decisions that affect the campus, because people who are at higher risk may have more insights about what policies might increase safety for everyone.”

But Chiasson says that clients were not consulted on the decision not to reopen the program: “No one asked clients what their home lives were like, whether they were safe at home.” (Carleton declined to comment as to whether it had consulted with clients. However, TVO.org spoke with a number of students, including Ajuha and Weaver, who also indicated they had not been consulted.)

Carleton has stated that “we hope to resume ASP in January 2022, pending health and safety requirements,” and the university indicates on its website that it is accepting applications for the winter term. But, Smith wonders, “Can we really say the risk is going to be any less in January than it is in September?” adding that, “it provides false hope, potentially, for the university to say they’re thinking about reopening in the winter.”

Smith says the school has a well-deserved reputation for being a leader in accessibility and inclusion. “Carleton will say, ‘We’re the most accessible university in Canada.’ But that reputation is connected to the Attendant Services Program, and they’re falling down on this one,” he says.

That reputation is why Weaver chose to attend Carleton. But she says the school’s decision to shut down ASP has affected her deeply: “It’s changed the way I see myself. My disability has always been a part of me, but I never thought it would define my future in the way that it has.

“Before, I was a student first. Now, I may have equal access to education, but I don’t have equal quality of education.”

Ontario Hubs are made possible by the Barry and Laurie Green Family Charitable Trust & Goldie Feldman.

Author

Sarah Trick is an assistant editor at TVO.org.

Original at https://www.tvo.org/article/why-these-disabled-carleton-u-students-cant-go-back-to-campus




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Western University Students Hopeful New Report Will Lead to Accessible Campus


The university is establishing a new student advisory committee to help direct staff on programming Sofia Rodriguez , CBC News
Posted: Mar 03, 2021

Ashton Forrest says her experience as someone with a disability at Western University has been frustrating.

The master’s student uses a mobility scooter and encounters numerous barriers a day on campus. They range from physical ones, like trying to fit her scooter in narrow spaces just to access food services, to experiences with others, such as students moving her scooter without asking because it’s, “in the way.”

While she recognizes the university is a long way from eliminating these barriers, she says it is moving in the right direction. The university is adopting a set of recommendations from a report commissioned by its Student Experience department that addresses issues in its academic support and engagement department, including accessibility on campus.

“The report was, for me, extremely validating,” Forrest said. “A lot of the recommendations in there are things that I and other students who have disabilities have said over and over again.”

The report contains 48 recommendations and calls for a more comprehensive approach in the way the university approaches accessibility.

“Accessibility is not defined by accommodations and access ramps,” said Jennie Massey Western University’s associate vice president of student experience. “An equitable, thriving campus really builds a culture where students with disabilities know that they matter, that they belong and that Western is a place that they can thrive.”

Massey said the university is taking immediate action with certain recommendations including, establishing a student advisory committee to help inform the implementation of the recommendations, recruiting someone to lead programming for students with disabilities and ensuring that students with disabilities are recognized as an equity-deserving group in the university’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) framework.

Forrest has been tasked with co-leading the student advisory committee. She believes having input from student with lived experiences will be paramount in making real change happen at Western.

“We have so many departments that deal with equity, diversity and inclusion, human rights and accessibility, yet they rarely reach out to students to hear what is going on, what we want, what we think our priorities are, what would help us be successful and thrive,” she said.

“Having this committee with students with a wide range of disabilities and experiences and backgrounds, we’re hoping, will help the Western community understand what our priorities are.”

The report also calls on the university to ensure its programming and services are implemented using an intersectional lens that takes into account each student’s particular experiences and factors such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation, something students like Forrest and others have lauded.

“Here we have this report where the school is saying ‘We’re going to try and move forward and improve things on campus,’ which is really a rare undertaking,” said Lauren Sanders, a student outreach coordinator with University Student Council’s Accessibility Committee. “I think an important thing to focus on is how vital it is to have a report like this even created for this community … who is commonly underserviced and underrepresented.”

