By Mariam Nouser
Navigating university life as a first-year presents a wide range of new challenges, especially for those leaving the comfort of home.
If you find yourself struggling in ways you never have before, it might not immediately be clear where you can look to for support.
Student Life and Learning Support and Academic Accommodation Support (AAS) at Ryerson are services meant to help students, new or seasoned, navigate their classes.
Students with diagnosed mental illnesses and disabilities that allow them to take extra time on assignments and exams have support from a facilitator.
Previously under the same unit as Learning Support, AAS offers students more tailored resources when it comes to their classes. Typically, a medical professional has to fill out the form that’ll indicate what supports the student needs and if they’re temporary or permanent.
If your concerns are course-specific, you can access four types of services through learning support: writing and language support, math and computer science support, study skills and transition support and graduate student support.
Sessions are available in individual and group settings to meet your needs when it comes to class work.
For courses outside of math and English programs, there are course-related peer sessions where students can learn from others who’ve taken the class before.
Over 90 per cent of students registered are living with an invisible disability
Krystal Valentine, manager of student learning and academic engagement at Student Life and Learning Support, said students can access academic support programming virtually and in-person this fall semester. The Sheldon & Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre’s fourth floor has partially reopened for in-person sessions, to allow for students to come and seek support.
According to Valentine, there was a slight increase in students using Learning Support services in the 2021 winter term after a slower start in the fall semester.
“There was a slight drop in the fall 2020 semester as everyone adjusted to a fully online semester for the first time,” said Valentine. “However, the numbers picked back up to pre-pandemic levels and increased a bit in the winter term.”
Additional OSAP grants are also available to support students who are approved for permanent accommodations due to disability.
For disability-related expenses such as psychotherapy and mobility devices, there’s a bursary for students with disabilities that can help offset costs during the school year.
According to the AAS website, one in 10 students are registered with AAS at Ryerson and over 90 per cent of students registered are living with an invisible disability.
But the process to file for accommodation can be triggering to some and make the student seeking support feel that they’re fighting for something that’s their right.
In a 2016 article by Maclean’s about university support for students with invisible disabilities, a former student at the University of Waterloo felt the process in getting accommodations “re-stigmatized” students with disabilities.
Further, a 2013 survey by the National College Health Assessment found that 56 per cent of students said they experienced “overwhelming anxiety.”
The Waterloo student said, “When you’re living with something and suffering, it’s hard to say, ‘I’m entitled to this.’”
For recent alumnus, Katie Grey*, accommodation support was smooth-sailing until her facilitator went on maternity leave and she was placed with someone else.
Grey recalled her advisor calling her situation a coping issue rather than a medical impairment
Due to anxiety and depression, Grey’s doctor put in a request for her use of memory aids during exams.
When she brought in the supporting documentation to her facilitator, Grey recalled her advisor calling her situation a coping issue rather than a medical impairment.
“[My advisor] went through my doctor’s note and determined that she would not be giving me a memory aid,” said Grey.
“She disregarded not only my diagnosis but my feelings as well.”
Many times, the student has to relive their experience with mental illness or other invisible disabilities in order to receive the supports they need, according to the Maclean’s article.
Grey recalls it being difficult to get accommodations due to financial constraints. Her mental illness, was present during high school and her teachers and counsellors insisted on a psychological assessment.
She said the assessment “seemed like an interview” and she felt overwhelmed by having to explain what she had experienced and how she felt.
*Name changed for privacy