Services for Students with Disabilities Office Revises Approach to Accommodation

SSD will adopt a more holistic attitude, thanks to new coordinator
Joseph Keller, Web Editor

The Services for Students with Disabilities office at KPU has faced criticism for placing barriers for students who need accommodation. (Tristan Johnston)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University is overhauling its policies for services for students with disabilities. The university hired a new Services for Students with Disabilities Coordinator, Ruth Fraser, to oversee changes that will help the institution better serve students who require special accommodations. These changes come after student groups reported negative experiences with the SSD office, as The Runner reported on Oct. 12.

Kwantlen Student Association Students with Disabilities Representative and Co-founder of Disability Action Movement Now, Kimberley McMartin, says that under the old system, the SSD office was not responsive to the individual needs of the various students who came to the office seeking accommodation. She says that students were given very little input regarding the specific accommodations that they felt they needed, and that overall, there was a lack of transparency in regards to how the office operated.

“I wouldn’t say there was a lack of communication, but you felt like there was a lot of attitude and barriers,” says McMartin. “It was almost uncomfortable to go there.”

The administration evidently agreed that change was necessary. In December, KPU hired Ruth Fraser as the new SSD coordinator with the task of changing the model used for the office to be more inclusive and in line with modern practices.

“[The SSD office] is a unit that, like many at universities across the country, needed to catch up with the times,” says KPU Vice Provost Jane Fee. “It’s not unusual at all. There’s been a very major shift in everyone’s thinking away from the notion of disability to the notion of inclusiveness, and I think it’s safe to say that our services for students with disabilities unit needed to undertake some change.”

The shift in policy comes from a medical model to a social model of student accommodation. The traditional medical model includes set of policies for how and when special accommodations are provided to students who need them, whereas the social model includes more of a dialogue between the recipient of accommodation and the SSD office, along with the student’s physician. In this way, the social model is able to provide more customized accommodation to better suit each student’s needs.

Other changes to the SSD office include a more holistic approach to accommodation. According to Fee, the office now works closely with the rest of the university’s staff and faculty to ensure that accommodations are properly implemented. Students who reach out to the SSD office can now expect to receive an intake meeting within one week of contact and accommodation plans within two weeks.

“We can’t do everything with a tiny little team in Services for Students With Disabilities, but we can get the whole university to help us support students with disabilities,” says Fee.

Fee also says that new additions to KPU infrastructure, such as the currently under construction Civic Plaza campus, are being planned with recommendations from the SSD office in mind.

Fraser was hired partially because of her previous experience with helping Nova Scotia Community College use the social model of accommodation. Since then, both Fee and McMartin have noticed great improvements to the way the SSD office operates.

“She’s young and energetic and has lot’s of great ideas,” says Fee. “She’s ready and able to begin and help us in this important work. I’m thrilled to bits with Ruth. I think she’s absolutely been the right hire for KPU at this time.”

“She’s pulled back the curtain,” adds McMartin. “She’s really getting her hands dirty, checking in with everyone, making sure that students and staff are fully aware of what’s going on. It’s amazing.”

The Runner was not able to interview Ruth Fraser before press time.

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