National AccessAbility Week
In honour of National AccessAbility Week, we connected with Carrie Anton, Coordinator, Accessibility Services Department (ASD) at Athabasca University (AU) to understand how ASD works and how it supports AU learners who have disabilities.
What is National AccessAbility Week?
National AccessAbility Week is from May 31 to June 6, 2020 in Canada. The Government of Canada legislated it last summer, so this week of recognition has come into full force.
Not only is it the perfect opportunity to recognize the meaningful contributions in our communities by people with disabilities, but it also gives all of us an opportunity to think about how we can play a part in helping our communities to become fully accessible and inclusive.
AU’s ASD team
Working in partnership with learners who have disabilities, AU’s ASD team helps to find reasonable, individualized accommodations and support services for learners.
“We have a unique way of delivering accommodation online and virtually,” said Anton. “We’ve done it for years and it involves the student sending in a form saying that these are the things that I’m impacted by and that I need, and this is the medical verification that supports my needs. We then assess the accommodations based on that need.”
The biggest take-away is that it is an individualized approach and there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach when it comes to supporting AU learners with disabilities. It is about customizing and personalization.
“There is an individualized accommodation plan, with the appropriate processes that are then listed,” she said. “Counter to that might be, ‘well, I have such and such a disability, so everybody with that disability gets this.’ We don’t have that approach. We really try to be informed, be educated on what are the impacts of disability, and then try to fit the accommodations with online learning to the individual.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a huge shift to online education and working for a lot of people, ASD is working to support colleagues across post-secondary. The important piece is to understand what the impact of a disability is and to wait for the students to let you know what they’re needing.
“What we are finding is that it is important for the student to initiate the request,” she said. “Sometimes you aren’t able to see the person, sometimes you’re helping them over the phone, so you’re having to allow the student to participate and initiate the services and the things that they need.”
After looking at the course objectives and essential course components, the team works with the student to understand how a person’s disability might impact their deliverables. They work with the student themselves, course coordinators, peers, accessibility services, and even advocate for greater accessibility in post-secondary and beyond.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to know that the ASD team works on disability-related accommodations within their coursework and in situations that learner is unable to do something in their course because of their disability. It about creating an equitable situation for all learners and trying not to silo any learners.
“We are trying to promote inclusivity, just like the Imagine Plan suggests,” she said. “When somebody has a disability and it has an impact on their course, that’s when we get involved, so the individual can have an equitable experience.”
The COVID-19 pandemic response has highlighted the need for universal design, which means decreasing the amount of effort someone with a disability has to go through, so that they don’t have to go through extra steps to do something when compared to the steps their peers have to take.
It’s about giving all learners the access to the same information, the same participation, and the same integration that their peers have with the same ease of use right from the beginning. Whether that is a virtual space or a physical one, AccessAbility Week can serve as a reminder for purposeful and proactive universal design right from the outset.
“If people at AU, whether they’re learners or team members, if they’re having accessibility issues with content, forms, platforms, or whatever it might be to please contact the ASD office by email,” she said.