Students needing accommodation for mental health up 266 per cent in past seven years
Yuseph Jackman is like many students, juggling a full class schedule and a part-time job. In this case, he is the accessibility representative at the Student Association (SA), which funds The Dialog.
Jackman is also one of about 10 to 12 per cent of students at George Brown College (GBC) registered with accessibility services.
Over the last seven years, there has been a 128 per cent increase in the number of students using accessible learning services at GBC, according to documents presented at the college council meeting on Jan. 18.
Mental health has been the most significant driver of the increase, with 1,055 students in 2016-17, up from 288 students in 2009-10, an increase of 266 per cent.
“As we move forward to the future, you’re going to see that (accessible learning services) are becoming more and more of a prominent thing,” said Jackman. “It’s growing so much, because people realize that, even though it might be small, they still need their accessibility services.”
More students are also requesting help with complex issues, meaning that they need accommodation for more than one disability.
“We are not just accommodating medical and physical (needs) but it’s also mental health, or mental well-being, that we are looking at as well,” said Anne Moore, manager of accessibility services at GBC.
The Ontario Human Rights legislation states that service providers—in this case, a public college—have to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities.
According to Moore, the most common accommodations requested by students are extra time for tests, note-taking and to write the exams in a test centre.
Moore said that accessibility services are essential because people with disabilities need to be able to work and have a good life.
“The employment rate of people with disabilities in Canada is low,” said Moore. “There’s no reason for that in Canada. We have the infrastructure, we have accessible sidewalks, we should be able to do a better job.”
Jackman agrees, “in order to succeed, students need to be accommodated, and everything needs to be accessible.”
Under Ontario law, many organizations like businesses and post-secondary schools must be accessible by 2025. By 2020, George Brown College’s libraries must provide, purchase or borrow accessible or conversion-ready formats, where available for its digital or multimedia resources and materials.
Moore said the biggest challenge for students with disabilities is not the impairment itself but the stigma.
“A student said to me once: ‘These are the people I want to impress. I don’t want to tell them what my basic needs are. I want a good career, I want to move ahead on my life, I don’t want to be perceived as someone with a disability,'” Moore said.
Some accessibility initiatives that are being recommended at GBC are the use of digital note-taking and blackboard to share notes, the creation of accessible classroom materials choosing e-texts and e-resources, the reduction on the penalties for use time materials, and a new transition program called Great Beginnings for Deaf students.