Report on the sixth NEADS Student Leadership Forum - Yellowknife, NWT
Submitted by: Steven Estey & Associates Consulting Ltd.
Submitted on: May 3, 2001
On March 24, 2001, NEADS, in collaboration with the Northwest Territories (NWT) Council for Disabled Persons sponsored the sixth, and most recent, NEADS Student Leadership Forum. The Forum was held at Aurora College in Yellowknife and attended by an interesting and diverse group from the city of Yellowknife. Amongst the participants were students with disabilities at the college, parents of disabled high school students, government employees and representatives of the NWT Council for Disabled People. While we were a small group the diversity and openness at the meeting made for a very interesting and useful exchange. What follows is a summary of the discussions at the meeting, as well as some items for consideration of the NEADS Board of Directors.
Before launching into this account it may be helpful to provide a little statistical information, so that readers are aware of the context. Generally it can be said that participation in post secondary education is - for disabled people in the NWT - a rarer occurrence than it is for disabled people in Southern Canada. According to the recent Needs Assessment of Persons with Disabilities in the NWT, 61% of disabled people (15 or more years of age) in the NWT report having less than a grade nine education. Even among younger people (between 25 and 39) 58% report having less than a grade nine education. High school completion is reported by only 20% of disabled people in NWT and four- percent report having a university degree.
These figures have particular importance for NEADS as the Association responds to issues and concerns identified at the meeting in Yellowknife. It will also become clear that in these extreme conditions one finds support to underscore activities and approaches that have been hinted at in previous Student Leadership Forums. This is particularly the case for highschool outreach and the value of mentoring. These along with other ideas will be discussed further below.
The panel was made up of three local advocates: MaryAnne Duchesne, NEADS Representative for the NWT, Bill Burles, Chair of the NWT Council for Disabled Persons - and a student at the College, and Doreen Baptiste, an instructor at Aurora College. Each panelist took a few minutes to talk about their experiences and particularly about life in post-secondary education.
MaryAnne Duchesne opened the panel discussion by speaking about her introduction to NEADS. In 1998 she received phone call from Aurora College about attending the NEADS conference in November of that year. Prior to that, being around disabled people had always been a negative experience. When she arrived and attended a session she was open mouthed to see the positive attitudes and the great environment. She said,
It was something that I never felt before. It was just because we were the same, but we all had goals. Satisfaction and self-worth were evident all over. Things discussed were interesting, mostly directed towards funding and financial assistance for students with disabilities and other things that I found useful.
MaryAnne went on to talk about her experience as a NEADS Board member, and to highlight current activities of the Association. She mentioned the faculty awareness project, noting that students often find it difficult to talk to professors about their disability, and that often professors do not know anything about the disabilities. Professors, said MaryAnne, need to be made aware of the different disabilities.
The second panelist, Bill Burles, then described the work of the NWT Council for Disabled Persons. It was incorporated in 1978, with a mission, "to encourage and support self-determination of persons with disabilities." The Council does offer some direct services such as an Early Intervention Program for children with disabilities. This program provides one-on-one assistance to children up until the age of six. The goal is to help the children reach their full potential. The recent "Count me In Conference" is another good example of the work of the Council. The conference brought disabled people from all over the NWT to discuss their issues and concerns, and propose solutions. This is typical of the work of the Council, which seeks to increase awareness and participation of disabled people in the NWT wherever possible.
The final panel member, Doreen Baptiste, then spoke about her experience as a person with a disability through her own educational career, and now as a college instructor. She noted, "Having disabilities works to my advantage in being an instructor as I can more easily see differences in the strides being made by all of my students." Doreen graduated from the Masters in Education program at the University of Saskatchewan. During the course of her studies she received very few disability related accommodations. From her perspective there is definite progress being made in access; but there is still a lot of work to be done!
After the panelists were finished their presentation the floor was opened and a general discussion followed. The discussion points fell into two main areas: outreach to disabled people not in College, and some proposals for best practices for smaller college's and disability service providers. This section will divide the discussion along these lines and present the key ideas voiced by participants at the Forum.
- There are problems here with transition from high school to colleges or university. It is hard for high school students to access information and they need assistance with this. An outreach project by NEADS should address this issue.
- Adult educators are good contacts in the communities. The largest percentage of the college population in NWT is in Adult Basic Education. These people could be the target of an outreach program.
- Few disabled people have made it through school and gone on to university. They are just not making it through secondary school - so this is where a lot of work should be done.
- Help to encourage the transition from high school to college by making presentations about NEADS in the high school, and junior high schools. Students with disabilities would benefit knowing there is an organization that is available to help them when they get to college.
Suggested Best Practices
- There is a need to sensitise faculty, staff and other students. Some people have found that instructors or college personnel think they can determine a person's needs better than a person with a disability.
- The College should do more to attract students with disabilities. Right now there is not even a mention in the Calendar (at Aurora College) that there are services for disabled students.
- Aurora College (Yellowknife Campus) has a total population of about 200 students. There is a part-time faculty person responsible for disabilities but no mention of that anywhere, not even in College's calendar. It's fair that there is not a full time position for such a small college, but person should still be clearly identified.
- Whoever sets the priorities (for upgrading and retrofitting) is not listening to the needs of the students, especially students with disabilities. Color strips on stairs making it easier to see would be great, but we can't get them - despite all the money that has been spent on things like "self-flushing toilets!"
- There are standards ... certain kinds of disabilities require a certain types of accommodation, and the support person should be properly trained and able to access this information. Right now receiving accommodations depends more on being "a squeaky wheel" than on any sort of recognised standards and or documentation of disability.
- Disability information workshops should be combined with faculty workshops. These should be compulsory.
- Presently there is no (LD) assessment program for students in Adult Basic Education. So, for example, if a student has a learning disability they often get stuck in this program and do not advance. Assessments should be made available.
Considerations for the NEADS Board of Directors
Following from the general discussion, and in keeping with the findings of other Leadership Forums a number of recommendations or issues for Consideration by the Board present themselves. They are as follows:
- Develop a program to share information and provide support for service providers at small colleges. This could be done in conjunction with CADSPPE.
- Given the high level of early school leaver's (over 50%) in the NWT a specific program for outreach to secondary students should be considered.
- Similarly, a program to contact and provide information to disabled people who have dropped out of school should be considered as well.
- NEADS should consider advertising in the school system (guidance counselors) and offering information and support to those who are in need.
- Small colleges need to identify disability services in their calendars and on their web site. Information should always include a contact person
- Connecting with parents of disabled children is also important. Many parents do not consider post-secondary education an option for their children, and this can contribute to a decision to leave high school before completion.
- NEADS should begin to look at Big Campus / Small Campus issues differently. And when designing any projects these differences should be taken into consideration.