Ahmed Khalil is in his first year of general business studies at Mount Royal. From the moment he was born he has only had half of his vision.
For most students, getting through university is hard enough thanks to the almost impossible task of balancing mountains of assignments, part-time jobs, and social lives, but for students like Khalil, there are a whole new set of challenges to face at the post-secondary level.
“[It] takes longer to get assignments done,” Khalil admits. “[Having a disability] puts you behind in class.”
Although Khalil has been visually impaired all of his life, his transition into post-secondary education had been specifically affected.
According to him, the university level of education focuses more on self-reliance and that takes a while to get used to.
Patricia Pardo, the assistant manager of student learning services — accessibility services at Mount Royal, recognizes this particular difficulty.
She mentions that there is indeed a real difference between
having learning disabilities at a high school level and a post-secondary level. Pardo explains that there is a greater focus on “academic preparedness”, and that as a university student and adult, there are greater expectations.
“In the high school system, students with disabilities are passive recipients of service,” Pardo said. “They are not required to understand the way that their disability impacts them as a learner and why they use the accommodations that they do.”
This is where student learning services steps in. Accessibility services on campus has become the support system for students with all types of disabilities and accessibility issues. It provides these students with the help and tools they need to be successful at the post-secondary level.
According to Pardo, approximately eight to 12 per cent of students across Canada have some form of disability, and Mount Royal’s accessibility services has approximately 1,200 students making use of the various services they offer.
By catering to students dealing with attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, mental health issues, sensory disabilities, mobility disabilities and more, accessibility services provides help that is tailored to each of their individual students.
Khalil has made use of this campus service and explained that he occasionally relies on scribes to take his notes, as well as works closely with access advisors and support coordinators that help with the comple process of finding funding for his pos secondary education.
Second-year SAIT student Joel Clark is working towards his legal assistant diploma, and like Khalil, also faces accessibility issues on his campus.
Suffering from spina bifida, Clark is confined to a wheelchair and also has difficulty with his fine motor skills.
“This disability sometimes does not allow me to move around as easily as I should be able to, due to things like numbness in my arms and hands,” he explained.
Disability services at SAIT works similarly to accessibility services here at Mount Royal, and offers students like Clark assistance with note-taking, book-bag carrying and help getting from one class to another.
Clark mentioned however, that he still faces stereotypes when it comes to attending post-secondary education with a disability.
“Lots of people think that people with disabilities can not or should not get well educated like able-bodied people can,” he said.
According to Clark, the public’s awareness of the issues that students with disabilities and accessibility issues face, is lacking and has noted that people look at him strangely when they see him trying to get around campus.
Pardo has also recognized these stereotypes around campus, having explained that, “because they [stereotypes] are still very present in popular culture and in the media, are reflected, not surprisingly in a large institutional culture.”
Although student learning services plays a very active role in promoting student success and is very intentionally trying to reach a wider community, Pardo emphasized that, “honestly, it’s also a person at a time.”
Accessibility services is also in the process of bringing forward a universal access policy, which would ideally make Mount Royal University “accessible, equitable, and inclusive to all students, all staff, all faculty and the Calgary community,” Pardo explained.
Despite all of the work that student learning services is putting in, Khalil has also noted that there is not enough staff to attend to all of the students.
He advises that prospective students must learn to stay ahead of their workload, and should “try to do everything ahead of time.”
Pardo mentioned that accommodations are just tools and that “all of the students that access [accessibility services] have all met the admission requirements. They’ve done what everyone else had to do.”
She recognized however that there is still a stigma nonetheless and Khalil explains that there are still some teachers that “kind of baby you over other students.”
He emphasized the importance of just being treated the same as any other student and ultimately that is also what student learning services at Mount Royal hopes to achieve — an environment where these accommodation tools are inherent.
“Our role [is to help] the student be successful, regardless of what the learner issue is,” Pardo concluded. “That’s why we’re here.”
Although dealing with a disability or accessibility issue changes significantly once students enter the post-secondary level of education, there is a support system in place to aid students in their transition. However, it is important to note that this level of support is all students to take advantage of to ensure their success while they’re experiencing the joys of post-secondary.