Christina Halliday works at her desk in the Library building. PHOTO: CAROLYN TURGEON

Centre struggles to access funding

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With approximately 1,500 registered with the Access Centre, the best way to accommodate this recent increase is to improve campus access. Associate News Editor Carolyn Turgeon reports

The Access Centre for Students with Disabilities has seen a 25 per cent increase in registrants since the 2008-09 academic year, which has forced administration to seek ways to accommodate the rise.

One employee was hired last week but this is only the beginning of the Centre’s efforts to adjust to the higher demand for services.

“Some of the reasons for [the increase] could be that the Access Centre is doing a better job communicating to students as they’re being admitted,” said Christina Halliday, director of student learning support.

Halliday said that disability service providers in many universities have noticed students who have connected with extra help in the kindergarten to Grade 12 system and are looking for similar support in post-secondary institutions.

“It’s that notion that there’s greater awareness,” she said. “They’re self advocating and saying ‘we want this help.’”

Prior to the new hire, the Centre employed eight people, which included a manager. They also have two full-time Test Centre staff, but that section is being moved to its own facility in January 2012.

Of the eight staff members, four were student accommodation facilitators and a fifth was added thanks to one-time funding from the office of Heather Lane Vetere, vice provost students. This brought their total employees up to nine.

“We’re now at a point where managing the caseload is too much for four people and we have to add another,” said Vetere.

Halliday also stressed the importance of these facilitators.

“They’re the first [people] that the students see for getting their accommodations in place,” she said. “They’re the liaison, if needed, between the student and faculty member or course instructor.”

Since 2008, this is the second student accommodation facilitator position to be added.

“There has been some growth,” said Halliday. “I think there’s room for more.”

Vetere agreed, but brought up the need for more funding.

“Everyone understands the challenges we have, it’s just a matter of whether the money is available,” she said.

Ryerson President Sheldon Levy estimates that, since he began in 2005, the funding for the Access Centre has doubled.

“Everyone can use additional money, there’s no doubt about it, but we put a priority on providing support for students with disabilities and we think we do a good job,” he said.

The Centre’s budget comes from the provincial government and the university, with the former funding 69 per cent and the latter topping up the rest.

The amount of funding allocated is based on an annual report submitted by the Access Centre and the numbers it presents to the provincial government.

With the increase in students connecting with the Centre, the budget went up 13 per cent since last year.

“Senior management is paying attention to the growth in the Access Centre,” said Halliday. “As long as that continues, I think [we] will be able to provide good service.”

Future plans for the Centre include a move to the Student Learning Centre upon its opening, on the same floor as the Writing Centre, the English Language Support, the Learning Success Centre, the Math Assistance Centre and the Ted Rogers School of Management Student Services, all of which are directed by Halliday.

“We’re looking forward to [the move] and to being connected physically with all of those other supports so that there can be more cross support,” she said.

Other ongoing projects include providing more accessibility in classrooms by teaming up with RyeAccess and the Learning and Teaching Office as well as making changes to Senate policies about academic accommodation.

“If instructors had the resources and the time and the knowledge to create classes where accessible formats were in place, where the classroom and the course was designed with accessibility in mind, perhaps less students would need academic accommodations,” said Halliday.

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