Photo: Sierra Bellmore

The accessibility issue: universities still need to get their act together

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

By Sidney Drmay

I remember my undergrad as a timeline of breakdowns and panic attacks.

In my first year at Ryerson, fall reading week couldn’t come fast enough. I was anxious and overwhelmed and depressed and just needed a break. For some reason that now escapes me, I took a business course that wasn’t recommended for first years and with it came a massive assignment.

I hit my breaking point on the second day of reading week when I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. I sobbed for the entire day. I was so anxious I couldn’t speak and I felt isolated. I looked up the counselling services at Ryerson and tried to make an appointment by email—the idea of picking up the phone was terrifying.

I received a response telling me I had to call counseLling services. There was no other option.

In my second year, I could feel the familiar suicidal thoughts and depression caving in, so before it got too bad, I called the counselling services. I made an appointment and it looked like maybe, just maybe, it’d work this time.

They called me a couple days later to reschedule. And then again a couple days after that. And then another time. Finally, after they called a fourth time, I gave up. I let myself slip again and spent my time drowning in schoolwork and leaving class to cry in the bathroom, if I made it at all.

In my third year I had another breakdown. This time, I locked myself away for two weeks until I could go outside again. These happened periodically throughout the year. I decided academic accommodations might be helpful and went to the office only to learn that unless I had marked the box saying I identified with having a disability on the OSAP application, they wouldn’t give me the forms I needed to register myself with the Access Centre. I cried at the desk and left feeling helpless.

This is my final year. This year, I thought I had it all worked out. I checked the box, I got the forms filled out by my doctor, twice. I handed everything in and felt confident about making it through my last year.

The second day of classes, I learned that my status got rejected by Ryerson because my disability was “listed as temporary and not permanent.”

It was an oversight by my doctor, who thought that if we figured out the right cocktail of drugs this year would be a good one for me. But she still wanted me to have accommodations, just in case.

I’ve spent the last four years screaming at Ryerson, begging for the slightest sliver of sympathy to be able to access post-secondary education properly, only to have the institution continually tell me “no.” It didn’t feel like I was asking for much, just a bit of help here and there to have equal footing with others, to access the institution that where I was the same tuition as everyone else for.

Yet, to Ryerson, I was too much.

I wasn’t a model student. I missed classes constantly, avoided speaking as much as possible, struggled to make deadlines and showed up late for midterms. I spent days in bed staring at Brightspace wondering how it was all going to get done. Every deadline I made meant I spent days on my couch dissociating or crying. I cherish the profs who didn’t glare at me when I could make it to class and still talked to me like I was a human being, even when it was clear I hadn’t showered in two weeks.

I’m trying.

It would’ve been pretty cool if Ryerson could’ve met me halfway at some point.

When I look back at my time here I can’t help but feel like I’m going to be graduating despite how much this institution held me and my disabilities in contempt, and I’m so fucking happy to leave it all behind.

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