- One of the most important contacts you will make during your time at college or university is the disability services office (DSO). Think of the staff in this office as your partners. They will work with you and support you throughout your time in school.
- Register with the DSO before the school year begins, or early in the school year. This is especially important if you might need to arrange academic accommodations. These take time and you want these in place ahead of time if and when you need them. Disability services offices are open twelve months of the year so they may be able to meet with you during the summer before the beginning of the school year.
- All of your discussions with the disability services office are completely confidential. No information will be shared with your instructors without your permission and no information will be noted on your official record or transcript.
- Even if you do not think you will need any of the services they provide, it is still good to make that connection early. Then, if you find yourself needing support as the year progresses, you already have the relationship established.
- There are no Individualized Educational Plans* in college or university, so it is your responsibility to go into the disability services office to sign up for services. No one will track you down to provide you with the accommodations you need. They will not come looking for you.
* Individual Education Plan (IEP): In elementary and high school, once a student is identified as needing additional resources, the school team develops a plan that is specific to her or his special needs, also known is some provinces and territories as Pupil Progress Plan (PPP), the personal education plan (PEP) or the Individual Program Plan (IPP)
Services that may be provided by the DSO:
- Assistance with registration.
- Orientation to the campus by campus guides.
- Advocacy and advising regarding disability issues.
- Access to academic coaching.
- Access to specialized workshops related to academics and disabilities.
- Access to online learning sessions.
- Contacts with professors and staff regarding needs in class.
- Note-takers and readers can be arranged.
- Text and journal articles can be produced in e-text.
- Maps are available which indicate accessible routes, entrances and parking.
- Referrals for disability assessments, counselling or other disability-related services.
- Bursary fund for purchase of disability-related, education-related services and equipment for eligible students.
- Lending of adaptive equipment.
- Library assistance, such as research assistance, retrieval of books and peer support in library training.
- Upper-year student mentors for first-year students.
- Relocation of classes if scheduled in an inaccessible room.
- Special arrangements made to accommodate disabilities for exams and assignments.
Disability Services: What’s in a name?
The exact name of the disability services office varies from institution to institution. It may also be known as Accessibility Services, Office for Students with Disabilities, or a similar name. Some institutions may not have a specific disabilities office, but provide services to students with disabilities through their student health, counselling, or financial services.
What is an academic accommodation?
An academic accommodation is an arrangement that is put in place to support a student with a disability. It can be anything from having an extension on an assignment, to being provided with an academic tutor, to writing your exams in a quiet, separate room. Accommodations are provided to "level the playing field" for you. They are available because your disability may put you at a disadvantage, compared to other students who do not have a disability.
Sometimes it can be hard to decide what accommodations you need:
- You may not be completely aware of how your disability affects your life.
- It may take a while to work out what kinds of accommodations you need and which ones are helpful.
- You may need accommodations in some courses and not in others, depending on how the course is taught and what assignments and tests are required.
- Your need for accommodations may change during the year.
A Word about Documentation
Colleges and universities across Canada vary in the required documentation needed to obtain services at the disability services office. All students must provide current and valid documentation on their learning disability (e.g. psycho-educational assessment, medical documentation) from an accredited diagnosing professional. Without the required documentation, you will not be able to register and access academic accommodations.
Always refer to the disability services office website at your college or university for a complete list of appropriate documentation.
These documents might include:
- Educational documents (IEP, IPP, PEP, transcripts, etc.)
- Prior psychological assessments and reports.
- Medical information and reports.
- Other relevant information supporting a learning disability.
Do you suspect you have a learning disability?
If you suspect that you may have a learning disability, but have not been identified or assessed, the disability office at your chosen post-secondary institution can help you. Make an appointment as soon as possible to discuss service options available to you. You do not have to have all the answers. The staff at the disability services office has experience in this area and can help you think it through.
Transition Planning Guide for Students with Disabilities and Their Families, Alberta Learning.
Your Education-Your Future, Canadian Mental Heath Association, www.cmha.ca/youreducation.