December 3 is International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This annual observance aims to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society and development, and to increase awareness of the situation of persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic and cultural life.
- IDPD information (United Nations)
- Upcoming Accessibility Services Canada free webinars in December 2022 and beyond
In honour of the observance, several members of the SLC community shared their insight into offering support to persons with disabilities in the spirit of awareness and Belonging:
- Mark Maillet, SLC student
- Karen Ducharme, Coordinator, Community Integration through Co-operative Education (CICE) and Professor, College Prep and CICE
- Carmen Law, Director, Belonging, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion
What brought you to St. Lawrence College?
Mark: I enrolled at St. Lawrence College in 2020 after losing my job at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I enrolled in the CICE program as I have a brain injury and felt I needed the support of a modified program to succeed. I thrived in the CICE program. I found what works for me and grew so much as a person overall. I graduated with distinction from the CICE program in the spring of 2022. I returned to SLC in the fall of 2022 to study in the Social Service Worker program and expect to graduate in the spring of 2024.
Carmen: My role at SLC is the Director, Belonging, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, which is a relatively new one. What drew me to SLC is the value of Belonging. Having Belonging as a value, demonstrates commitment to mindset, strategy, and action. This aligns well to my own values to ensure people feel included and heard. My goal is to consistently be to amplify voices of those who may not have a voice or a seat at the table.
How does your role specifically, or the Student Wellness & Accessibility team, support persons with disabilities?
Mark: The Student Wellness & Accessibility team supports me as a student in various ways. I have an accessibility advisor that oversees my accommodations and access to adaptive technology to ensure my continued success at St Lawrence College. The Student Wellness & Accessibility team also provides counselling services for those times when I am feeling overwhelmed and need someone to talk to when I am struggling with my mental health.
Karen: As a faculty member, I am aware that there are students with disabilities in all of our college classes and that some students might be identified, whereas some may have not. For this reason, when designing my courses and looking for ways to create meaningful learning and assessment experiences, I am mindful of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. It shapes my decisions to ensure that I am always identifying ways in which students may experience friction when interacting with the content. I then subsequently remove these barriers to create a smoother learning experience that benefits all students.
What are some foundational ways to get started in implementing the UDL framework in a course?
Leveraging Blackboard is a great start. When creating a new course, I consider the following:
- Have I identified the learning outcomes and/or goals for the week?
- Am I organizing the content in a user-friendly manner that feels intuitive? (Asking students for feedback in the first few weeks is a great way to gain insight and quickly improve the user-experience)
- When presenting information on Blackboard, am I breaking down the information into manageable chunks?
- Am I scaffolding the information in a way that builds on prior knowledge and skills?
- Am I using plain language when technical language is not an integral part of the course learning outcome?
- Is the information organized in the same way each week or module?
- Am I using pictures in a meaningful way to help accentuate an idea or to increase understanding of a concept? (Have I used Alt text for the images?)
- Are my PowerPoints posted in a reasonable amount of time before class to give students who require more time to process information the opportunity to review the content ahead of class?
- Being mindful of students who struggle with executive functioning, am I sharing checklists or posting the ones that we have created together as a class?
- Am I posting videos that have closed captioning? Am I being mindful of the length of the videos?
- Have I minimized the amount of clicks a student needs to use to gain access to a document or a video?
- Am I providing students with clear and concise instructions?
- When it comes to posting information about assignments, am I modelling how UDL can be implemented by providing exemplars that highlight alternative methods of showing learning?
- When students are learning new vocabulary or concepts, am I providing them with tools and/or resources to help decode texts?
Carmen: My role acts as an advocate for any equity deserving group. My goal is to ensure persons with disabilities' voices are heard within policy, academics, events, physical structures and so much more.
How does your work or role support SLC’s values?
Mark: As a student with a disability at SLC, I feel my role is to advocate for my needs and the needs of other students with disabilities by sharing my experiences with other students to ease their transition into a mainstream program at the college. I also share my suggestions with the college faculty on proposed/potential modifications to the existing supports to better support students. As an SSW student, I feel it is my duty to advocate for change and try to ensure that any barriers faced by other students with disabilities are addressed to make their lives easier. A one size fits all approach to accommodations for students with disabilities simply does not serve all the needs of every student.
Karen: I feel that my role as a teacher is to strive to create an accessible and inclusive learning environment where friction is removed and students feel a sense of ownership over their learning.
