Special accommodations shouldn’t require hoops of fire

Image by: Keith Saunders

In the wake of events at York, it’s worth considering whether other universities should review their mental health accommodation policies.

A two-year legal battle between a student and York University — over the University’s requirement that students disclose their specific diagnosis to receive academic accommodations — ended recently in a settlement.

York will no longer require students to name their specific condition. However, they still require students to be assessed by a medical professional to ascertain their need for special accommodations.

Requiring students to be labeled with a specific illness imposes an unfair burden on those students to prove their need. Not only do students require a medical assessment, but they must submit detailed information regarding their diagnosis and functional limitations to qualify for accommodations.

Adopting a less rigorous process, where students aren’t required to fulfill a very specific set of criteria, would reduce a great deal of stress for students who are already struggling.

Having an accredited medical professional state that a student requires academic accommodations should be enough to warrant that support.

Likewise, labeling students with specific diagnoses may not take into consideration the minutiae of each student’s situation in the same way a health care practitioner might. For instance, giving a student with ADD more time to write an exam may not do them much good if you’re not aware that their medication makes them drowsy at that time of day.

The purpose of academic accommodations is to shape the environment to a particular student’s needs instead of assuming that all students have the same ones. However, it’s difficult for an administration to build an environment without adequately knowing the needs of students.

So, reforming a university’s academic accommodations policy will only be worthwhile if the new process compensates for administrators’ new ignorance of a student’s specific condition. 

The question then is this: does not knowing a student’s specific condition compromise an administrators’ ability to assist them? If other universities do follow York’s example, can they compensate for any gaps in knowledge?

If the medical professional providing recommendations is competent and familiar with the university’s ability to meet recommendations, the answer is yes.

On a different note, recognizing a student’s right to not disclose their condition shouldn’t be taken as a sign that having a learning disability or a mental illness is something to be ashamed of.

Nor should the common objection, that this will just make it easier for people who don’t have a legitimate need to get special treatment, hold any weight. Students with special accommodations aren’t doing less work — they’re simply completing it in a different way. 

At the end of the day, universities can be expected to do what’s reasonable to accommodate their students based on the information they have.

But, it isn’t reasonable to subject students to a process that can be more taxing than the exam they’re requesting to write in a separate room.

Journal Editorial Board 


academic accommodations, Accessibility, Mental health, York University

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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