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Graduate Studies

Dean’s Task Force on Graduate Students with Disabilities— Meeting Minutes January 31, 2013

Barbara Crow, Dean, Graduate Studies,
Sofia Kirschner, Student Affairs Officer, FGS,
Jenna Reid, Student Representative,
Marc Wilchesky, Executive Director, Counselling & Disability Services,
Sheila Wilmot, CUPE 3903 Equity Officer,
Adrie Naylor, GSA Student Services Coordinator,
Markus Reisenleitner, GPD, Humanities,
Kaley Roosen, Student Representative,
Tanya McFadyen, VP Gender, GSA
Barb Wells, EA, Faculty of Graduate Stuies

New Members:
Kate McPherson, Chair, Dean’s Task Force on Graduate Students with Disabilities,
Sabrina Charles, Work study and admin support

Opening Remarks/Updates [Barbara Crow]

  • Dean Crow introduced Kate McPherson, FGS Associate Dean Students, who will take over from Barbara Crow as Chair of the Dean’s Task Force on Graduate Students with Disabilities. Dean Crow also welcomed Sabrina Charles, a work study student from Health Sciences who will serve as administrative support to the Task Force;
  • Dean Crow then welcomed Janet Morrison, Vice-Provost Students, who was invited to speak to the group about the wider context of accommodations for students with disabilities at York.

Janet Morrison, Vice-Provost Students

  • Vice-Provost Morrison explained that she started her position as Vice-Provost Students in July of 2012, and has been on a “learning spree.” Her office does not want to duplicate what is already available in terms of services and supports. Her office also aims to collaborate with students and learn from their experiences.
  • In the last eight months, she has learned many things about the challenges facing studetns with disabilities. She learned much from the student-hosted roundtable, particularly about safety and space. Vice-Provost Morrison has taken three tours of the campus with students to study the issues from their perspectives.
  • Classroom issues:
    Interpretative services issues
    • There are not enough interpreters available to meet student need. She will be meeting with her colleagues from other GTA colleges and university to address this shortfall. There is a need for interpreters who can work at the graduate level, and they are not easy to find, especially the sciences.
    Faculty and TA issues
    • There is no standard level of accommodation. Faculty and Teaching Assistants have little understanding of what may be a necessary need for some of their students. The Vice-Provost encounters at least one issue a month where faculty members are not helpful in meeting student accommodations. TAs do not often have the experience with accommodation issues. We need to train and mentor both faculty and TAs.
    Alternative Testing and Exam
    • The Vice-Provost is working to achieve greater capacity to schedule not just exams, but tests as well. Physical space for alternative testing services is a challenge. The number of students needing and wanting accommodation for testing and exams is skyrocketing
    • There are issues pertaining to disclosure. To be accommodated a student must be registered, and yet students have concerns about being seen in CDS space. There is no private space there for graduate students.
    • This also relates to issues of academic integrity. For example, a course requires an oral presentation. What if the student cannot do this presentation? We must ask: what is an essential requirement of a course. Does a course require that work is presented in a particular way? Students must be able to handle the rigour of a course, and Vice-Provost Morrison hopes that clarifying “learning outcomes” might help professors and students determine what is a necessary requirement—though often the course outcomes are too generic.
    • We do not have the authority to force faculty members to respect the accommodations, so Deans and Associate Deans are relied upon to coach and mentor faculty members. At times the Centre for Human Rights has been very helpful on these issues.
    Beyond the Classroom:
    Financial support
    • Financial support is challenging for all York students and is magnified for students with disabilities.
    Physical space
    Assembly space
    • There are issues with some assembly space on campus. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) guidelines do not stipulate best practices. The minimum standards do not always accommodate the new mobility devices. Historically, we have not asked students who need accessibility about what is needed in these spaces. Thus, we may be compliant with the AODA standards but those standards may not work for all of our students.
    Construction at York
    • A huge issue right now is the level of construction all over the campus. This is producing additional physical barriers which have particular impact on students with physical disabilities.
    • Not all areas on campus are accessible. Paving stones shift and are sinking, and they are not being repaired or maintained.
    • Housing is not as accessible as it should be, but there are a number of renovations and enhancements that are on-going and should be finished by 2015.
    • The number of medical parking spots has decreased on campus, making it very difficult for people with physical disabilities to manage our large campus. We need more accessible parking spots all over campus.
    • There are significant concerns about the Emergency preparedness/evacuation procedures, especially as pertain to the reliability of elevators and processes for getting down stairwells.
    Attendant Care Services
    • Attendant care personnel have specific standards and procedures. We have no authority or leverage over those personnel. Negotiating between university policies and attendants can be a challenge for students and their families.
    Graduate Student Issues:
    • Graduate students are often employees as well as students, and thus it is not always clear who their access point should be for services—their home faculty or their union.
    • Graduate student have emphasized the importance of privacy issues and point of access issues, especially as pertain to CDS. Graduate students need help with respect to accommodations provided for thesis research and for writing exams.
    • A priority issue for graduate students is time-to-completion of their degrees.

