By Brennan Doherty
In her final year at Ryerson, health services management student Dorrel Richards was a credit away from graduating.
However, Richards, like many students who struggle with a learning disability, relied on assistance from the Ryerson Access Centre.
In the midst of one of her senior capstone courses, Richards reached out to her professor for an extension on a project, but was not given any extra time. When she realized she needed the extension, it was too late by the standards of the existing access centre policy.
Richards, who is now in her fifties, failed it. Two years later without the financial means to complete the course, she has exhausted her appeal process.
The course Richards failed, Health Services Management Practicum Seminar, is conducted outside of the traditional lab-and-lecture course schedule. Projects are carried out independently by students and include a research proposal, placement within a health services organization and a final paper.
Richards worked on her research proposal throughout September 2012. In order to submit her proposal for grading by her professor, Winston Isaac, Richards had to get the approval of the course’s faculty advisor, Pria Nippak.
The proposal’s due date was Oct. 4. Richards submitted the proposal to Nippak on Oct. 2. Nippak responded by saying that there were grammatical and organizational issues with the proposal and that it wasn’t ready for approval.
Richards realized she had overestimated her abilities to finish the proposal to quality standards within the timeline granted.
She proceeded to contact Isaac on Oct. 5 to request an extension on the basis of her learning disability. Isaac returned from a conference on Oct. 9 and denied her request.
The access centre policy dictates that a student must request accommodation for project extensions before the due date.
“You only can negotiate that extra time when you know what you want,” Richards said, noting that expecting students to always know when they will need accommodation is unreasonable.
She argued that the forms students fill out before each semester requesting accommodation coverage should be enough to grant students access when they need it.
“The professor dishonoured the accommodation,” Richards said. “He didn’t give me the accommodation. He said ‘your proposal is late.’ So, zero.”
At the end of December, he failed her.
Guidelines instructors follow regarding accommodation for students with special needs are derived from Ryerson Senate Policy 159, a document that also governs the ways denials can be appealed.
In 2013, The Eyeopener reported the story of Mark Dukes, a former public administration and governance student who struggled with learning disabilities.
As a result of a long qualification process for accommodation, which included a three-month period in which Dukes had to seek medical recommendation to prove his disability, he also failed to earn his degree.
The guidelines dictating Dukes’ qualification process also originate from policy 159.
Richards completed and passed her organizational placement at the end of December 2012, but still failed the course.
She took her appeal to the Ryerson Students’ Union, the Ryerson ombudsperson, access centre, and the office of discrimination and harassment to appeal the failed assignment.
Both the Ryerson ombudsperson and the office of the vice-provost academic have declined to comment on the process of individual cases made to them (due to their confidential nature).
In an email given to The Eyeopener by Richards dated March 14, 2014, vice-provost academic Chris Evans agreed with the principles of the decision to deny Richards her accommodation.
According to Ryerson senate policy 159, Richards has reached the end of her appeals process.
The Senate appeal policy makes no mention of the Ontario Human Rights Commission — which imposes upon employers or authorities within social services to “grant accommodation requests in a timely manner, to the point of undue hardship, even when the request for accommodation does not use any specific formal language.”
The access centre intake specialist, Maria Taylor, was surprised when she heard about Richards’s case.
“It seems highly unlikely that she was denied accommodation because she was late.”
Senate policy 159 is set to undergo review in fall 2015.