ASC and its services: The impact on campus.

Photograph by Aly Beach

Durham College student, Douglas Howard.

“At Durham College, when they say ‘success matters,’ I’d have to say that is very true but there’s room for improvement. Always,” says Durham College (DC) student Douglas Howard.

Howard, 39, is a second-year student in the broadcast-radio and contemporary media program. Howard is legally blind and has difficulties hearing. He cannot see with his right eye, and has limited vision in his left eye.

“I’m visually impaired but I also have a hearing impairment… and I have a bit of a learning disability where I’m slower at learning so it takes more time and things have to be adjusted,” says Howard.

One in seven people, aged 15 or older, has a disability in Canada. Those numbers are reflected at DC.

DC has an Access and Support Centre (ASC) which offers a variety of services to students with disabilities. It is located next to Vendor’s Alley in the Gordon Willey Building. Services include accommodations, extra test time, third-party note takers, educational assistants (EA), counselling services, assistive technology and more.

In order for a student to use these services, they must submit forms related to their exceptionality such as an Independent Education Plan (IEP) from high school or medical documentation. Then they have an intake appointment with one of the accessibility coaches. Some accessibility coaches specialize in certain areas such as working with the deaf and hard-of-hearing.

Christine Gibson, an accessibility coach at the ASC, says the services students receive are based on the student’s needs and concerns, not just the paperwork.

“It’s certainly based on that documentation provided but it’s also based on that initial intake appointment and the discussion with the student and what concerns they bring forward,” says Gibson. “Often the documentation won’t explicitly describe those concerns.”

Howard uses the ASC for a variety of services, primarily for assistive technology. He also has in-class and out-of-class EAs to assist him. He has used note takers provided by the ASC in the past.

“I use the ASC a lot, for many things like technology,” says Howard, “I’m not bad at typing but I use Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but I also use scripts that go along with JAWS called J-Say.”

JAWS is a screen reading software that reads digital text aloud, while Dragon NaturallySpeaking and J-Say are software that transcribe spoken word into text. J-Say also repeats back what was said. He also uses a program called Kurzweil, an assistive learning technology. Howard has recently found a program called Gold Wave that allows him to edit audio for his classes, as Adobe Audition is not accessible to him.

Software like these can be expensive, but according to Gibson the school can help.

“There’s no fee for the students. These are services that are provided to students by Durham College,” says Gibson. She says that there are occasionally costs, usually for assistive devices and equipment, but the ASC can help students find funding.

“It was expensive, that’s why I’m glad the college helped me cover it, or rather, covered it for me under the student grant for services and equipment for persons with permanent disabilities,” says Howard.

Howard says some classes he is taking are very visual, and as he has poor vision he feels like some programs may have to change the ways they are teaching. He says most power points are not accessible for screen readers. Howard also says he would like to see more descriptive audio on video, as text-on-video is not accessible for him. He says this would be helpful in his classes and at Riot Radio.

“I think, for a lot of the classes, if there’s any video stuff, they should have an option of… descriptive audio. I also feel that power points may need to be done away with,” he says.

Howard says he occasionally feels overwhelmed in his classes, as he sometimes takes longer than his classmates to learn things and complete tasks.

“I sometimes get frustrated on things like, ‘am I cut out for this?’ because there’s so much. Because at certain times it’s hard,” says Howard, “The team is doing this, this and this, so sometimes I’m telling them ‘hey guys, slow down, you need to slow it down a bit so I can catch up’.”

However, Howard took “A short history of the world” in the Global Classroom and had a positive experience despite the visual nature of the class. Professor Lon Appleby allowed him to audio record the classes.

“He [Appleby] worked with me, he’s awesome…he tried to be as open to being accessible as possible,” says Howard.

As for how the school is doing in terms of accessibility, Howard is content.

“I do [think the school is doing enough for students with disabilities] but I think there is severe room for improvement. There is always room for improvement,” says Howard.

Gibson agrees with Howard, adding that things have improved for people with disabilities with the introduction of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005.

“I think there is definitely an increased awareness for the responsibility of society as a whole to provide accommodations and to provide equal access to…people in general,” says Gibson. “There’s always room for improvement on that but I think we’ve definitely taken a step in the right direction.”