What are we doing?

A discussion occurred among the participants in the Task Group about how to address some of the issues the Vice-Provost raised. Access York is a committed group, which is gathering information about the needs of students and determining where the gaps are in service and funding for students with disabilities. Task Force members expressed concern that student feedback is often ignored, and used the example of YUDC. Senate policy was suggested as one place where productive change might be initiated. Vice-Provost Morrison pointed out that policy might not be the best starting point, but rather changing the culture of the university community. One suggestion that emerged pertained to identifying and contacting Senate members who could advocate on behalf of graduate students with disabilities. Vice-Provost Morrison also noted the importance of the Mental Health Strategy Working Group: she has been shocked by the number of students with mental health issues and has learned a great deal from the Working Group

Vice-Provost Morrison provided a handout about the York University Accessibility Fund (YUAF). Also, on February 12 a “Let’s Talk” event was planned to increase awareness of mental health issues. This will involve a town-hall meeting from 12–2 pm in Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East. Some members of the Task Force expressed concern that students with mental health issues had not been involved in the Let’s Talk event planning. Others expressed concern that in trying to create a mentally health campus, too much focus is on the medical model.

Vice-Provost Morrison noted that Violence Threat/Risk Assessment (VRTA) training was occurring the following week, though concern was expressed that just a select group of people were invited to attend.

FGS staff had prepared a listing of campus resources for people with disabilities, and this list was distributed. It was noted that some of the information was out of date, so Sabrina was asked to follow up and identify areas of York’s website that needed updating

Some members of the discussion asked about the possibility of providing orientation and training to faculty and TAs about the issues facing graduate students with disabilities. GPDs would also benefit. It was also suggested that a Student Services manager be appointed the task of doing ‘onboarding training’ and coaching for front line student services staff. Further discussion of CDS services ensued, with concerns voiced about the length of time it could take to get accommodations in place. There was a suggestion that CDS should have a student contact person devoted to graduate students, and Marc Wilchesky indicated he would take this idea back to his group. He noted that if his office relied too heavily on one or two staff who were expert in graduate student issues, problems can arise if those individuals get sick or leave. Members noted that there was limited availability of CDS counselors and that there is not availability for counseling beyond four months for students who might need extended time. Students on the Task Force noted that students often do not have the financial resources to get outside counseling.

Moving forward, the group discussed the possibility of improving accommodation services at York, and beginning with FGS policy and Council. Copies of Unit 1 and 3 Collective Agreements regarding disability provisions were distributed and it was noted that the wording is not entirely clear

To Dos!

  • Kate to meet with Adrie to further examine her ideas.
  • Adrie will connect with her students about some input/ideas.
  • Barb to send out updated contact list of the Task Force to all members.
  • Kaley will look at the current FGS policy to see what it says about accommodation.
  • Kaley and Sabrina will connect to talk about Grad Student resources like the Accessibility Hub.
  • Tanya will do some datea gathering on the Senate policy.

Next meeting:

  • Feb. 28th, 2013 10:00 am to 12:00 noon Room 232 YL