The Tea on the USC Accessibility Survey

A decorative logo for the Accessibili-tea podcastPodcast hosted by: Ashton Forrest and Jalesa Martin 

In the first-ever full episode of Accessibili-tea, Ashton and Jalesa spill some tea with Emily and Sophia, members of the USC Accessibility Committee. In the episode they talk about what the committee does, the results from this year's survey, accessibility recommendations, and more!

Emily and Sophia share some shocking statistics from the USC Accessibility Survey, like that over 22% of the survey respondents have had an accommodation refused by a professor and that 95% of students who took the survey indicated that they had suffered some mental health concerns during their university time at Western. Facts like these help highlight the issues and struggles that students are facing, and show that accessibility is a strong concern for many students at Western.

Another interesting topic that Emily and Sophia discussed was the implementation of accommodations during the pandemic that were not considered or implemented prior. Pre-pandemic, Emily shared her struggles in getting lectures recorded whereas now most lectures are recorded so that students can have access to them whenever they want. It's an interesting topic to consider, as it appears the pandemic has brought about an attitude shift on accessibility when it comes to things like this.

To learn more about these topics in-depth, tune in to the episode now! You can listen below or check it out on Anchor, Google Podcasts, Breaker, Radio Public, Spotify, or Pocket Casts. You can also access an accessible transcript for the interview below. 

To learn more about the USC Accessibility Committee, follow them on Instagram @uscaccessibility! You can also check out the handbook mentioned in the episode by clicking here.

Stay tuned for the next episode where Ashton and Jalesa will be talking to the team being Project Echo and #Capturethebarrier!

Take a listen...

Interview Transcript


Ashton 0:01
So Sofia and Emily, can you introduce yourselves?

Emily 0:08
Yeah sure, I'll go first. So my name is Emily. I'm graduating this year I will be in my fifth year, health sciences and rehab sciences program at Western. I was also the accessibility coordinator for the USC Accessibility Committee for the 2020/2021 academic year. And I just want to say thank you so much for having me here tonight.

Sophia 0:35

I'll go next. My name is Sophia Trozzo. I just finished my second year in the medical science program here at Western. This past year, I was also a student outreach coordinator with the USC Accessibility Committee. And I just want to echo Emily's sentiment. Thank you for having me on here today. I'm really excited to share some information with you guys.

Jalesa 0:58
Thank you. So I know you both mentioned the USC Accessibility Committee. So we were wondering what is the USCAccessibility Committee? And what does it do?

Emily 1:12
So the USC Accessibility Committee, we cover a lot of different issues, but ultimately, our mission is to advocate for an accessible campus for all students at Western. So we put on different events, unfortunately, due to the pandemic, and most of those events, were virtual. So we put on some panels, we put on some social media posts to try to raise awareness about the accessibility spectrum on different accessibility issues, different topics pertaining to all things disability and acceptability at Western. But we have also put out a major survey to the student population, as well as things that they see time to report that is recommendations on how to make campus more acceptable. Why don't you take both more in person, Sophia to do our ad add anything else to that?

Sophia 2:12
Yeah, for sure. I just wanted to mention as well, that we hosted some peer discussion groups this year, virtually, obviously. And we also created a task force, with different representatives on campus, different groups on campus, that deal with accessibility advocacy, to hear from the students and to hear from students at Western of the issues of importance that they see fit with accessibility. So we gathered a lot of student feedback this year, and it was awesome.

Ashton 2:45
I can imagine that the feedback this year was interesting due to the pandemic, since a lot of things were done virtually. What did you guys discover?

Emily 3:00
Oh, man, we found a lot of different things. The responses and the overall data that we have seen from the report, from the report this year, has been a super interesting. So the main two, the two main things from this survey was the overall professor and academic instructor attitudes towards disability or to students with disability at Western, also the emerging mental health crisis that comes with the pandemic that we have seen so far. Yes, Sophia, do you wanna add anything else?

Sophia 3:37
I think you covered the main points. Um, I just want to highlight the mental health crisis because I think that was a very key factor that we found in the survey, I think it was over 95% of students indicated that they had suffered some mental health concerns during their university time at Western. So definitely a key statistic there. And that is for sure only, uhm, it's only emphasized with COVID-19 and with the pandemic that we're in so.

