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Academic Accommodations and the OSD

The return to campus presents novel challenges for the office

More students have allegedly been requesting academic accommodations from the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD)  due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an email exchange with the Daily, Teri Phillips, Director of the OSD, could not confirm that the increase in requests is due to the pandemic but does acknowledge an increased number of students registering for services this Fall. The office adds that this increase follows the trend of more requests for services yearly.

A student can register with the OSD if they are experiencing academic or physical barriers and have a documented disability, mental health disorder, chronic illness, or other impairment. This does not apply, however, to a student who has contracted COVID-19. If a student needs academic accommodations solely based on concerns regarding exposure to COVID-19, they are to submit their request via Minerva; it is then processed by the Office of the Dean of Students. If a student struggles with long term effects after contracting COVID-19, registration with the OSD may be a possibility. The OSD emphasizes that accommodations are awarded on a case-by-case basis, depending on the student’s situation and medical documentation.

The wait time for an appointment is less than four weeks and is usually closer to around two weeks, per the OSD. Students can decide between booking an in-person appointment and an online appointment – according to the OSD, students generally prefer online appointments. Already registered students are eligible for a same-day drop-in appointment they can book on the booking page.

The OSD acknowledges that email response times are longer this year, as the Exam Centre has recently adapted to offer both in-person assessments and remote assessments which require coordination with instructors.

Typical accommodations the OSD provides can include exam accommodations, note taking support, learning resources, peer-to-peer supports, and assistive technology. The University has made significant cuts to the OSD’s budget, leading to changes related to the accommodations. Since the winter of 2019, students participating in note taking for other students are no longer compensated financially, despite the work being up to ten hours a week. The OSD has chosen to reward these students with volunteer hours and an entry into a draw for one of several gift cards at the end of the semester. Because of this change, there is an alleged shortage of note takers. 

Since the OSD is responsible for academic accommodations, the Office of the Dean of Students makes a point to emphasize the use of “academic considerations” as opposed to “accommodations” to differentiate between the roles of each office. As opposed to the OSD, the Office of the Dean of Students does not require medical documentation to receive academic considerations. According to the Office of the Dean of Students, the student may be “academically considered” with a flexible grading scheme, audio and/or video equipped teaching rooms, zoom recordings, past year recordings of classes, withdrawal from a course or courses, an “incomplete,” or a Leave of Absence. However, with the University reporting 85 per cent of classes being held in person, it remains unclear what percentage of these classes are being recorded. The Office of the Dean of Students cannot guarantee these academic considerations, but notes that they are flexible and other options may be considered. 

McGill has set these academic considerations in place for the Fall 2021 term but has not confirmed a plan for the Winter 2022 term. The University writes that if a plan is needed, it will be developed closer to the start of the term. However, in McGill’s response to questions from the Daily, the University discussed the launch of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee in early October. The Committee is mandated with advising the University on COVID-related decisions that affect academic planning and policies, focusing heavily on the Winter 2022 term.

Though there are offices responsible for handling different matters in regard to academic accommodations and/or considerations, students are allegedly being falsely directed in some cases. Student employees often face difficulties extending academic accommodations to their work, and McGill’s Human Resources has been known to direct student employees to the OSD, though its purpose is for academic accommodations. This lack of consistency of where student employees should go for work accommodations has yet to be addressed by the University or its offices.

As for the academic accommodation requests from the OSD, the reason for the increase remains uncertain. However, there are plenty of resources available for students looking for additional aid, whether they are facing an academic or physical barrier. These resources are distributed amongst different offices, and students should be aware of the different specialties they have and which will be most useful to them.

Zoe Lister