Dec. 19, 2019Print | PDF
For many university students, final exam periods are defined by large auditoriums, endless rows of desks, and unnatural silence punctured by sporadic sneezing and falling pencils. This environment can be intimidating. For students with disabilities, it can affect their success.
At Wilfrid Laurier University, students with permanent or temporary disabilities can find the exam accommodations they need at the Accessible Learning Centre (ALC). A range of services and resources – from assistive technology to specialized spaces – are available to help every student surpass their limitations and reach their true potential.
“Our focus is on removing barriers,” says Katlyn Guzar, supervisor of academic accommodations at Laurier’s Brantford campus. If someone broke their writing arm in a car accident, for example, the ALC could provide them with a scribe to help them write their exam. Or “if large rooms are anxiety-inducing for a student, we can remove that barrier by creating an environment that meets their needs, which may be in a private or semi-private room,” says Guzar.
During the current final exam period from Dec. 7 to 20, nearly 3,000 exams across Laurier’s various campus locations will be written with support from the ALC. Among the diverse needs being addressed are mobility issues, learning disabilities, mental health issues and hearing loss.
“When a student comes to see us, they are matched with a consultant who works with them to create an accessibility plan, and then to mobilize the resources and supports they need,” says Gwen Page, director of accessible learning.
The ALC offers many services beyond exam accommodations, and Page leads a team of 19 staff that includes: a transcription technologist, who formats course materials into accessible versions; learning strategists, who provide one-on-one skill-building support for students; and an assistive technologist, who works with students who require adaptive technology like an e-reader or a document magnifier.
In her 13 years at Laurier, Page has observed a notable increase in the number of students accessing the ALC. “When I started here in 2006, I would say that about four per cent of the student population used our services. Now, it’s 12 per cent.”
While she can’t attribute this growth to any one factor, Page feels that it represents a positive shift in perception.
“I think students have a growing comfort level with reaching out when they need help,” she says. “We have worked hard to normalize the helping process, so I’m glad that many students are now confident to come and ask for it.”
Asking for help can be the hardest part, says Guzar. “Once students take that first step and approach us, they come to realize that they are not alone in their struggle. I tell them, ‘This is part of who you are, and you just need to do things a little differently.’”
Exam accommodations are often a “stepping stone,” enabling students to build their confidence and learn skills to achieve independence over time.
“I have had the opportunity to walk alongside some brave students who’ve gone on to do amazing things,” says Page.
For more information on the ALC and their services, visit the Accessible Learning Centre page.
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