Making Education Equal for All
Irvine is a mature student enrolled in the Educational Assistant program. Like many of her classmates, she's eager to learn and dedicated to her studies. She is also a student living with a disability. She suffers from severe anxiety and has irritable bowel disease for which she has had colostomy surgery.
When she began her courses, she advised her instructor about some of her needs. "I said, ‘I have a colostomy so I may have to stand up or go to the bathroom and adjust my pouch.'"
She explained that if she suddenly walked out of the class it wasn't meant to be disrespectful. Later, she introduced herself to a Disability Services counsellor, provided her medical history and sat down with a registered psychologist provided by Disability Services - all on the off chance she might need their support.
Since 2011, at least five per cent of the student population identifies as living with a disability. A statistic Martine Gauthier, director of Student Development, which oversees Disability Services, says is only going to increase.
"More and more people living with disabilities are enrolling in post-secondary education programs across the province - across the country," Gauthier says. "Improved technologies and improved access to enhanced tools and materials mean institutions are better equipped to provide support without having to lower academic standards. This means we can provide each and every student with the equal opportunity to do well in their studies."
Working with individual students, Disability Services identifies specific barriers and provides appropriate solutions, equipment or materials so each student can meet the academic demands expected of all students. In addition, each program has a set number of seats available for students living with disabilities and students have access to one of eight counsellors, who are divided across all four campuses. In the 2014/2015 academic year, $115,000 was set aside for specific initiatives that would provide enhanced technologies, new tools and instruction to maximize student success rates.
For Irvine, the added assistance has proven to be the key to her success. She attributes her academic confidence and achievements to having a supportive instructor and access to Disability Services.
As a result of her meetings, she says she was provided with a "wonderful set of accommodations." They include use of an invigilator during exam time and a standing desk to help her remain comfortable and in the classroom for longer periods. In addition, a divider was added to the back of the classroom, enabling her to discretely make adjustments without missing lecture time. She was also provided with her own locked cabinet in the disability washroom to store her medical kit.
"If [Disability Services] wasn't there, I might have had to quit," Irvine says. "They make you feel like you are worthy. They want you there. They want you to succeed. They want to see their students excel. The positive result of all this was my ability to trust the world again and that's because of the exemplary support systems in place at Sask Polytech."
For more information, visit Sask Polytech's Disability Services.