Recently, the McGill Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) has faced a lack of capacity and resources due to a heavy demand from students. The OSD’s mission is to provide students who experience permanent and temporary disability, illness, and injury with a wide range of services, including workshops, note-taking services, awareness campaigns, and alternative examination accommodations. The OSD was established at McGill in the 1980s in accordance with the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Over the past decade, the number of students registered with the OSD rose from 500 to over 1,800. Despite the large number of affected students, the office currently has only 11 staff members, a number that has remained stable since 2010.
“McGill is not upholding its legal duty to accommodate students because it is not adequately resourcing this office, and we know that many students fall through the cracks as a result,” the Students’ Society of McGill University Vice-President University Affairs Erin Sobat said.
In Fall 2015, changes were made to the provincial grant funding structure that affected the OSD. The allocation of $1.2 million from the Quebec Education Ministry was not given directly to the OSD, but was rather incorporated into McGill’s annual budget. The McGill administration stated that the funds would be used to support a wider range of students not limited to those registered at the OSD.
“[There is] concern that government funding is not going directly towards the OSD and that it is simply being funded by students [as a part of the student services fee],” Sobat said.
For students trying to access the resources provided by the OSD, wait time when initially registering with the office can be a significant issue. Andries Feder, U3 Arts, is registered with the OSD. He said that because same-day appointments are not available, long wait times become a concern.
“Once I got an appointment, [the OSD was] pretty helpful, [it just] takes such a long time to get that initial appointment,” Feder said. “[If they need exam accommodations], some people [try] to schedule an appointment at the beginning of the semester, and they can’t schedule one until […] after some of their midterms start. It's a little disconcerting because there isn't an active availability.”
OSD Director Teri Phillips acknowledged the problem of under-capacity in an email to The McGill Tribune. Phillips wrote that excessive wait times are a problem for the OSD.
“At peak times, particularly during the Fall semester, advising wait times stand at the two- to three-week mark, which is not uncommon across similar [McGill student] services,” Phillips wrote.
Sobat said that the limited budget is a source of problems for the OSD, stemming from a general lack of funding and resources allocated to McGill student services in recent years.
“It is the general lack of capacity of the disability and access services at McGill,” Sobat said. “One of the biggest issues is that McGill is not only not adding more resources to the OSD, but taking resources away from student services in general [….]”
According to Phillips, financial restrictions imposed on the OSD in recent years have hampered some of the services it provides, but that changes to the provincial grant funding model did not affect the OSD’s overall provision of services.
“The intent of this change, which was initiated at a provincial level, not within McGill specifically, was to decrease the administrative burden on the individual student, such as having to hire and pay their own attendant and do follow-up reconciliation,” Phillips wrote. “As many are aware, student access to disability-related funding changed as of Fall 2015.”
This change has not removed the availability of funding for students, it has simply shifted responsibility for administration to the institution and shifted the avenue by which a student gains access.”
Phillips explained that, for the time being, the OSD is aware thatthe lack of resources and problems with implementation of accommodation policies across McGill cause problems for affected students..
“We are cognizant of the sensitivity of needs of those students experiencing barriers to engage fully in the McGill learning environment, and the impact that this can have on their studies,” Phillips wrote.