Emily 4:11
We also, I just also wanted to add that we had over 900 responses on this survey, compared to last year's survey, it was a major, major difference in terms of how many responses we got. So last year we had about 139 and that was mainly for students registered with Accessible Education at Western. This year, we kind of like made it a little more broad and to kind of reach out to as many students as possible at Western but with a main focus on students with disabilities or those registered with Accessible Education, and turns out about this 70% of the respondents were students registered with Accessible Education so obviously super happy with the result of the number of responses we got. And I think that the data from this survey will be super beneficial for the years to come really, uhm, because the pandemic is probably going to be around for a while. So I think the data from this survey will be like super helpful for sure. Yeah, that's a great point. And

Jalesa 5:23
I know you guys mentioned that a key finding was the mental health crisis. So I just want to take a step back. And I know you mentioned conducting various focus groups with various student groups. So I was wondering how you decided upon which student groups were included? I know, you mentioned students with disabilities, and those who worked with accessible education. So were there certain criteria? Or was it just more of a general broad approach?

Emily 5:52
Sophia, do you want to talk a little bit about that? Because that was kind of like, your main project this year?

Sophia 5:59
Yeah, um,

I think in terms of the survey, it was more open ended. And we kind of let students from all years of undergrad. And some alumni as well respond to the survey, in terms of the data and the feedback that we got throughout the year, our student feedback groups, so the peer discussion groups, I didn't head those. But we had a lot of different students come into those groups with a lot of different concerns to raise. So those groups were very, very key in kind of guiding our discussions throughout the year, the task force was made up of students who were just advocates and allies towards accessibility, and also students who had some accessibility concerns themselves. So we talked a lot about the issues that students with accessibility needs face on campus, we talked about a lot about Professor attitudes, we talked a lot about instructor training, we talked a lot about mental health as well in those, in those groups. So I think the survey and the findings that we got from the survey really complement a lot of the discussions that we had, at least within the task force, a lot of students brought up those issues as well. You know, Proctor track, linear exams, the testing environment, the pandemic just kind of highlights a lot of those accessibility concerns. And so all that to say we had a lot of different students in those focus groups come to us with a lot of different concerns that were only highlighted by COVID. So.

Ashton 7:37
That's a lot to take in, and it's a lot to digest. What I'm really interested in learning more about is what did you guys discover about what students had to say about their professors, the relationships with their professors?

Emily 7:56
So there were quite a few different things, in terms of the interaction, where, instructors, the professors, TA's, it seems like there's almost a dismissive attitude from the professor when the students have tried to reach out to them in terms of academic accommodation. And so professors sometimes are not really sure how to go about that sometimes they have a little bit more of a well, that's not really my issue. You know, like taking up with Accessible Education, etc. Some of them, some profs have been like really understanding, they've been like really a fair in terms of accommodation because of the pandemic, and because of the pandemic had really forced some people to really realize that no, like, we have to be flexible. We have to be understanding in a pandemic. But it seems like some professors are not doing exactly that. And so it is really interesting. Sofia, do you want to add anything else to that? I'm trying to think.

Sophia 9:10
Just as a statistic from the survey, said that 22, over 22% of our respondents had an academic accommodation refused by a professor. So just that alone kind of highlights the need for us to bridge the gap between, you know, students requesting these accommodations and professors. We need to make both parties, you know, uhm, able to have those conversations. And we need to make sure students are comfortable and that professors have the training and that they're comfortable also going into those conversations. So yeah, just to highlight that statistic.

Jalesa 9:46
Yeah, I think that's a really great point. And I know Emily mentioned, just in light of the pandemic, we've realized that we have to implement a lot more accommodations and a few discussions that have been happening in the disability community are the fact that a lot accommodations that were previously refused are now being implemented for people who are maybe able bodied, just showing that there is the opportunity and the resources to implement these. But it may not have been done in the past. So I was wondering if you or Sophia could speak to that?