Sanders and Forrest said that while the report is still missing some specifics, it’s a good starting point to one day having a truly accessible campus.

“I think once we start thinking of people with disabilities as people who are deserving of human rights, who deserve to thrive and have equal access to all aspects of community life, … we can start moving in that direction of changing the culture,” said Forrest.

“There needs to be an understanding that accessibility is not a nice thing to have, it is a human right. It’s a need to have.”

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/western-university-accessible-campus-report-1.5932251




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What’s Up With the Rules Around Emotional Support Animals on Campus?


November 26, 2019 By Farah Khan

Juvi Gardner, a student in the general arts and science, music industry arts program, was asked earlier this fall not to bring his emotional support dog, Zeke, with him while he played for Thunders varsity basketball team.

Martha Peak, the Student Associations athletics administrator, delivered the news to Gardner in an email on Sept. 10, stating its for the safety of the dog and the students.

Gardner still has questions surrounding emotional support animals on campus. And he is not alone.

I was confused as to why youre telling me no, because Im asking for the rules, said Gardner. I just want to know what the rules are.

Though many people believe that an emotional support animal classifies as a service animal – it doesnt.

An emotional support animal is not defined nor protected by the law unlike a service animal.

According to Lending a Helping Paw: An Overview of the Law of Service Animals in Ontario, emotional support animals are not specifically trained to perform a task-such as guiding a person with a visual or physical impairment. However, they do provide comfort and support to the owner.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has clearly stated that emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals thus, it is up to colleges to decide whether the animal is permitted on the premises.

So, at anytime, students with emotional support animals can be denied having their support animal on certain premises.

It turns out the increase in the number of students with emotional service animals across Ontario is starting to gain attention.

For example, George Brown Colleges AODA policy classifies an emotional support animal as a service animal and allows students to bring them on campus.

George Brown has already implemented it in their policies, said Gardner. Theres other schools that are already adhering to the emotional support dog laws.

At present, Algonquin has not yet done this. But this is now changing.

This is starting to come up that Im aware of, said Claude Brulé, president of Algonquin College. We need to pay attention to this. Under our vice president of student services, were looking at the policies and were looking at it as well provincially.

For the moment, Gardner still has no clear answers about his emotional support dog.

But for Algonquin students with emotional support animals in general, the hope is that this will soon change.

Were aware that we need to have better policies so that everyone is aware of what they can do, or they shouldnt do but were not there yet, said Brulé. Its a work in progress.

Original at http://algonquintimes.com/news/whats-up-with-the-rules-around-emotional-support-animals-on-campus/




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Accommodating Students With Disabilities on Campus: Moving Beyond Silos


A new report looks at how accessibility and accommodations are meeting the needs of disabled students across Canada. By MICHAEL RANCIC | NOV 21 2018

A new study aims to challenge how accessibility and accommodations are understood at postsecondary institutions. Released in October, the Landscape of Accessibility and Accommodation in Post-Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities report says that accessibility remains siloed within postsecondary education.

Accessibility and inclusion efforts in the postsecondary environment have lagged behind the evolution of the student experience and are limited to the academic (classroom and online learning) environment, reads the report, published by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS).

Founded in 1986, NEADS mandate is to support access to education and employment for postsecondary students and graduates with disabilities across Canada. The Social Development Partnerships Program of Employment and Social Development Canada funded the Landscape project in 2016 to help inform the federal governments new national accessibility legislation, known as Bill C-81, An Act to ensure a barrier-free Canada. The bill went through its first reading in June 2018 and was referred to committee in September for further study.

We recognized that it was very important that postsecondary students and graduates with disabilities have a significant input into the consultations relating to a federal disability act, said Frank Smith, NEADS national coordinator.

Beyond the opportunity to influence new federal legislation, there were more pressing reasons that necessitated the report, said Mr. Smith. [NEADS] started in 1986 that was before most students were using computers, the internet, social media. It was a time when, if you were a blind student, you got your books on tape, he said.

