Suffering from a learning disability? Tough luck
By Riley Nerbas, Staff Writer
In response to “abrupt” funding cuts for students with learning disabilities, Janalee Morris began an online petition over concerns for the future of the students she advises.
The funding cuts impact Academic Strategists within the Accessibility Services department of Mount Royal University and the students who see them. The services provided by Academic Strategists have been provided for just under a decade for students with learning disabilities such as ADD, ADHD and dyslexia. The government cuts to funding will see the services provided by these specialists disappear and with that disappearance, the success of these students is put in question.
The funding cuts have been considered abrupt and without warning.The department and the students who access its services were not notified of the changes. Morris and her co-workers found out about the funding cuts when the program’s requests for funding were returned with a request from the federal government that the program reduce their asking amount.
“We sent in our Schedule Four forms and in the second week of September they started sending them back,” Morris said.
The Student Grant is a federal program, but is administered by the province through Alberta Student Aid. Morris likens the funding cut to giving out basic needs and then taking them away.
“Saying to someone you can wear glasses for the first ten classes and now you should be fine, so take them off, you should be able to see the board because you’re fixed now” said Morris. She explains that permanent disabilities, like ADHD, do not go away.
“It’s an executive functioning disorder and the treatment for an executive function disorder is that you can’t internalize things like time management, they have to be externally managed for you or by you and that’s never going to change,” said Morris.
Stephanie Marston, who is in the entrance program for Nursing, has seen Morris once a week for a year to help Marston manage her ADHD.
“I have bad test anxiety,” she said. “I would put [it] under the table and ignore it and it wasn’t until last year that I confronted the fact that I go completely stone cold during an exam and lose it, but the strategies she (Morris) taught me enabled me to get the highest marks I’ve ever gotten.”
Marston feels that whoever decided on the cuts has a lack of understanding of what it is to have a permanent learning disability.
“I have been diagnosed with a permanent disability and I have come to terms with it and accepted it and love my ADHD,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is that every single day I get up it impacts my life, I do struggle with it every single day.” Marston commented that though she has been given amazing strategies from Morris, the learning is not complete because of the always changing environment of post-secondary education.
Maxine Sephton is a 4th year student, majoring in English. Sephton has used an Academic Strategist since the fall semester of 2015 and continues to see her strategist on a bi-weekly schedule. Though she struggled at times during her post-secondary education, she believes that seeing an Academic Strategist has had a profound impact on her studies and grades.
“It’s no coincidence that I was able to get on the Dean’s Honour roll last semester,” said Sephton. “I honestly do not think that I could have achieved such a feat on my own without my strategists’ help and guidance throughout the past year and a half.”
Sephton feels that the individual approach given by the strategists is what helps the students who use the services succeed. “No two students are the same. Strategists often go above and beyond to make sure that each student has a plan that is crafted with the student’s personal goals and requirements in mind.”
Matthew Warren is a student with ADHD in his mid-twenties, who upon leaving high school, did not immediately have this type of access for learning disabilities.
“I never had someone to help me strategize, so I ended up trying things that didn’t work and I bought into them. And I only started doing different things because I failed so badly, I had nothing else to lose.” He feels that if he had the opportunity to access such a reservoir of help that his post-secondary experience, as well as his life, may have taken a different direction and he would have succeeded in his goals much earlier. He emphasized that not everyone has a second chance at education like he has been lucky to have, and that for many students post-secondary education is their only to succeed.
“A strategist is a lifeline for those students and it can prevent them from, as simple as it sounds, committing to poor strategies which can lead to academic failure, academic discouragement, or a devaluation of self.”
Warren believes that cutting funding to a program as important to a student’s success as an Academic Strategist is essentially taking away a lifeline for those students trying to succeed with their disabilities.
Steve Fitterer, Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Life, believes that the funding is a necessity for the students who need to access the strategists.
“This program is incredibly important to Mount Royal University, different students learn in many different ways, and the assistance this program has offered has been vital in helping students be successful at Mount Royal,” he said.
Fitterer also acknowledged Mount Royal’s role in trying to find answers while reaching out to the government.
“Mount Royal intends to do everything we can to find ways to restore funding provided to our Academic Strategists.” He also added, “I am committed to finding the funding necessary to ensure that our students get the help they need through to April 2017.”
Representatives for Accessibility Services plan to meet with Fitterer and Peter Brodsky with hopes of reaching out to the government and discussing continued funding.
Morris added, “It’s really important to note that the problem isn’t with Mount Royal, Mount Royal has been incredibly supportive and offered space to work in, and offered us lots of opportunity for professional development, provided us the background to offer this, but they simply don’t have the funding to continue the program.”
If you would like to sign the petition or gain further information on the funding cuts, the link is provided below. At the time of printing the petition had 159 signatures, and will need 41 more to reach the goal of 200 signatures.