Last week, a student with a disability, and a long time registrant with Academic Accommodation Support, impressed upon me the value of the human element in helping students succeed at Ryerson. She was mentioning individual staff to me and singing their praises. We both reflected on some difficult conversations and experiences she had navigating as a person with a disability on campus. Together, we were writing her story as a student with a disability—a story of difficulty and achievements, not quite finished.
When I arrived at Ryerson in 2009 as the new director of Student Learning Support, I had never before been responsible for a disability support office (DSO) for university students. Like many student affairs professionals and other community members, I had worked collaboratively and closely with a campus DSO for many years—but I’d never been inside that work, understanding fully what’s at stake for students and faculty alike, the legal element and all the complexities that entails, or the feeling of being present to a student with a complex and urgent student accommodation issue or a mental health crisis.
Now I’ve been “inside” for almost eight years. I still feel privileged to be here with Ryerson. It works hard everyday to make our exceptional educational experience accessible to all Ryerson students. Speaking just for myself, DSO work is unfailingly challenging—intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. At the same time, and for the same reasons, leading a DSO has been one of the most satisfying professional and educational experiences I’ve ever had. I’m always learning something as a result of being attendant to the lived experience of disability. In many ways, I have the very best job on campus and I’m regularly grateful for this.
From February 27–March 3, 2017, and with some follow up articles in the spring, #RyersonSA published Our Time to Swim: the Future of Disability Support Services at Ryerson, a story about Ryerson’s DSO unit and the students, staff, and faculty who interface with this vitally important campus function. Our series title, Our Time to Swim, is an intentional reference to the aspirations and concrete priorities outlined in Ryerson University’s current Academic Plan, Our Time to Lead (2014-2019). As Ryerson endeavours to become a post-secondary leader, by mobilizing efforts to enhance student engagement through exceptional experiences, so too does our campus DSO—Academic Accommodation Support—have aspirations for being better. Ryerson AAS is serving a population greater than all undergrads at OCAD University and facilitators managing caseloads of 300+ students. Now is the time to reflect and grow.
The purpose of this series will be to bring you inside academic accommodation work.
What does academic accommodation support for students look like? How can we describe contextual factors to this work? Policy, legal requirements, institutional requirements, the status of academic accommodation work in public schooling and high schools? How are students experiencing this service and how does DSO work impact staff and faculty? Finally, what do these questions about what’s inside and where we are say about how we should move forward as an institutional initiative? We hope to guide and generate conversation about how we can be better and more exceptional for our campus community.
As you will learn, Ryerson’s academic accommodation function is at a critical juncture in its history. We find ourselves in deep, churning waters—as an academic unit, as well as a community with students with disabilities. We are afloat, but we need to swim; both for and with our students, to make Ryerson fully accessible and fully exceptional. The time is now to reflect, ask questions, and decide on what’s next.
Join us as we look ahead to the future of disability support at Ryerson. We hope you will contribute your thoughts and perspectives to the narrative. Most importantly, we hope you will share our story with your colleagues, deans, and students. Our DSO story, too, is not quite finished, and together we can give it a truly Ryerson resolution.
to read the whole Our Time To Swim series.