What has happened since then with technology, online learning and distance education has really helped to level the playing field for many people with disabilities who, without technology, would not be able to fully participate, Mr. Smith continued. However, technology has also introduced new challenges: with more students with disabilities able to participate on campus, is the accommodation process working for them the best that it can? How is the rest of campus life meeting their needs? This rapidly shifting learning dynamic hasnt been studied with this kind of national scope, Mr. Smith explained.

We often dont look at whole systems across a nation, said Christine Arnold, one of the co-investigators for the Landscape report and an assistant professor in the faculty of education at Memorial University (the two other co-investigators were Michelle Pidgeon, an associate professor of education at Simon Fraser University, and Deanna Rexe, vice-president, academic, at Assiniboine Community College). I dont know that weve seen this comprehensive of a scan across the entire country looking at the policies, programs and the literature, said Dr. Arnold

The project was a collaborative effort between researchers at SFU, Assiniboine and Memorial, along with a team of 15 graduate students with disabilities. The report and its recommendations came from a substantive literature review, environmental scans, data analysis from surveys like the Canadian Graduate Survey, as well as consultations with students, service providers and educators at various conferences across the country.

The report makes numerous recommendations for policy changes at the federal, provincial and institutional levels (the latter includes service providers, teaching staff and libraries).

These include: Mandate accessibility of features, methods, applications and protocols used by persons with disabilities in navigating education and employment, meaning that accessibility shouldnt be limited to certain areas of education and employment; and Mandate postsecondary institutions to outline a nationally accepted set of essential requirements for all their programs of study, which aims to eliminate the current regional and provincial disparities that exist with respect to policies and practices around accessibility and inclusion.

Information gaps

Across all recommendations, some themes emerged, said Dr. Arnold. First and foremost was the limited amount of research previously done in this area. We found there were gaps gaping gaps at times, she said.

Identifying those gaps was a key step before more original research could take place, Dr. Arnold added. We know theres real appetite to do this work and we know that its becoming increasingly important as we open up access for students and were trying to accommodate more students and try to make sure theyre successful.

Dr. Arnold cited the example of student transitions within institutions, between institutions and from postsecondary education into the job market as an area thats of particular interest to her, and yet a literature review she conducted yielded little research. How do our services allow our students to make those transitions successfully and where do we fall down? she asked.

Dr. Arnold also said more effort needs to be focused on the retention and attrition of students, making sure that they have supports they need and know where to find them. A lot of the literature focuses on support for students with disabilities with regard to their coursework their academics, making sure theyre proceeding in their program but theres this whole other dimension of student life, she said.

Acknowledging this, the Landscape report suggests that accommodations need to be built into programs and initiatives that fall under student services or student affairs. Co-curricular experiences, work-oriented learning, experiential learning, leadership opportunities all of these need to have accommodations built into them, she said.

Jay Dolmage, an associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo who researches disability accommodations, said the NEADS report reveals a culture thats failing its disabled students. Offices of disability services, especially in Canada, are doing a good job within the parameters theyre often really underfunded and understaffed. But, theres also a cultural stigma against disability that makes it difficult to do that job effectively, he said, noting that, according to the multi-year accountability agreements published by each university, fewer students are seeking accommodations from one year to the next.

Dr. Dolmage added: Universities map disability as a legal requirement and as something that needs to be medically verified, but they might not necessarily recognize disability as an important source of diversity or as a culture. Mr. Smith at NEADS agreed: That medical approach doesnt speak to the individual learning path or requirement of the student who happens to have a disability.

Fundamentally, said Dr. Arnold, the report and its recommendations are rooted in a push for universal planning in education. There are always going to be specific accommodations, she said. However, if we can be more universal and plan for those in advance, we would be doing ourselves a great favour and our students would be able to see themselves in the programming. Seeing yourself there and knowing youll be comfortable is honestly at times half the struggle.

Original at https://www.universityaffairs.ca/news/news-article/accommodating-students-with-disabilities-on-campus-moving-beyond-silos/



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