Disability? Chronic illness? Report it early

Your school wants to help you. You just need to ask for it.


Programs, like Dalhousie's Office of Student Accessibility and Accommodation, are designed to support disabled students. (Photo: Marie Hanifen)

Danielle first noticed something odd happening in October 2010. While sitting in class she would sometimes become confused and begin to wonder if she was dreaming. She became convinced that her professors had personal vendettas against her and she began to miss classes.

"My thoughts would be racing so quickly that I wouldn't be able to concentrate," she says. "My vision of reality clashed with what was actually going on."

Danielle, a Dalhousie University student, was diagnosed two months later with acute psychosis. The condition can cause sensory hallucinations, disorganized speech and mental delusions. After approaching her professors with documentation of her illness, she was given extensions for her class assignments. Even though one professor rejected her request for a longer extension, Danielle says her experience with seeking accommodation was a positive one.

"Professors or the university itself can be there to help students," says Danielle, who did not want to give her last name for privacy reasons. "All a person needs to do is notify the right people."

Disability categories:

  • learning disabilities
  • mobility impairments
  • vision impairments
  • hearing impairments
  • chronic health condition/illness

Examples of accommodations:

  • having someone take notes for you
  • enlarged printouts
  • extended time on exams or assignments
  • a private room to write an exam
  • exam/tests given orally with the assistance of a scribe or computer
  • rest or bathroom breaks
  • access to assistive technology software
  • minimized penalties for spelling and grammar

Find out more about how your university can help:



The problem is, not enough students do.

Margaret Walsh has taught engineering at Dalhousie for 10 years and has sat on the department's academic appeals committee for about four. Most of the appeals she sees are made after a student fails a course; and about 90 per cent of the time, she says, it's due to an illness or disability. The problem is, almost all of the students with illness or disability complaints didn't tell their professors they were having problems at the time.

"It's always after the fact," Walsh says.

Instead, Walsh encourages students to talk to their professors or school administration as soon as a problem arises. After a student fails a course there is little the university can do, she says.

Dalhousie, the University of King's College, Mount Saint Vincent University, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and Saint Mary's University all offer disability services for students. Universities across the province are bound by the definition of disability as provided by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. Within that act, the definition of disability is broad. Anxiety, hearing impairments, fibromyalgia and head injuries all fall under the category of disability under the act. And the number of students receiving accommodation at university can be significant.

"I work with about 100 students," says Bill Travis, the Disabilities Resource Facilitator at NSCAD. "About 10 per cent of the (NSCAD student) population."

Although there are some variations on how each university's process works, they are generally the same. Students seeking disability accommodation should:

  • Get in touch with your school's disability services centre as soon as possible. Some deadlines are strict and some accommodations cannot be met if there is not enough time to prepare.
  • Bring in recent information documenting your disability (for most universities, recent is five years old or less. For NSCAD, documentation must be less than three years old.)
  • Have ideas on how you would like to be accommodated. Documents from a high school guidance counsellor or a previous university detailing how you were accommodated are helpful.
  • Be prepared to talk to your professors and possibly negotiate a variation on an accommodation
  • Know that the school is not required to accommodate every request and that regardless of your disability, you are still required to meet academic standards, but in a way that accommodates your individual needs.

Students can also strike up an informal agreement with their professor, but this can be hazardous, says Travis, because the professor and student may not understand the others expectations.

"It really helps to have it on paper," Travis says. "So that the student has a leg to stand on."


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Posted by electronic billing | Jan 15, 2022

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