Panellists discuss ways to accommodate disabilities:
“We have a school and a system that is built so that people don’t have to think about disability,” said Olivia Auriat, third-year Canadian studies student, at a panel hosted by Mount Allison’s Association of Chronically Ill and Disabled Students (ACID) last Wednesday, Feb. 10. The panel featured two Mt. A students, Auriat and Claire Murphy, and two disability activists, Anne MacRae and Steven Estey. The panellists spoke about the pervasiveness of ableism and the barriers that disabled people face both at Mt. A and in daily life.
“Ableism exists today in our society because most people think it’s okay,” said Estey, who has worked for disability organizations both nationally and globally for the past 25 years. “In my lifetime I have seen changes for women, I have seen changes for people from ethnic minority backgrounds, but I haven’t seen nearly as much progress for people with disabilities.”
“Mount Allison is a place that is built to enable ableism,” said Auriat, president of ACID. “People prefer not to talk about things that make them uncomfortable, and they prefer to move [them] out of their line of sight.”
Auriat said disability services at Canadian universities are often geared toward preparation for the workplace rather than the intrinsic value of education itself. Auriat said she has struggled to obtain disability scholarships from her home province, Manitoba, because most are geared toward students entering programs considered practical for the workplace rather than liberal arts programs.
MacRae, who graduated from Mt. A in 1981, discussed the need to dismantle prejudice surrounding low expectations of disabled people and increase the number of disabled people in positions of influence. In a university setting, she said, this means providing disabled students with the opportunities to participate in their communities in the same ways—through summer jobs or volunteering, for example.
MacRae said that disability was largely invisible at Mt. A when she was a student. “There was no sense that you could go to a professor and get accommodations.”
Murphy, co-president of the Meighen Centre and fourth-year political science student, said Mt. A is still lacking in its disability services and students are unsure of how to effect change
“We’re only here for four years, so I think that people don’t think they have enough time to make a difference,” said Murphy.
Murphy said that the first step toward inclusivity on campus is questioning what should be happening at Mt. A that isn’t. “These things take time and we need to start somewhere,” said Estey. “These days need to be over.”