Emily 10:24
Yeah, it's really interesting, because when you said that, the biggest thing that came to my mind, is just how before the pandemic, to think that people were constantly having to like ask for the accommodation, they constantly have the advocate for themselves. As for different accommodation that best suits their needs, in turn for like a better, more acceptable learning experience for them or something else, you know, like, we're paying quite a bit of money to get the education though. And then it's interesting because when the pandemic hit everything, just they shipped it over to OWL, and it was really acceptable for a lot of people. Professors were more flexible, they were more understanding. And then you did even most of you courses were online and you could like ask the Professor, would record a lecture, and post it on OWL. And a lot of students have asked for that particular thing before the pandemic and professor's were really kind of like resistant to that idea. And then, but when the pandemic hit, it was like, Oh, yeah, no problem, everything going to be on OWL. No, like, we've got to try to make things as accessible as possible. So it's just like really interesting in terms of like my personal experience, and I have some academic accommodation barriers in person, especially when it comes to like closed captioning and professors would have, like a movie from the 1980s that didn't have closed captioning. I'm like Hello, no, like, are they any closed captioning for this? And basically, the response I got was, well, I don't know how to do that. You know like you're just going to have to kind of figure that out for yourself that kinda thing. So it's just like a very interesting attitude shift for me, between before and after the pandemic, but yeah.

Sophia 12:25
I just wanted to add as well. Yes, there, there have been some accommodations that have been met from moving to the online environment. But I think moving to the online environment has also highlighted the need for new types of accommodations. And students have raised new concerns with moving to this online environment, right, we see concerns with linear exams, we've seen concerns with students not being able to have paper copies of their exams on the online format. So those are some new types of accommodations and concerns that students are raising to us. And we've also seen that, you know, some students might prefer the online environment, some students have a hard time traveling on campus and getting to and from campus. So you know, looking at possibly in a post pandemic world, having that online option, you know, still as as an option for students. So it's definitely an interesting concept to look at accommodation in the online environment.

Ashton 13:24
I'm glad you mentioned accommodations in the online environment, especially when it comes to like being virtual. And it's easier for some students with disabilities not having to come to campus. And I remember that, prior to the pandemic, there's always a battle with getting lectures recorded, so that people that can't attend campus can still get access to those lecture notes. And I'm glad that you mentioned Proctor, I mean Proctor track and issues with exams. Can you talk more about how that ties in because I know with the online recording issue beforehand, it was all about academic integrity and not having professors works out there that was easily spread. But it seems like now, in the online environment, the concern about academic integrity, the assumption of people cheating while they're doing an exam online, or people that are neurodivergent or may have certain disabilities that cause them to move or switch eye gazes and that would be picked up by Proctor track. Can you talk more about the issues around Proctor track? in exams? Yeah, I

Sophia 14:35
can start this one off. We've seen huge concerns over Proctor track. It causes a lot of anxiety for students just the process of getting onto that software, having someone watching you while you're writing your entire exam. I personally don't have accommodations myself but using Proctor track is stressful for any student. It is absolutely anxiety inducing. You know your eye movements are unfairly tracked, you can't look outside your computer screen, you can't make noises. Some students might need to talk to themselves while they're writing a test, some students might need to look up and take a break every once in a while. And you know, you just can't do those things with a software like Proctor track. I think a some sort of a survey or a signing document went out a long time ago. And a lot of students signed on to this petition just saying to get rid of Proctor track. It's, it's we've seen a lot of feedback on Proctor track of it just being not fair. For the accessible environment. So yeah.

Emily 15:38
Yeah, Sofia hit it right on the head. I just, I also wanted to add there's been also some concerns about Proctor track, they hack your personal computer and being like, stealing some personal information. Personally, I've never had to use the software, thankfully. But I've heard some like horror stories about like, having people having a bank account, they hack into, they've had like hundreds of dollars 1000s of dollar being like taken from the account, it's super crazy. Honestly, it's just not. It's such an invasive, and not accessible software at all. So I'm hoping that Western will come to, just kinda see that and hopefully to eradicate, eradicate it altogether.

Jalesa 16:30
Yeah, you brought up some really great points. So I know we talked about lectures and professors and accommodations, and exams. So in light of this and what you've learned from the survey, what would be some recommendations that you'd want to give to Western either specific offices or programs or institutions as a whole?

