McGill University’s Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) provides accommodations for students that need support in the classroom, in examinations, and on campus more generally. Although the OSD continues to serve students, complaints have mounted in recent years, and the OSD’s failure to address them jeopardizes its ability to fulfill its mandate. In Fall 2019, a student report found that many recurrent issues remain unaddressed. Last month, a survey distributed by the SSMU representatives signed onto this statement confirmed that many of these issues continue to affect students. We call upon the OSD, with meaningful support from the McGill Administration, to acknowledge the barriers that students who use OSD services face, and ask that measures be taken to improve the OSD.
One of the resources available to students registered with the OSD are peer notes, organized through the OSD note-sharer program. In previous years, those who took notes that are shared with students registered with the OSD were financially compensated for their time. Beginning in Fall 2019, payment for note-takers was replaced with a prize drawing and credits on one’s Co-Curricular Record. While the OSD has reframed the program as one whereby students simply share notes already taken for personal use (therefore implying that no additional labour is being undertaken), this does not align with reality; note-takers have reported spending additional time formatting and organizing their notes such that they provide maximum utility to their peers.
Since the OSD stopped paying note-takers (now called simply “note-sharers”), students who use the service have reported experiencing a decline in the quality of notes being provided. Without a financial incentive, the number of student note-takers has declined since Winter 2019, the last semester they were paid, leaving many students who need notes without access to their accommodation. Moreover, if Note-Takers are not OSD employees, no measures exist to hold them accountable for the quality of their notes. As a consequence, the quality of OSD notes has reportedly decreased, leading students to seek higher quality notes through informal marketplaces. It is not that student note-takers have stopped being paid – they are being paid for by students while McGill turns a blind eye. Those who perform work deserve to be paid and students with disabilities deserve to be given the same opportunities for academic success without additional financial barriers. The administration’s aversion to paying OSD Note-Takers suggests that McGill does not view the OSD’s services as essential, even though its operations are mandated by the provincial government.
Assessments at the OSD
Another accommodation that may be granted to students registered with the OSD is the ability to write assessments with the OSD itself. However, students have resoundingly reported that writing their assessments with the OSD caused additional stress. For instance, students have frequently received incorrect instructions regarding the location, scheduling and duration of their examinations. Exam settings are inherently anxiety-provoking scenarios, and miscommunication regarding the details of these examinations only adds to this stress. When the OSD’s services cause additional anxiety for students, it falls short of its purpose of accommodating students’ conditions.
Additionally, students who write with the OSD do not benefit from the same streamlined communication with their professors that other students receive. Quite often, students at the OSD are unable to ask their professors questions during examinations, because contact with professors is not always established. Corrections to exams are frequently made mid-examination; yet students either do not receive the corrections at all, or if they do receive them, they receive them later than their peers. This discourages students from writing with the OSD.
Pop quizzes present another barrier. Although they are typically not a significant portion of students’ class grades, they are still a form of course assessment and students registered with the OSD deserve to have accommodations for them. Yet, in almost every scenario, students must write their pop quizzes with the rest of the class since they are, by nature, unable to register with the OSD in advance, resulting in the effective denial of students’ guaranteed accommodations.
We call on the McGill administration to demonstrate its commitment to students by improving the quality of services provided by the OSD. To this end, we propose that the administration institute these changes:
- Paying Note-Takers: The lack of compensation has created many difficulties for students, OSD Note-Takers and OSD-registered students alike.
- Encouraging Lecture Recordings: In the survey, students overwhelmingly stated that lecture recordings could help mitigate the issues afflicting the OSD’s Note-Taking services. Although lecture recording technology is not present in each classroom, and lectures are recorded at the discretion of professors, the OSD ought to encourage professors to provide lecture recordings.
- Proper Training for OSD Invigilators: In line with McGill’s goal to become a Healthy Workplace is a commitment toward meaningful professional development that allows staff to perform their duties properly. Through the office of Organizational Development, with advising from the OSD, employees invigilating OSD exams should be given the additional paid training required for them to be effective in their role.
- Student Representation on the OSD Advisory Board: The OSD Advisory Board, which provides direction for the services offered by the OSD, is supposed to have seats reserved for students. This year, they did not fill the seat, even though many candidates were interested in the position. Consequently, the advisory board of a service made for students does not have any student representation, meaning that actual student issues can be easily overlooked by the administration.
- Renaming the OSD: The name “Office for Students with Disabilities” is antiquated and stigmatized. By contrast, the names adopted by other universities such as OttawaU, whose equivalent service is the “Student Academic Success Service”, reflects a more inclusive view. Renaming the OSD is necessary to alter public perception of the service and the students who use it. Above all, it would represent a stronger commitment to helping students achieve academic success.
Although many student concerns about the OSD stem from underlying institutional problems, particularly those affecting the University’s funding and organization, there are immediate measures that the administration can take. The OSD is an essential service for students who experience significant obstacles in obtaining a degree, and steps must be taken to eliminate as many of those roadblocks as possible without creating new ones.
Beatrice Mackie / SSMU Law Representative | email@example.com
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