In order for disability issues to be addressed seriously, administrators, professors, service providers, students and tutors need to start working together early in the school year. Each group has a part to play to provide disabled students with equality on campus and in their academic studies. Langara has an excellent approach to faculty awareness. The President of the college sends out a letter to all staff members in the fall reminding them of their legal duty to accommodate disabled students. Attached to the letter is the Langara College Policy and Procedures Manual that defines appropriate accommodations at Langara.
This is a good approach as it may serve to reduce confusion when professors are dealing with a disabled student in their classroom. Setting the standard early encourages effective and open communication. Communication is the key to successful faculty awareness and helps to create an environment that is conducive to learning.
The following is a copy of the letter that Langara sends to each faculty member:
Office of the President, Langara College
To: All Employees
From: Linda Holmes, President
Re: The Duty to Accommodate Students with Disabilities
Previously you have received a memorandum regarding our duty, as purveyors of public education, to accommodate the religious practices of students. The purpose of that outline was to alert you to your legal obligation to accommodate such requests "up to the point of undue hardship."
Today's memo pertains to a similar duty, shared by employers and those who provide public services and facilities, to reasonably accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. The obligation to accommodate, which flows directly from the British Columbia Human Rights Act, requires educational institutions to do whatever is necessary to provide students with disabilities with equitable access to learning and educational opportunities in a safe, welcoming environment. In practical terms, this means providing the equipment required by the students (computers, tape recorders, taped books, enlarged texts, spell checkers, Brailed exams, etc.) as well as permitting the use of adaptive technology in the classroom.
Unlike the procedure outlined for the accommodation of the religious practices of students, requests for accommodation are not submitted to instructors. Some accommodations are complex and require more specialized knowledge, time and effort than can be expected of every faculty member within the College. Rather, Langara's Services Co-ordinator, Students with Disabilities, Wendy Keenlyside, is responsible for protecting the interests of instructors and students by evaluating requests and arranging for accommodations. Not only does this assure that appropriate and consistent accommodations are provided but also gives faculty an avenue for referral of unexpected requests for services. Should it happen that a student approaches you for accommodations for a disability and you have not previously been contacted by Wendy Keenlyside regarding that student, please direct them to her for assessment.
The Services Co-ordinator bases her decisions on the current (within three years) and appropriate documentation provided by the student. Only documentation of recognized professionals in the specialized field (registered educational psychologist, audiologist, etc.) is acceptable. The documentation outlines the functional limitation, the impact this limitation may have on post-secondary studies, necessary adaptive equipment and recommended service levels. With the written consent of the student, the Co-ordinator may consult with specialists to clarify the student's need for accommodation. The information in these reports is confidential and is not shared.
The nature of the disability may be evident to the instructor or it may be invisible (eg. mental health disability, learning disability or medical condition). In some situations, the Co-ordinator may notify the instructor of the specific nature of a student's disability. For example, if a student has a history of seizures, again with the permission of the student, she will notify the instructor and outline emergency procedures.
Frequently, service requests are straightforward but, from time to time, issues arise that render accommodations more challenging. A student with a learning disability or visual impairment may require recorded lectures in addition to the services of a note taker. Some instructors may feel uncomfortable having lectures taped and their concerns are heard with understanding. In this situation, however, the student's right to "reasonable accommodation" takes precedence. Our responsibility, as a public educational institution, is to offer reasonable accommodation "up to the point of undue hardship". To discharge this duty under the British Columbia Human Rights Act we are required to prove that the College did everything within its power to meet the needs of a student with a disability.
For your information, I have attached Policy 188.8.131.52 - Accessibility for Students with a Disability, which is based on current legislation and clearly outlines the College's position and responsibilities.
Signed the president