QSAS’s new accommodations don’t effectively accommodate students

Queen’s failure to consult students on QSAS’s new policy is against the spirit of wellness

Jubilee believes Queen’s new accommodation policy is discriminatory against students with disabilities.

This article discusses mental illness and may be triggering for some readers. The Canadian Mental Health Association Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-875-6213.

For students with mental illness diagnoses, it’s particularly important to attend an institution with systems in place to ensure one’s academic success.

When choosing where to enroll for their undergraduate degrees, some students choose Queen’s for the plethora of services and accommodations it offers students. However, recent changes at Queen's Student Accessibility Services (QSAS) have called the University’s understanding of the word “accommodation” into question. 

This is unacceptable.                

Previously, students with disabilities could get an accommodation for extra time on assignments. This accommodation would be open-ended, meaning it was up to the professor and student to agree on the assignment deadline.

Recently, under the new management of Alan Jeans, students registered with QSAS—myself included—had their pre-existing accommodations changed entirely. Now all students registered with QSAS and those who will register in the future have a maximum of seven days’ extension on assignments.

This change was completed without the consultation or consent of students registered with QSAS.

The old policy is preferable for several reasons.                   

First, it acknowledged that even though all students registered with QSAS have a disability, each student has a different diagnosis that poses unique needs when completing assignments.

Second, the open-ended nature of accommodations allowed students who were behind on multiple assignments better opportunities to effectively manage their time, as they could pace their assignments and ultimately avoid having to complete five overdue projects all at once.

These are all strategies that Queen’s Student Academic Success Services (SASS) and QSAS state are necessary to avoid being overwhelmed with work and complete assignments on time.

Instead, QSAS’s new policy contradicts SASS’s recommendations and ultimately forces students who have accommodations to rush to finish assignments within a seven-day period, offering students minimal autonomy in managing their work.

There are several negative impacts of this policy change that adversely impact the ability of students with disabilities to succeed academically at Queen's.

The principle of a universal seven-day maximum extension goes against the spirit of accommodation. Mandating that all students with disabilities must complete overdue assignments within seven days homogenizes and hurts a diverse group of students with diverse needs.

The policy change also removes a student’s ability to bargain with professors and negotiate deadlines.

Some professors are more reluctant than others when catering to students’ needs.  While students previously had the right to work with their professors to negotiate new deadlines, this new policy revokes this right.

With students now unable to take part in negotiations, any professor can feel justified in denying students with disabilities additional time on assignments beyond the seven days.

Removing a student’s ability to advocate for themselves also prevents students from communicating the nature of their situation and finding solutions that can be maximally effective.

The result of this policy is discrimination against students with disabilities—preventing them from academically succeeding along with their peers.

These changes are particularly pernicious due to a lack of consultation with students and an overall inability for students to consent to the policy’s new terms.

Many students like myself chose Queen’s in part due to its accommodation structure.

I’ve paid this university tens of thousands of dollars to receive the services that were advertised.

In changing QSAS’s accommodation policy, Queen’s apparently feels it was fair to change what it had both advertised and been paid for without warning, consultation, or consent.

I learned of this policy change after suffering an exacerbation of my disability over a two-week period and receiving zeros on numerous assignments due to this change in policy. The policy change was made apparent when I contacted professors for extensions and saw the new policy reflected in my letter of accommodation.

When I emailed QSAS regarding the change, I was met with an automated email reply that offered no avenue for me to be able to speak with someone at the service directly. Though I eventually received an email from a representative from QSAS, I was merely informed of the seven-day cap for students who were permitted extra time.

The implementation of this new policy is disastrous. By not giving students a warning about this policy change many were caught off guard by a sudden lack of extensions. These actions make it seem as though the QSAS doesn’t care if students with disabilities are caught off guard and fail assignments.

Further, there seems to have been no consultation with students about this new policy. This is clearly problematic, as these policies are about students needing personalized and context-dependent accommodations. When QSAS decided they didn’t need to investigate students' particular needs and situations, they implemented a policy that also ignores individual students' needs and contexts.

We must caution educational leaders and institutions against discriminating against students with disabilities.

Jubilee is a fourth year Political Studies and Global Development student.

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