I aim to put students first by working to find ways to eliminate situations where students might otherwise feel access fatigue. Access fatigue is the overwhelming sense of exhaustion that people with disabilities experience by continually needing to explain their situation and ask for help. I do my best to create a safe learning environment where students do not need to disclose personal information to me as their teacher to receive the resources and support required to succeed.
Carmen: The value of Belonging is integral in my work. My priority is to listen first. Listening to stories, experiences and backgrounds, allows me to continue to learn from faculty, staff, and students. I hope each person at the College will feel heard and listened to, no matter their background, experience, or ability.
What is something you wish the SLC community knew about what it means to include people with disabilities?
Mark: I wish the SLC community knew that it takes little effort to include those with disabilities. It is as simple as including a student in study sessions or offering to help with a project or assignment, inviting them to community events hosted both in the community and at the college. Do not single them out. As a student with a disability, I feel singled out because I do not learn the same way as most of my peers, and I am not in all the same classes.
Karen: Community Integration through Co-operative Education (CICE) is a post-secondary program offered by St. Lawrence College on all three campuses: Kingston, Cornwall, and Brockville. This 2-year certificate program is designed for adults with disabilities who require additional academic supports, such as modifications, and are interested in developing skills for the workforce. Students also apply and practice employability skills in a variety of work placements in the community. The program has three components that provide students with an opportunity to build their academic and employability skills: 1) students attend core CICE courses to strengthen their communication, digital, and employability skills; 2) students are enrolled in courses in other program areas in the college, such as Culinary, Esthetics, Vet Assistant, and Carpentry; 3) students also have 3 field placements in the community. If you would like to learn more about our program, we welcome the opportunity to discuss it further with you one-on-one or with your team. If you are a teacher or program coordinator and feel that your course/program would be a great fit for a CICE student, or if you are a staff member who has a placement/workplace opportunity for one of our students, we would gladly discuss the possibility with you.
Carmen: Including people with disabilities means to reflect on your own privileges and abilities you take for granted. Self reflection allows you to open up your own understanding of ableism and how many structures are constructed with an ableist mindset.
What advice can you share about the kind of language that should be used when talking about disabilities?
Mark: The term disabled describes our group of individuals and, far too often, is used as a degrading term. This term is somewhat detrimental. I personally do not see myself as disabled but differently abled. I am just as capable as anyone else, and that is how I want to be treated.
Carmen: Language is very important! Using inclusive language helps foster and a space of belonging rather than othering. By putting the person first, puts emphasis on the person rather than their disability. Inclusive language also means not making assumptions of a particular disability or lack of a disability. There are various invisabilities, that may not be visible or known. In addition to language, it is also important to keep in mind tone and body language.
Tell us about a simple way you work to create a more inclusive, accessible campus community.
Mark: I advocate for change and share my experiences with others within the SLC community to educate as well as inform others of services and supports available within the college.
Karen: I work at trying to contribute to a more inclusive and accessible campus community by
- Fully engaging in learning more about disabilities
- Collaborating with students and colleagues
- Empowering students to make choices that meet their learning needs
- Creating a safe and welcoming space
- Being aware of how barriers impact students in the classroom and actively working towards removing them
- Engaging in active listening with my students
- Advocating for students
- Identifying spaces and college experiences where accessibility needs to be improved
Carmen: I am consistently trying to apply universal design thinking.
What resource recommendation would you give to someone who wants to learn more about how to be more disability inclusive?
Mark: The school should have a joint committee between students with disabilities and the staff within Student Wellness and Accessibility to oversee the changing landscape of supporting students with disabilities. The past two years have shown that a learning environment can change rapidly, requiring a rapid response to ensure students are supported properly. Having a student/faculty-based committee will ensure that these changes will be discussed and changes can be recommended and/or implemented in a timely manner. Also, I feel like the needs of students with disabilities are best addressed by said students. For too long, the needs of the many vulnerable groups of people have been decided with little to no input from those impacted the most. I feel like we, as students with disabilities, need a direct say in forming policies that affect us within the college. A committee would go a long way to overseeing this need.
Karen: The CAST website (cast.org) is a fantastic starting point for anyone interested in learning about the Universal Design for Learning framework.
Carmen: There are lots of resources in the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion Knowledge Repository. Under the Accessibility and Disability stream, there are lots of helpful resources to learn about a very vast topic. It is important to take ownership of your own learning and growth.