Laurier’s Accessible Learning Centre makes a difference
Waterloo - For student Michael Gardner, it’s not just the services offered by Laurier’s Accessible Learning Centre (ALC) that make a difference to him, but the people themselves.
“The people in the centre inspired me to keep trying when all odds were against me,” says Gardner, who started working with the ALC following a traumatic brain injury that made writing and test-taking extremely difficult.
After an intake staff member confirmed that Gardner met the criteria for assistance, he was paired with an ALC consultant who worked with him to develop an individualized accommodation plan to meet his needs. The plan for Gardner included matching him with a volunteer student note-taker and arranging for extra time to write exams.
“It’s the only way that I could achieve a higher education,” says Gardner.
He’s one of more than 700 Laurier students in Waterloo and Brantford who made use of the centre’s services this year. While some students come to the ALC directly from high school, many are referred by faculty, student services, or external agencies. Others approach the centre on their own for assistance.
“We’re looking at building capacity, not hand-holding,” says ALC manager Gwen Page. “It’s based on understanding a student’s unique barriers to develop a plan that helps them to navigate and manage what’s in front of them.”
The centre is mandated by the government’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. The ALC works with students with disabilities ranging from the visible to invisible, which include mental health issues, sight and hearing disabilities, learning disabilities, ADHD, mobility issues, medical and temporary injuries.
In addition to the note-taking and exam-accommodation services Gardner uses, the centre offers students learning strategies (such as time-management, note taking, study skills and exam skills), tutoring, and alternate-format learning materials. The ALC even employs a staff member to translate textbooks and course materials into Braille.
The centre also has a range of assistive technology available to students, including software for reading text aloud, essay dictation software and software to enable visually impaired students.
“Assistive technology has improved ten-fold,” says Page. “It’s highly efficient, highly effective, and excellent quality.”
The ALC provides students with a 24/7 lab and an assistive technologist who offers training and support. In addition to lending equipment to students, the centre continually sources funding opportunities to make technology available to those who need financial assistance.
Beyond providing services to its students, the ALC works to increase understanding and acceptance on campus by collaborating with faculty, student peer helpers and other university groups.
“There is often a stigma associated with disabilities based on a lack of understanding,” says Page. “There’s the perception that we’re giving students with disabilities an unfair advantage; what we’re doing is leveling the playing field.”
Page points out that the centre’s intake procedures ensure that only students who need help receive it, and that all of their 5,000 exam accommodations whether providing extra time, an alternate format or a quiet environment adhere to the same security protocols as regularly scheduled exams.
Students enrolled at the centre have gone on to graduate studies and successful careers. For those about to graduate, the Centre for Co-operative Education and Career Development provides transitional planning for the work world, such as managing disclosure, communicating accommodation needs and educating employers.
Gardner, who plans to pursue a career as an author and motivational speaker when he completes his communications studies degree, believes the centre is successful as both a service-provider and as an advocate.
“The ALC has helped rebuild a scholastic experience for all injury survivors, as well as given hope to many people that are put down by the rest of society.”