Emily 16:53
Yes, so we do have at the end of year data report, we came up with some recommendations. First of all, the first time was to eradicate Proctor track because of all the, different features that it has, but also to try to alleviate, but also eradicate the new exam format. When you answer a question, and then you can't even like go back to the previous question, it is not acceptable at all for maybe like people with memory recall issue or even sight. But anybody who cannot like come up with the answer right a way and they have to kind of like guess and then they have to like continue. And so there's like a very short time limit. So again, from my personal experience, I had a quiz that was 15 questions in 15 minutes, it was linear. And it was the most nerve wracking. Oh, it was so bad. So that's also another thing. And also, how have the option for students to have paper copies of the exam, when they're writing online just to be able to print it out. And some people they just perform better on paper. So they should have that as an option. And also more Professor and instructor training to really bridge that gap between student and instructor. And make both groups feel comfortable when approaching conversation about academic accommodation, and also be doing so I'm not sure most people know about this, but at the beginning of the year, Western Zoom accounts did not have closed captioning. There's a feature that has automatic closed captioning that other universities seem to have except for Western so I would say really thats rather frustrating because you know like that's something that most places have done in the beginning. So the USC Accessibility Committee really advocated for that with uhm, Victoria, the VP of university affairs under the university student council she did an amazing job about that. And then also, more, more training for professors like sensitivity training when understanding the disability spectrum knowing that you know every person is different, every, uhm, not two people with similar diagnosis or similar disabilities does not mean the same thing. So just overall more training for professors and also have that option to do online courses post the pandemic like after the pandemic plan to have the in person classes again, we really want to see that option for online courses for some people who may be immunocompromised? Or they're not able to, like attend in person if the pandemic is still like, around? Maybe they are just not comfortable being in person. Sophia, anything, anything else? Yeah,

Sophia 20:19
I just I think you touched on perfectly on the academic side of things, I wanted to also touch on the mental health data from our survey and some of the surprising things that we heard from students on that end. And one thing I think is really important when we talk about mental health, and when we talk about accessibility is intersectionality. And so we heard from a lot of students when accessing mental health services at Western that mental health services were not as intersectional as they would like. So for example, when you know, students have a mental health concern, relating that mental health concern to other concerns and other factors of their life, such as gender, sexuality, family issues, ethnicity and other issues, personal issues to a student. And so having those, that intersectional lens towards mental health is really, really important. So that if a student is facing a specific issue, they can have someone that understands that specific issue and that specific struggle from that intersectional lens to talk to. So that's one really big theme that I wanted to highlight that we found from the survey and and from students, and also a really big theme of discussion in our task force groups intersectionality. And the importance of talking about these issues from an intersectional lens. Yeah, I

Jalesa 21:42
just wanted to go back to the point you made Emily just about in person courses, and the fact that a lot of students are unable to go to these courses, being immunocompromised if they're not feeling well, those days. And I know that in some cases, courses do have these attendance quotas, as if you have to come in a certain amount of times, or you won't be able to get a certain grade. And I think there is this assumption that students, you know, may not want to go in in that case. But I think you really highlighted an important point that sometimes it does come down to being a health issue. And in light of the pandemic, we can implement those accommodations, and just connecting it to what you said, Sophia, what do you think would be the best way to go about navigating implementing these recommendations? You talked about things such as Professor training, and getting rid of Proctor track? What do you think would be the best way for students and professors or students and Western University as an institution to collaborate to get these recommendations implemented?

Sophia 22:44
Personally, I think what we need to do is have more of these open dialogues and have students get involved in more and more groups like this. I know with the CAS report, and with other things, Western is really looking to get students more involved and to hear more from students. So I think just highlighting the importance of student voice and getting students with lived experience into these types of groups to share their stories to staff and to other folks at Western. I think that's really important, and that will make a difference.

Emily 23:20
Yeah, 100%, I agree with Sophia, I really want to emphasize, to emphasize that, no, you can't have a conversation about accessibility or accessibility related issue without involving the type people themselves, you know, like, the point is that it's so important to really try to implement accessible features as much as possible. But you also have to include those voices, those people, those lived experiences. So yeah, 100%. I agree with Sophia.

