“I have been chosen to be a Supreme Court of Canada clerk in 2018. I am visually impaired student at Osgoode Hall Law School. The condition I have is called retinitis pigmentosa. The vision that I have is very narrow – like looking through a straw – and is very blurry – like a really cloudy day. The condition is genetic, but I was affected by it when I was 19. I am 29 now. Obviously, the change was drastic for me. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I started getting into car accidents. Most people can’t even tell because I don’t use a cane or a guide dog or any other assistive device.
I only go to places that I know well.
I rely on context, sound and memory to maneuver around.
Law school should be accessible even before you get into it and ideally the law school would be designed in a way that accommodations are not required. You have to accommodate people with disabilities, right? But from my perspective… would it not make more sense to remove a lot of barriers before people are affected by them?
Because, when you think about it philosophically, there are two ways you can organize universities in the context of students with disabilities.
One is a centralized system, the other is a decentralized system. A centralized system encompasses having one centre at York University for all students with disabilities.
The other end of the spectrum is the decentralized system. Let’s say, for example, at Osgoode. Osgoode is responsible for everything. You register with Osgoode as a student with a disability. All of your exams are at Osgoode and each of the students is dealt with by Osgoode.
York has blended the two. When I came up here in the summer, I had to register with the York University Centre for Students with Disabilities. Then I came to Osgoode and some stuff was provided here by Osgoode, but other stuff like reading you have to deal with York.
When you have this blended form – two systems – they start clashing with each other. In my opinion, they should pick one. I prefer a decentralized system because it’s more efficient, you can deal with issues proactively, and different faculties on campus will have different needs. Dealing with students with disabilities in a law faculty is hugely different from medicine, for example, or biology. Providing accommodations for a person in a lab is different from a law school that is not dependent on physical things like lab work and microscopes.
When every faculty has its own system, they can adapt more and they can be more proactive.
The more people with disabilities that we have at Osgoode, the more we learn from their own experiences, the more we can expand our imaginations of barriers that can affect someone.”
JD Candidate (2018)
Osgoode Hall Law School
The above text is excerpted from an interview done for an article entitled The Winds of change are blowing: Osgoode strives to address the challenges faced by persons with disabilities, Fall 2017 Osgoode Brief alumni newsletter written by Virginia Corner.
Photo credit: Ian Crysler