The Accessibility Services team at Mount Saint Vincent University provides individualized support to the more than 300 students registered with them. They promote an equitable learning environment through self-advocacy, helping students to identify and access supports and accommodations unique to their needs. And though the pandemic has required a shift to largely virtual operations at MSVU, Accessibility Services remains available to students at a distance.

“We remain open for appointments and conversations by phone, online and email to work together for student success,” says Gloria Johnston, Manager of Accessibility Services. “We are always here to advocate and suggest pathways so that students are supported and can complete their courses.”

The switch to online learning

When the campus shifted to primarily virtual operations in March, the team remained committed to helping students, including helping with the shift to online learning. “The key has been the collaboration of all the departments and faculty at MSVU,” said Gloria.

One significant change was the closure of the in-person testing centre, but Accessibility Services was there to support that transition too – working with faculty and the Teaching and Learning Centre and Online Learning as all testing moved online.

The switch to online learning has been beneficial for some students with accessibility issues. When learning online, students can often better control their learning environments such as having a focus object, food during exams, and seating requirements.

In the switch to online learning, staff in Accessibility Services have also noted a strong uptake among faculty of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Principles of UDL include variant formatting and multiple means of demonstrating learning which benefit all students and reduce the need for some individualized accommodations in the learning environment. Among the UDL resources available are design services from the Library and Print Shop focused on helping faculty to make course readings accessible, intuitive, navigable, annotatable and designed for online learning.

For students with technology issues, Accessibility Services has been providing support by liaising with faculty on deadlines and timing accommodations, for example, seeking alternate ways of submitting

coursework, and seeking funding for equipment for eligible students.

What’s next?

And while they continue to support summer students, the Accessibility Services team has also started to turn its attention to planning for fall, with courses continuing online for that semester too.

Plans are underway for the team to join in an online orientation with MSVU colleagues from across a variety of other departments, during which they’ll connect with students on the services they offer and the rights of students with disabilities. As well, workshops are in development to support faculty in their efforts to create inclusive classrooms, whether virtual or in person.

Resources for students continue to be added to the Accessibility Services website, and they recently introduced Instagram and Facebook pages to help connect with students as they learn from home.

Accessibility Services can be reached at 902-457-6576 or via email at accessiblityservice@msvu.ca.

Gloria Johnston
Gloria Johnston, Manager of Accessibility Services