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Disability access through snow

Luke LeClair (middle), AS Disability Outreach Center Advocacy Coordinator, and the student senate discuss proposed training program for professors. // Photo by Calvin Lowe

By Calvin Lowe

Western gave the Disability Access Center a $10,000 grant to create a training program to teach professors about working with students with disabilities. 

Luke LeClair, AS Disability Outreach Center advocacy coordinator, spoke about the grant  during the AS student senate meeting on Jan. 29. LeClair discussed the letter they sent regarding Western’s decision to reopen campus, despite snowy road conditions, on Jan. 14 and the details regarding the training program.

The letter, based on conversations with other disabled students and activists, criticized the school for opening its campus on Jan. 14, despite the campus being covered in snow and ice. 

The email addressing the letter stated, “Having campus open without clear and safe paths was a reckless and discriminatory choice to make. We, as disabled students and allies, demand that Western agree to not open until all campus buildings have a clear and accessible path and entrance. Western also must create and implement some form of real training for professors so that not all of the responsibility will fall on students to inform professors of their legal obligations.” 

The university’s decision to reopen its campus caused backlash not only from the Disability Outreach Center, but from students as well. Western’s Reddit page was overwhelmed with a barrage of memes criticizing the university. 

The memes criticize Western’s disregard for the weather and questions if campus should be open.

One meme depicts a person holding an “UNO” card with text over it which read, “Cancel classes due to the weather or draw 25 cards.” The image beside it shows a player holding 25 cards with Western’s logo over the face of the player. 

In a separate statement, LeClair said that conversations within Western’s administration led to the decision to give the grant money. 

In a statement, Kate Hales, a second-year student, mentioned that she had difficulty walking in Red Square in the morning on Jan. 14. 

“As an able-bodied [person], I could not imagine what that was like for disabled students,” Hales said. “I would be furious.”

Golda Ferraz, a third-year student, criticized the school for not salting the ground enough. She said she slipped nearly five times while walking to her 8 a.m. class. 

“How are students in wheelchairs going to come to class?” she said. “I still slip. I can’t imagine how hard it is for them.”

Gillian Elofson, a second-year student, said she witnessed a student shovel snow to help create a path for another student in a wheelchair. 

LeClair criticized the email Western sent out on Jan. 14, notifying students of campus reopening. 

The email said, “Students, faculty and staff who are unable to get to Western because of weather conditions may decide to remain home. Campus members with disabilities are advised to exercise extra care when traversing campus. Absences for students with disabilities due to weather conditions merit accommodation, so communication with faculty about modifications and adjustments of deadlines or examinations is appropriate. The university advises members to balance concern for student learning and accountability with concern for student safety.”

“My issue with the language that's in those messages is that it's incredibly vague and it doesn't actually say, ‘please stay home,’” LeClair said. “Its’ language that puts the onus on all students to contact professors and that professors should be reasonable about it.”

LeClair advocated for better framing. They want the school to assure students with disabilities that it’s their legal right to stay home and have professors make accommodations. 

“After probably a few hundred emails were sent to pretty much any higher administrator at Western, we have received a pretty large grant to create training for professors over the summer,” LeClair said. 

LeClair, student employees and faculty employees will be working over the summer to create voluntary trainings for professors. However, LeClair said they could not guarantee that any of the colleges will implement the trainings. 

Western's student senate meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 29 in the VU. // Photo by Calvin Lowe

LeClair asked the senate to advocate for this training program and convince their respective colleges to support it. 

“The administration as a whole is not interested in operationalizing these trainings, but some colleges, namely Huxley College, have shown interest,” LeClair said. 

According to LeClair, the program would include between six to seven different courses. Different courses will be designed for student leaders, staff, professors and faculty. To complete the training, a person must take courses which include: disability as civil rights, basic accommodations, accommodating class schedules and tech accommodation. These courses would be offered quarterly as well as have online training. The online training would be useful to professors who cannot commit the time to do an in-person class. 

“I want them to be accessible and easy to follow,” LeClair said. “I don’t want people to dread having to do it.”

LeClair envisions the online training to consist of video lectures with captions and a quiz at the end. 

“In my mind, it will be something that they would take once and then in a few years [if] they wanted a refresher, they could take one of the courses again,” LeClair said.

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