New space allows DRC staff to better serve students
The next time you walk into a classroom, take a look around and try and find a student with a disability. With just over three per cent of the University’s student body currently registered with the Disabilities Resource Centre (DRC), chances are there’s at least one there – they’re just not as obvious as you might think.
With a supportive, personal approach that focuses on helping these students blend seamlessly into the University community, the DRC has had to expand to keep pace with the ever-growing number of students in need of its services. A move to a new office space (B760) just prior to Christmas was therefore greeted with open arms.
“We made it work before and we were able to do it, but this is like luxury,” exclaims Resource Centre Manager and learning strategist Christine Johnson.
“We guarantee confidentiality and to have an office like we had, it was very difficult to ensure that. We try and normalize the process, it’s not an awful thing to come into this office, and it’s more respectful this way. Having a disability is just one part of who you are, and you don’t necessarily want everyone in the world to know about it.”
Johnson came on staff just over four years ago when disabilities resources consisted of a half-time position housed in the counselling services office. Now, Johnson has four full-time staffers to work with as they tend to the needs of about 260 registered students.
So, where are all these students? Likely, they’re studying and learning right next to you. Disabilities are not as obvious as some might think.
“The highest percentage of people registered with us have learning disabilities,” Johnson says. “It’s quite a large segment and it’s growing. Part of that is because the kids here have been accommodated throughout their schooling because these disabilities have become more recognized and diagnosed earlier. When they come into post-secondary school, the expectation is that the accommodations will continue to be there.”
Those who register with the DRC must provide documentation of their disability, whether it is from a doctor, a psychologist or psychiatrist. Disabilities range from physical and medical conditions to mental health difficulties such as depression and anxiety.
The centre can help in a variety of ways. Some are as subtle as providing tutoring to help students with exam anxiety, while Karl Rejman is in charge of the assistive technology aspect of the DRC. Rejman’s AT devices can aid students with auditory and visual disabilities for example. There’s nothing Johnson and her staff won’t tackle to help a student in the pursuit of their education.
“If there is a student with a chronic medical condition and they’re confined to bed, we can put their textbooks on CD, which is really a wonderful way to deal with their condition,” Johnson says. “It also keeps them feeling like they are moving towards their goal, and that’s very important.”
One of the great advantages of the new DRC office is the addition of eight separate and private exam rooms. Many students require the most help at exam time and previously the office had just 11 rooms located in the Web unit area.
“Until we moved in here, during mid-terms and finals, we would have to book labs and other classrooms because of our numbers,” says Johnson. “This has given us the ability to really accommodate students appropriately.”
Not all students ask for help. Most find out about the DRC through referrals from friends, but Johnson has found professors are beginning to recognize learning disabilities more frequently and have sent students to the centre for screenings.
“This is a really comfortable place to come,” she says. “It’s very important you create an atmosphere where people feel good about coming in, and I believe I see that with the students who come here.
“We’re able to provide a really individualized service. We’re fortunate with our numbers that we can do that as opposed to some of the other, bigger universities who have so many students that they just aren’t able to work as personally with students.”
Students with disabilities, or those who want more information about the Disabilities Resource Centre, can visit the new location in B760, or call 403-329-2766.