Ashton 24:00
You're right. There's plenty of ways that there needs to be more communication, bridging the gap. And I'm glad from knowing you both, that you were able to present to the Strategic Planning Committee. How was that reception? Did you feel like you were heard? And have you presented it to other committees on campus? And how do they take the news?

Emily 24:28
I think the information that we have presented in terms of different reports or data on the server data, the information has been received pretty well by the campus community. So we've had two presentations to the Western EDI network that is led by Dr. Nicole Kaniki. She's is phenomenal and also some other department people like department heads, it's pretty prominent because at Western they were involved in those meeting. And it seems like we've gotten some pretty positive responses. And we've had some other people reach out to us for like some follow up, it seems like they are pretty invested, they are listening and really acknowledging that, no, like, Western really has some gaps in terms of accessibility. They're not really, they're not really sugar coating that, that they really understand that. And they are actively listening they're trying to like really, make some improvement and progressive changes and understanding that, that, you have to listen to the students with disabilities themselves. It's not like something that, you know, like, higher up people are addressing that's just kind of like, Oh, well, no, we got it covered. We really have to listen to people that are involved in the process. Yeah.

Jalesa 26:05
Awesome. So

I know, we talked about presenting information to different campus community groups. So I kind of wanted to take a turn in the conversation. I know, a key component of the USC is clubs, and the club life on campus. And I know there was a document produced for clubs just in terms of being more accessible. So I was wondering if you could speak a bit to that in terms of clubs, whether you shared it with them, and how you see new accessibility recommendations playing a role in the club life at Western.

Sophia 26:36
I can touch on this a little bit. Um, so this year, like I mentioned, we ran a task force and we had representatives from a lot of different clubs on campus. And we did talk about a need for there to be some guidelines in terms of when clubs run events, and when clubs, hire new representatives, you know, how do you go about that in an access, in an accessible way. So we shared some information there. This year, the USC accessibility committee also created a handbook, where we highlighted a bunch of accessibility resources on campus off campus. And we shared that with students. And we also talked about that in the task force. So honestly, just brainstorming a lot of different resources, and trying to figure out ways to improve those resources. A lot of club representatives were really engaged and really interested in learning more about how to make their own clubs accessible. We also had soph groups come up to us and ask, you know, how they can be more accessible to their students. So that was really interesting conversations we had there. And I'll leave it at that if Emily wants to add anything.

Emily 27:44
I don't think so. I think you covered pretty much all the main points. The handbook, I am, I was super excited because it's something that I wish I had asked her to, in my first year because my first year I, oh, man, it was a mess for me. In terms of my academic accommodation, I was not able to get an interpreter for like 90% of my courses at Western so. And that really had a major impact, I was just kind of feeling like alone, I wasn't sure like what the resources were at Western, I didn't know what kind of services there were. So in my first year, I was just about like, completely lost. I walked in, I wasn't having my accommodation met. And so I think that if we, if there was the handbook or something similar to that in my first year I think that would be like, super powerful. So we made this handbook. And they are most specifically for those incoming first year students with disabilities. But also, it can be a really great source for our staff, like Sophia mentioned, like staff other maybe like club members, like second, third, fourth year, students that may know other people, with disabilities at Western, so it is not really, it's the handbook that's for anyone really. So I'm like super excited. I'm super proud of the committee for putting this together.

Ashton 29:23
So there's clearly a demand for the information you guys have in the handbook. And it seems like there's a demand for information about what you collected from the survey. Where can people from the western community learn more about the survey results from the USC Accessibility Committee and find the handbook?

Emily 29:51
Sorry, can you repeat the question?

Ashton 29:55
No problem. So there's a huge demand for the information you have gathered, clearly for the need for that information in the handbook. And then also getting those resources from the community about what the accessibility needs are from students. Where can students and members of the Western community find the handbook? find information about the survey? And also find out more about the USC accessibility committee?

