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The shortcomings of academic accommodation

By Annie Arnone

I remember the first time I saw a therapist. I was 16 and she asked me whether or not I had taken antidepressants before. I guess I showed all of the signs of a young teenager suffering from depressive disorder. I said, “no,” walked out of her office and never spoke a word of my possible diagnosis to anyone—I was scared of being different, as 16-year-olds are. I decided I’d never see that therapist again.

Two years later, in my first year of university, I felt trapped under my sheets—like I woke up chained to my bed. Every day, the question I was asked in that therapy session loomed over my head, but I did everything I could to ignore it—I still wasn’t taking anti-depressants. I slept for most of the day, skipped classes and paired my anxiety attacks with my nightly routine.

In my second year, I stopped getting excited. I stopped trying to hide that I was depressed—I’d sit in my mom’s Volvo and ramble about what I hated, and all the time I spent crying. I needed help, but I didn’t know where to go. I was drowning in school work that I didn’t care about and spent all of my time surrounding myself with people because I didn’t know how to be alone.

In December of that year, I was given an official diagnosis of severe depressive disorder. My doctor handed me a bottle of antidepressants and anxiety medication. I failed a class.

I applied for medical academic accommodation and was denied because I missed my deadline.

I sat in my academic advisor’s office, begging her to take a look at my medical documentation. I gave her all of the information I had about my diagnosis. I provided her with every side-effect my medication had on me. She told me that there was nothing else she could do, that she was sorry, but my submission was too late.

The academic accommodation process works like this: you fill out a form outlining what “medical illness” you have (before a certain date of the year, apparently—which is not stated on the academic accommodation website), the centre informs your professors that you have said illness (which remains unnamed), and the accommodations are granted to you via admin, after a meeting of some sort. It’s super great in theory but, unfortunately, none of those steps seemed to apply to a newly diagnosed patient, like myself.

Two years ago, York University demanded the name of Navi Dhanota’s mental illness in order to grant her academic accommodation. The student filed a human rights complaint against the school, which sparked a change to keep mental illnesses unnamed when filling out an accommodation form at York and other universities across the province.

The sole purpose of academic accommodation is asking for consideration because your mental state prevents you from focusing, and has an impact on your school work. I should not have to tell someone every detail of my diagnosis. I should not have a failed grade on my transcript. And I should not have been denied my accommodation because I missed the due date to apply.

Last week, I stood on Gould Street photographing the Canadian Federation of Students’ Fight the Fees rally when a spoken word artist took the microphone. She addressed the amount of debt she was in and the trauma she faced after she experienced a death in the family during her fourth year of university. She was denied accommodation on compassionate grounds.

She failed her classes and was required to take a fifth year of school.

I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that this is a reality at Ryerson, or that I am not the only student who has been looked in the eyes and told that their reasons for accommodation are not valid.

It’s not just about deadlines or paper work, it’s about how Ryerson needs to give its students better support. But first, it needs to believe we need it.

1 Comment

  1. David Heath

    Hi Annie,

    I completely agree with you. Ryerson is horrible when it comes to accommodations, as I myself use the access centre. I don’t understand how it is a right of the professors to choose whether they accommodate you or not (whether for medical reasons or for learning disabilities). In my mind, accommodation for disadvantaged individuals is a basic human right, and quite frankly a professor denying someones accommodation amounts to discrimination. I have experienced such a situation when a professor advised me to drop a class when over 95% of my grade was left in the course just because I had a medical note for three weeks and he did not want to give me an extension on an assignment. I was given a choice to either drop the class or get zero accommodation. I chose to push through and I ended up doing ok in the class, but I still haven’t forgotten how I was treated. As well, I was considering writing an article just like this for either the Ryerson student newspaper or maybe even an actual new outlet. Maybe I still will….thanks for the editorial.

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