Student academic accommodations enhanced through new system

Pursuing a university degree is a challenging task all its own, but doing so while living with a disability or temporary but ongoing medical or mental health condition can create additional obstacles to overcome.

To help students in need of accommodation more effectively tackle post-secondary learning, Brock University recently updated its online accessibility service information system (OASIS).

After nearly five years within Student Accessibility Services (SAS), the system, which provides access for students requiring specific academic accommodations during their studies, has undergone changes for the Fall Term.

The modifications will allow for accommodation requests to be addressed in a more timely manner by faculty and the more than 1,500 students currently using the system.

“Instructors are now able to respond to the necessary accommodation as soon as a student has registered,” said Judith Brooder, Brock’s Manager of SAS. Feedback from faculty has been used to enhance lines of communication between SAS and instructors and will allow for more dialogue about the accommodations required in each class.

Students may require accommodation for a variety of reasons, including diagnosis of learning disabilities, mental health disorders, or physical, vision or hearing disabilities.

Through OASIS, they have access to an array of resources and can view their approved accommodations, gain assistance with lecture notes and book separate examination rooms.

Suggestions are also offered for how instructors can proactively incorporate the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into classes — a framework designed to support an accessible environment for all learners that includes strategies such as offering shorter tests in longer time periods and delivering material online to allow students to answer questions with word processors or digital recording devices.

“Thanks to ongoing support from Information Technology Services (ITS), the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (CPI) and Brock faculty members, we continue to shift towards a more social model that considers the systemic barriers, such as access to lecture information online or flexible options for the completion of course components, that our students experience,” said Brooder.

Further change has come in the form of the OASIS site’s layout. Emphasis has been shifted to reflect the accommodation and what action is required from the instructor rather than focusing only on the student.

“We want to continue to encourage autonomy for our students,” said Student Accessibility Case Manager Lisa Peso. “OASIS allows them to navigate the resources that are available to them and maintain their own independence, while also knowing that faculty members are aware of the accommodations they need.”

Assistive Technologist and Technical Analyst David Standish said OASIS had to be assembled from the ground up to ensure it met students’ needs while also complying with the policies of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

“Brock is in a unique position where a custom system was developed in-house to meet the specific needs of SAS,” he said. “Our team is very thankful that ITS continues to provide support that allows new ideas and new features to be experienced by students, instructors and SAS staff through OASIS. The system was designed, built and continues to grow as a direct result of the partnership with ITS, specifically Director of Enterprise Solutions Audrey Fehlow and the development team.”

Faculty are encouraged to interact with the new site, which includes operational video instructions and links for providing further system feedback.

To learn more about the OASIS system, students can visit the SAS website, while faculty members can visit the SAS SharePoint site.

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