Dal shelves new student accommodation policy

Centre will only deal with disabilities this year, not other human rights issues

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Dalhousie students walk past the Mark A. Hill Accessibility Centre. (Photo: Monica Riehl)

The full implementation of Dalhousie University's new student accommodation policy has been postponed until July 2011.

The new policy was approved last fall by Dalhousie's senate, and implemented for this year, but it faced immediate issues.

Dorothy Pedlar, director of student accessibility and equity at Dalhousie's student accessibility services office said that steps were taken in early to mid-September to put a motion in front of the senate to postpone the policy.

"There was early recognition of the challenges," said Pedlar.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Act

The Act prohibits discrimination based on the following grounds or characteristics:

(i) age

(ii) race

(iii) colour

(iv) religion

(v) creed

(vi) sex

(vii) sexual orientation

(viii) physical disability or mental disability

(ix) an irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease

(x) ethnic, national or aboriginal origin

(xi) family status

(xii) marital status

(xiii) source of income

(xiv) political belief, affiliation or activity

(xv) association with an individual or a class of individuals having characteristics

referred to in (i) to (xiv)

"There were some human resource needs that had been fully accessed, there were some technical issues with respect to more delays than had been anticipated in some new software being able to be implemented and ... some financial issues."

The purpose of the Dalhousie's accommodation policy for students is to permit them to participate in the campus community without violating any rights laid out in Nova Scotia's Human Rights Act.

It attempts to provide appropriate accommodation for students facing barriers based on any of the characteristics listed in the Act.

"The university has always had a duty to accommodate students who require accommodation for any reason related to the protected characteristics under the human rights legislation," said Pedlar.

New policy broadens services

Before the new policy, this duty was disbursed throughout university departments, and the accessibility office exclusively served students with disabilities.

The new policy intended to have all accommodation requests channelled through the newly named Office of Student Accessibility and Accommodation, which operates in the Mark A. Hill accessibility office.

This would centralize all requests, in order to reasonably accommodate students based on any of the protected human rights including race, gender, marital status or religion.

A student is able to make a request for accommodation for religious reasons because of conflicts between class or exam times and prayer obligations.

Under the old policy, university faculty would handle this type of a request, sometimes in consultation with the accessibility office.

In the last fiscal year, 735 students with disabilities were registered at the OSAA office, but not all made requests for accommodation. Pedlar said they did not see a significant increase in other types of accommodation requests when the new policy began in September.

The OSAA did assist some first-year undergraduates and will continue to help first-year and disabled students until the new policy is relaunched next year. Only the administration of the request will be different until the challenges with the new policy are resolved, said Pedlar.

She says that the OSAA strives to provide "appropriate accommodation ... so that the barrier (the student) faces is reduced or removed. That is the goal for all students regardless of what policy."

Dalhousie's senate passed the motion to postpone the new policy last month. The OSAA will resume operation under the former policy, which dates back to 1994, until the new policy is reinstated in July 2011.

A new position has been created at the OSAA, and a working group will take an analytical approach at resolving the new policy's challenges for next year.

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