Over the course of the past year, McGill has undertaken a review of its former Policy Concerning the Rights of Students with Disabilities. The proposed new document, which received feedback over the summer from individual stakeholders as well as related organizations, is called the Policy Concerning the Right to Accommodation for Students with Disabilities.
The change in name reflects a shift in the content of the new policy: it focuses primarily on defining and outlining specifically the right to accommodation for students with disabilities, as well as the minimum legal requirements that the University must meet, rather than defining and outlining the rights of students with disabilities at McGill holistically.
Exemplifying these changes, the old policy mandated the University to clearly inform all potential applicants, as well as the community at large, of the services provided to students with disabilities. This requirement is not included in the new policy draft.
As an active student union on campus, the Association for Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) is a key stakeholder in this policy. In their review of the draft, AGSEM makes note of several areas of concern, including the legalistic focus of the document, its applicability, and the resulting burden on students to self-advocate.
Regarding the newly-defined scope of the policy, AGSEM expressed concern over its narrow focus on academic accommodations as it relates to the University’s legal obligations to students with disabilities.
“The University has additional moral obligations (including a duty of care) towards disabled students that go beyond law,” AGSEM wrote in their review of the policy. “If the University is to claim to be one that includes disabled students, the University should consider how it must support disabled students’ integrity, ability to fully participate in University life, and more.”
AGSEM’s report also noted that the new draft policy excludes pregnancy in its defined scope of applicability, meaning that students who are pregnant would not be allowed to seek academic accommodations under this specific policy.
“[The policy] mischaracterizes and has a very narrow scope of disability,” AGSEM wrote in response. “In many legal contexts, pregnancy needs disability accommodations.”
Emphasized throughout AGSEM’s review are their concerns over students’ responsibility to provide (and thus ability to acquire) the necessary medical documentation to receive accommodations.
The new section on “Responsibilities” as outlined in the draft policy also mentions that students must “undertake a reasonable degree of self-advocacy.” In the examples provided to explain “self-advocacy,” the policy suggests that students “discuss directly course-based accommodations with course instructors,” implying that in order to receive accommodations, they must disclose medical conditions to their professors. AGSEM highlighted the inclusion of this suggestion, and noted that “students should not need to disclose medical conditions to teaching staff in order to receive accommodations.”
In the latter half of the review, AGSEM also took note of the University’s rhetoric around accommodations for students with disabilities. The draft policy states, “In accordance with the law, the University has an obligation to a) provide reasonable accommodation b) to students presenting with Disability-related barriers c) who request accommodation and provide Appropriate Documentation, d) but is only required to provide such a reasonable accommodation to the point of undue hardship.”
The term “undue hardship” is later defined as “accommodations that are likely to result in any of the following: a) Impingement upon the core competencies of a course or program of study; b) Significant risks to the health and safety of the student or others; C) Substantial costs that put the University as a whole at risk.”
In response to this language used by the University, AGSEM wrote in its report, “Disability accommodations framed as something that might upset the ‘core competencies of a course or program of study’ is ableist,” adding that “accommodating disabled students is not in conflict with academic excellence, and framing it as such is disingenuous, playing into negative stereotypes about disabled students.”
While the online form to submit feedback on the Policy Concerning the Right to Accommodation for Students with Disabilities has closed, the draft will be brought to Senate during the Fall 2020 semester.