Students talk to us about their academic accommodation nightmares

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By Jonathan Bradley

Everyone knows acquiring academic accommodations can be a challenge. But once you have them, things aren’t necessarily smooth-sailing. 

According to Ryerson’s 2014-2016 Diversity Self-ID Report, eight per cent of Ryerson students identify with having a disability. These students are able to receive academic accommodations from Ryerson’s Student Learning Support which is meant to work with students to create individualized accommodation plans, allowing them to succeed and participate in classes. 

But three students who have academic accommodations told The Eyeopener that Ryerson has to do better when it comes to moderating and regulating them. 

Difficulty rescheduling an exam

Lauren Sciacchitano-Dunlap, a mature third-year medical physics student, needed a Spanish exam moved because one of her academic accommodations would interfere with a physics class. Her Spanish professor refused to accommodate.  

Her accommodations include using the Test Centre to write exams, 50 per cent extra time, ear plugs, sitting away from the door and no more than one exam in a 24-hour period.

The accommodations she has are for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety disorder, disability qualifying migraines and Type 2 bipolar disorder. 

If she took the exam near the same time as the rest of the class, the 50 per cent extra time would interfere with her physics class beforehand.

Sciacchitano-Dunlap said she was concerned about triggering a hypomanic episode that involves heightened irritability, aggression, insomnia and “a level of discomfort that makes me want to rip my skin off.” 

“I am regularly worried that my health conditions will prevent me from completing my degree,” said Sciacchitano-Dunlap. 

The exam was moved after reaching out to her academic advisor but she ended up having to disclose her disability to people who otherwise would not have known. 

Sciacchitano-Dunlap said that Ryerson should be doing whatever it takes to accommodate students with disabilities. 

“My entire life revolves around managing health conditions that, if not monitored, will at best leave me unable to be a functioning member of society and at worst result in me killing myself,” she said. “That’s extremely inconvenient, so I don’t want to hear about what an inconvenience it is to fulfill my pre-approved accommodations.” 

The need to book in advance

Eric Nickel*, third-year new media student, has accommodations that allow him to write exams in the Test Centre, which requires students to book an exam there 10 days in advance. Nickel said that he often forgets to book his exams, risking not getting his accommodations and failing.

“It’s all on me, which is stressful because I almost always forget. It’s difficult being responsible for your own accommodations.” 

Nickel experiences attention deficit disorder (ADD) and general learning comprehension problems.

He said that he’s never been denied a spot at the Test Centre for booking late but is worried about the possibility. 

“I am way too scared for that to happen to me,” he said. “And I’m scared that I’ll lose the Test Centre in some way if that happens.” 

Professor claimed student misused accommodations

Samantha Powers*, a third-year retail management student, had six assignments and a midterm to write in one week. She emailed her retail management professor asking if she could receive an extension.

Powers experiences post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder. Her accommodations allow her to receive assignment and lab extensions. During that week, she experienced a flare-up in symptoms.

Her professor granted an extension but pointed out that she already had one week to do it. 

“I just thought he misunderstood my email, so I kindly sent him one back,” she said. 

Powers told her professor that the extension was due to disability reasons and not because of a lack of time management. Her professor responded saying that she should not have the academic accommodation and misunderstood its use.

Her professor said that the assignment should have taken six to nine hours with her academic accommodations, and that she could have fit nine hours in one week.

“After that, I did not reply, because some of my symptoms were being triggered, and I was angry,” said Powers. “I thought it was best just to leave it. I figured there was no point.”

She said that students with disabilities should be accommodated because it is difficult enough to live with a disability every day. 

“I shouldn’t have to feel bad about using accommodations that allow me to perform at the same level as my peers who are healthy,” she said.

*Names have been changed. 

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