How accessible is ADR?

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Campus, Education | 1 comment

A look into how MacEwan’s ADR department supports students

Accessible education is a guaranteed right under the Canadian Constitution. 

Many pieces of Canadian legislation help provide post-secondary students with accessible education — the most important being the Accessible Canada Act or Bill-C81, which came into effect in 2019. 

The Act covers federal jurisdiction, but other provinces have their own legislation that promote accessibility and advocate for the elimination of barriers. These provinces include Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. 

Alberta, on the other hand, does not have any provincial accessibility-related legislation. The Human Rights Commission does state that people with disabilities must be given equal access to education, even if it means integrating accessibility services or offering accommodations to potential students.  

Alberta may be lagging compared to other provinces, but are Albertan post-secondaries also lagging when it comes to providing students with accessible education? 

Is MacEwan as accessible as it could be?

MacEwan’s Accessibility and Disability Resources (ADR) department is currently working on improving itself. Kayla Ermantrout, a learning specialist with ADR, says that the department is observing other post-secondary accessibility departments. As a result, the department hopes to find ways to incorporate solutions and techniques to better support students.

Ermantrout says, “The process is still in the early stages, but basically reviewing universities or other post-secondary institutions and seeing like, ‘how do you support your students? What does this look like?’”

She also says that the department has been entertaining the possibility of introducing student surveys. “We’re looking at implementing a student survey into our intake,” she says, “so that students who don’t feel comfortable verbalizing certain things, maybe in a conversation, are able to let us know in this form.” 

But, Ermantrout says that students are free to provide feedback on ADR. As a result, the department has a better idea of what challenges it needs to overcome and what barriers it needs to eliminate. “There’s always room for improvement,” she says. 

A major point of concern is the wait times. “I know our wait times are down quite a bit, but they could be down more,” says Ermantrout. The application process for ADR can take quite some time. It is recommended that students meet ADR specialists two to four months prior to starting their term.

When the students require documentation from their physician, they might have to wait several weeks before they obtain an appointment. Additionally, Alberta Student Aid applicants may even have to wait up to eight weeks for their application to be processed. 

Molly Staley, a fourth-year journalism student, recommends that first-time applicants prepare to apply for ADR in advance. However, she says that the application process becomes easier after several terms.

“I’ve been working with the same provider, the same staff person for a number of years now,” Staley says, “and, we almost have a report where now I can just email them and say, ‘Hey, semester’s coming up’, and she’ll already basically have my name and others kind of on her mind of letters of accommodations she needs to have ready.”

But, once students receive accommodation letters from ADR, they can reach out to their professors. The process of providing letters of accommodation to professors is student-led, meaning that ADR does not directly involve itself in informing professors that a student requires accommodation. 

“The accommodation letter . . . doesn’t have a student’s diagnosis on it because professors don’t need to know why you need accommodations,” says Ermantrout, “They just know that you need accommodations.” 

For Staley, accommodation letters only help so much. As a person with a chronic illness, she finds that it is difficult to navigate accommodation with professors. Her condition is susceptible to change, meaning that her condition improves or worsens on a day-to-day basis.


“So, that’s kind of a difficulty — the real-life experience versus what is indicated on the letter.”

Molly Staley, fourth-year journalism student and ADR user 


While accommodation letters must be given in advance, Staley finds that she cannot predict when her condition will affect her to the point of struggling with assignments.

She says, “The biggest difficulty for me and the others that I’ve spoken to is that as great as the accommodations have been, it’s always written as though you never really know.”

“So, that’s kind of a difficulty — the real-life experience versus what is indicated on the letter.”

When asked how ADR can improve, Staley says that there needs to be more awareness of ADR and what the department does for students. “I mean, it’s not a walk in the park. No one can just walk in there, claim they’re living with something and get accommodations.”

Heather Hutchinson, a fourth-year communications student and ADR user, views ADR as a necessary resource regardless of how many students use it. According to Ermantrout, there are 1,200 registered students currently using ADR.

Hutchinson says, “I like the dialogue now where instead of calling people able-bodied or disabled, they call able-bodied people temporarily able-bodied.” 


“I would tell people who want access that they may have a little bit of an uphill struggle. But, they should do their best to try to see it through because it really can help them.”

Heather Hutchinson, fourth-year communications student and ADR user


Approximately eight million Canadians are disabled, and about 23 per cent of Edmontonians are disabled. Although disabilities affect each person differently, it is estimated that one in four people in their twenties will become disabled in their lifetime. 

“It’s interesting to think about yourself as one currently not disabled, but in any moment that could change.” 
MacEwan’s ADR department has its strengths and its weaknesses. Hutchinson argues that ADR is a necessary department, regardless of the circumstances.

“I would tell people who want access that they may have a little bit of an uphill struggle,” says Hutchinson. “But, they should do their best to try to see it through because it really can help them, and I’m glad it exists because lots of us need help.”

Joelle Fagan

The Griff

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    Great you get feedback from students. Have you thought to get feedback from the teaching staff?? You will find out many believe ADR is a scam.

    Reply

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