How is it, in 2021, that ableism is still a systemic issue at a Canadian institution of higher learning?
Author of the article:Ben BourneFlosman
Publishing date:Sep 17, 2021
Carleton University student Ben BourneFlosman has been unable to attend his first year of university in person because of limits on the institution’s support for disabled students on campus.
It was April of 2019 when I first got a glimpse inside Carleton University: my father’s alma mater, and a place well-known for its disability support programs. I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which is a neuromuscular disease that causes me to use a wheelchair due to its negative effects on my nerves and muscles.
Back in 2019, I was told that I would be able to access personal support worker assistance provided by the University 24/7 as a student. I require support like this for assistance with essential personal care. Needless to say, I was sold.
However, this year, on May 10, after accepting my offer for a BA Honours in political science, I received an email from the Attendant Services Program (Carleton’s support program that provides PSWs for its students) stating that “in consultation with Ottawa Public Health, the university has decided to delay the resumption of the Attendant Services Program” until the potential restart of the program in January 2022.
This program provides a service I cannot live without. Following my appeals, the university confirmed a few weeks ago that I cannot live on campus because of the “unique needs of the (Attendant Services Program), the current pandemic, and public health and safety requirements.”
Carleton is still providing me with an academic education, albeit online. Unfortunately, the university experience is composed of more than just class. It is extremely disheartening to watch as my able-bodied peers enter campus and embark on a part of life that is defined by independence, belonging to a community, and autonomy. It is this broader learning of life that I do not have access to.
Carleton’s own website repeats its mandate (echoing similar post-secondary policies) that “all members of the Carleton community” must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. As well, the university opened its indoor gyms and athletic facilities in July.
There is a disconnect that Carleton University will permit indoor gatherings and access to the residences for its able-bodied students while denying the same access to students with disabilities who require care by medical professionals that are affiliated with the university (and subject to its vaccination requirements). How does this situation reflect the university’s commitment to “being the most accessible campus in Canada” (as stated on its website)?
How is it, in 2021, that ableism is still a systemic issue at a Canadian university? Carleton University’s own Human Rights Policies and Procedures states “Carleton University is committed to providing access to the educational experience and accommodation to the point of undue hardship in order to promote academic accessibility for individuals with identified and duly assessed disabilities.” My question for “Canada’s most accessible campus” is simple: At what point does treating students with disabilities with the same dignity as those who are able-bodied go beyond being an undue hardship for this university?
Instead of indicating a probable start date in January, Carleton should be looking to hire employees as soon as possible for its Attendant Services Program. Giving all students an opportunity to be involved in campus life must be Carleton’s top priority, to fulfil the “university’s obligation ” to accommodate students with disabilities.”
After a year of isolation, we have all had time to reflect on how we can improve. Carleton’s opportunity to do better is still within reach.
Ben BourneFlosman is a 17-year-old Carleton University student with big dreams of success and happiness. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org