A step in the right direction, but more improvements are needed
When the new Brad Hornung Accommodations Test Centre for students was announced, I was skeptical of how well the centre would serve students like myself. But now, after having used the centre a few times, I can say that this centre is one of the few times the university has not utterly failed at meeting accessibility needs for students. Students have tried for years to be heard, but not much changed for the student body until recently when the push was made for more barriers to be reduced and removed for people with disabilities.
I sat for three terms as the director of students with disabilities on the University of Regina Student’s Union. I had run because the university was doing the bare minimum and sometimes even failed to do that for student with disabilities. I was tired of seeing the same old half-baked attempts and words with little to no action behind them. I ended up burning myself out very quickly with very little to show for it other than something to be put on a resume because of others’ unwillingness to push aside their biases and listen. I was representing the student perspective in academic misconduct hearings when decisions were appealed and also did so in other student appeals hearings. These meetings were where I started to see who actually supported students with disabilities and who did not.
The university has had some notable failures for students with disabilities, such as accessibility buttons not opening doors because no one turned them on that morning. When the elevator beside Tim Hortons in Riddell was being updated, access to Visual Arts Area on the second floor was blocked because the buttons were not turned on to open the doors. Accessible lounges being accessible was left up to the group in charge of the space; numerous ableist comments from professors being ignored, and oh so many more issues that are never addressed. The Brad Hornung Accommodations Test Centre offers more accessible, shared test spaces that are quite spacious and well lit, private spaces with adjustable tables and adjustable lights, a large accessible bathroom that has a door powered by a button (Hey look! They can turn buttons on!) along with a bed that can be used for certain medical assistance needs – and the staff are quick to greet you with a smile and wish you good luck prior to your test.
Due to the fact I have been attending university since 2015, I recognize a few staff members who work at the new testing centre and have started to be able to recognize the new faces. This type of familiarity has helped build my confidence in how well my test-based accommodations are handled. I also know that these are people who genuinely mean it when they do offer you words of encouragement.
The waiting room also has some of those positive thought posters around it. Originally, I did not really care much for these, but now I find reading them while I’m super anxious calms me a little. While it might be weird to praise a bathroom, this bathroom is the most accessibility-friendly bathroom I have seen that wasn’t in a medical centre of some sort. While it won’t meet every accessibility need of a student, there is still a lot there, like the handles near the toilet, a bed that helps with certain care task if needed, and if I am remembering correctly, a track on the ceiling with a harness that leads to the toilet. The only real addition I’d make is adding a second bathroom near where the testing rooms are, which really goes to show how far the university went in covering accessibility.
The biggest hiccup with the new centre (and accommodations in general) is the new portal, Accommodate, which is not really user friendly to brand new users. About a year and a half into using it, I still get confused most of the time. The old letter request was very simple; all a student did was enter their URegina email, student number, pick the semester, add any notes if needed (such as not needing accommodations for a certain class), click submit, and that was it.
In 2016, I did my letters myself, as often the accessibility centre does your first request for you when you register your accommodations. This was so simple for me that I felt confident in having my professors at least aware of what accommodations I need. Now Accommodate is confusing, and adds more work on the student than before. While yes, it is on the students to get their letters to the professor still, using software that isn’t user friendly isn’t a good practice.
The University of Regina still has accessibility issues to deal with to remove barriers students face, but this testing centre has shown there is promise for improvement for student if the university is willing to make the necessary commitments. I truly do hope if I look back at the University of Regina 10 years down line, the accessibility improvements do not stop at just a testing centre.