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By Taeeba Sadar

A lack of awareness and understanding are the primary challenges facing disabled students, staff and faculty at Ryerson, according to a university report.

“The provincial government requires us to file reports on a yearly basis,” said Dean of Arts Carla Cassidy, who co-chaired the committee. “There are still some barriers, the main one being awareness. There are policies in place but people don’t realize that they are.”

In accordance with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, Ryerson posted its first accessibility plan on its Web site Tuesday. The report uncovers Ryerson’s failings in dealing with the needs of disabled people.

It recommends Ryerson take a concerted approach to change negative attitudes and increase sensitivity to the needs of disabled students. To this end, Ryerson has set up a committee to monitor its progress over the long-term.

Julia Lewis, assistant director for the Centre of Environmental Health, is legally blind and contributed to the evaluation.

“There has been a vast amount of initiative since I’ve been here,” said Lewis. “If I have to make a presentation there is a lot of consideration for the tools I need to use. There is a good culture here.”

She points to the Access Centre as an example of Ryerson’s commitment. The centre works with students to determine what they need to succeed.

According to Access Centre coordinator Tanya Lewis, the most difficult students to reach are those with hidden disabilities.

“A blind student uses books on tape,” said Lewis. “But for a student with a learning disability the issue is not as clear cut.”

Although provincial legislation makes compliance mandatory, the government has not allocated funds to help implement new programs or services.

But Cassidy said Ryerson will fulfill its obligations.

“We have always provided resources to the Access Centre,” said Cassidy. “Every new building that has been put up has been done with the Access Centre and we have made existing buildings more accessible.” Aneil Bachan is a student confined to a wheelchair.

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