Emily 30:28
Yeah, that's a great question. So the handbook is what we have been posting on our social media on Instagram and Facebook. So, but we're also working with the USC on the higher level to try to have the handbook but also the data we gathered to have on their website. And I'm believe that Doctor Kaniki have a copy of the handbook and also the cyber data report. So it's possible that it could be like, indoors on different Western websites. So I'm not sure what the plan is yet with that. But it's very possible that now like Western could have a copy of the handbook and the server data on the website, but the USC will definitely have a copy of the handbook and the server data on. So I believe that the USC Accessibility Committee has a separate link under the USC website. So I think for next year, they should have a copy of the survey data as well with the handbook up there.

Yeah. Thanks, Emily. So

Jalesa 31:41
we'll be sure to put that in our show note description. So I know you mentioned earlier just about your first year experience and your personal experiences with having difficulty receiving and organizing accommodations. So on that note, I was wondering, what is one thing for you and Sophia, that you'd like Western students to know, or just students in general who are coming to Western for the first time, just about accessibility on campus?

Emily 32:11
Oh, man, um, I think the biggest thing is to don't be afraid to self advocate for yourself, because you have to really look out for yourself because sometimes other people may not be there is no expert on yourself, like you are. So it's really important that you know, your research, understand what your rights are. Yes, it really self advocate because you deserve the right to, like an accessible education, because you shouldn't have. Other people shouldn't have to say no, like, other people shouldn't have not, like, have any way of interfering with that. So I think that just kind of like my biggest one piece of advice is to really self advocate, do some research, maybe look for like some resources prior to moving to Western, and see what kind of resources and services at Western, but also in the London community.

Sophia 33:21
So I have a brother with autism. And that's kind of the reason behind, you know, me getting involved in accessibility. And due to lack of understanding, he's been judged a lot by his peers by you know, people in society, just again, due to a lack of understanding. So I want to talk to the students who don't have accessibility concerns, and I want to tell you to educate yourselves, and to make sure that you are good allies to those with disabilities, and to those in the accessibility community. Because, you know, just seeing my brother and you know, seeing him be judged and ridiculed in society, it's, it's taught me a lot. And it's taught me to educate myself on things that I don't understand. So I hope that everyone in the Western community can stay educated and make sure they're, they're being a good ally. So that's the message I wanted to bring across.

Ashton 34:17
Great advice from both of you, Sophia and Emily, are there any final words you have for us today?

Emily 34:34
Um, I think the one last thing I just would like to say is that accessibility is necessary, but everyone is just not really for people with disabilities it is literally for everyone because if one thing is accessible for some type of people, it's accessible, but that'd be wrong. So it's not, it's almost like a common misconception that no people with disability they have special treatment they have like this kind of like coasting the way through life when they're getting the accommodation is so not true you know. It's the understanding of equity, you know like resources are made accessible accordingly to people needs. And that's something that really hit me in university. Before, before university I was kinda, oh well you know, like disability, accessibility, I come from, like a very small town in northern Ontario. So, and there's a very much ableist attitude up here, because there's not a whole lot of exposure to disabled people up here. So I kind of almost had that internalized ableism. And, but then I came to university and have all these different exposure to different type of people. The Accessibility Committee, taking an accessibility study at Kings, I recommend any disability study courses. It's a good professor, he's amazing. But yeah, I still kind of yeah, accessibility is literally for everyone, it's something that needs to be implemented automatically. And it shouldn't be an afterthought, because now it's 2021 like, come on like, be human. Every human being has the right to fully participate in society. And we should be doing it all the time now.

Ashton 36:42
Sophia, do you have any last words?

Sophia 36:45
I mean, I just echo everything Emily said, I think that's a perfect way to, you know, and my final words as well, and to kind of end this off because everything she said is absolutely right. And I yeah, I just want to echo everything she said.

Jalesa 37:03
I love the point that you made Emily, just saying accessibility is for everyone. Like when we think of elevators, even automatic doors, closed captions, like those things benefit everyone. And it's so important to just have a unified approach in accessibility as a basic human right. So we just wanted to thank you for coming on the podcast today for being our first guests and for just sharing the information about Western's USC Accessibility Committee, and just about the work that Western is doing and that students are doing just to promote accessibility on campus in a way that without meaning as pun, is accessible. So thank you again for coming. And yeah, we will be sure to post your information and social media in the show notes. And thank you for listening everyone.

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