‘Inclusion is that sense you belong’
For 35 years Concordia has been at the forefront of inclusion in the university setting.
December 3 marks the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities. To mark the occasion, the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities (ACSD) will hold an open house in its office in the Henry F. Hall Building. There will also be an information table set up in the building’s mezzanine.
Inclusion in the education system
In the 1980s and 1990s a new framework began changing the way teaching was done in classrooms across the country. For the first time, students with disabilities were integrated into mainstream classrooms as opposed to being segregated from the rest of the community.
In the late 1990s the movement towards inclusion was flourishing. This was the impetus for an innovative model, dubbed the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL which put inclusion into practice by redefining elementary and high schools as flexible environments capable of accommodating individual learning differences.
“This educational model proved to be very beneficial both in terms of social life, but also in terms of academics,” says Gordon Dionne, manager of the ACSD at Concordia.
“As students with disabilities grow and progress through the lower levels of the educational system they have been able to achieve academically as a result of UDL, making university a viable option for them.”
Disabilities are an aspect of diversity
The ACSD promotes this spirit of inclusivity, and aims to make every aspect of the university accessible to all students.
In the last three years the centre has seen a marked increase in the number of students who’ve registered for its services.
In the 2014-15 academic year, 1,618 students registered with the ACSD. That figure was 1,407 the year before. Dionne estimates it will be closer to 1,800 by this May.
“It’s important to understand that disability on campus is an aspect of diversity,” says Dionne. “These are students who have a diverse background, who have a different experience from you, in the same way that other students have different cultural and religious backgrounds.”
The ACSD actively engages Concordia’s faculty and staff through workshops that aim to support the integration of UDL elements into university courses. These include using visual aids during lectures and assuring captions are on when screening a film in class.
Beyond this, the ACSD works on a one-on-one basis with all registrants. Each client is given an individualized accommodation plan that responds to the specific barriers they face with their disability.
“When we talk about disabilities we’re talking about both visible and invisible ones,” says Dionne. A large number of students who register with the ACSD have a condition that is not immediately perceptible.
Examples of visible disabilities are hearing, visual or mobility impairments and chronic illnesses. Invisible disabilities include mental health conditions, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders and autism spectrum disorders.
“The number of people who are choosing to register on the basis of a mental health condition increases every year, and that's a similar trend across the country,” says Dionne. “I think it reflects a shift in attitudes. It seems that as the stigma surrounding mental health begins to wane, more and more people are coming forward and speaking up.”
As more students with disabilities carve out a space for themselves on campus, Dionne says it’s important for the student body to be respectful of diversity and support their peers.
“Inclusion is that sense you belong, that you have a voice, that you have power, that you are welcomed, that you are wanted. We’re trying to help the Concordia community move in that direction of being welcoming, open and accepting to people with disabilities.”
5 ways you can support inclusion on campus
- Get with the lingo! Use terms such as “students with disabilities” or “a person with depression” instead of “disabled students” or “depressed person”. While having a disability impacts many aspects of a person’s life, it does not define every aspect of their being.
- Sign up to be a note taker. Sharing your notes is an invaluable way to assist fellow classmates.
- Opt to use the staircases and escalators, or step out of the elevator to allow a person with a visible disability to get on in your place.
- Remember to “turn on” the accessible features if you are showing a video (captioning, descriptive video) to include all in attendance, and use print and digital communication when advertising events.
- Interact with all our Concordia community members with care, concern and respect. Inclusion is about helping people to feel they belong.
5 things you didn’t know about the ACSD
- The centre is a part of Student Services and the staff members are happy to help guide you to the best resources you need — go and see them!
- The ACSD hires more than 200 Concordia students to work at the centre every semester.
- The ACSD is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Concordia was one of the first universities in Canada to promote the inclusion of students with disabilities.
- At the ACSD, staff actively promote the social model of disability, which views disability as an aspect of diversity, as well as the Universal Design for Learning framework.
- Chocolate is available at the front counter on special occasions like Halloween and Valentine’s Day. Drop by and say hi!
On December 3, the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities will hold an open house in its office, located in Room H-580.01 of the Henry F. Hall Building. Coffee and treats wil be served.
There will also be an information table set up in the mezzanine of the Hall Building. This year’s theme explores the impact of inclusion on the lives of persons with disabilities.
If you believe you may have a disability, but have not been diagnosed, you can seek assistance and referrals from Student Services’ Health Services.