By Dani-Elle Dubé
“Just because someone has a learning disability, it doesn’t mean they’re not capable.”
It’s the view of Sara Jordan, counsellor for Algonquin’s Centre for Students with Disabilities, and raising awareness of that and other facts is behind Learning Disabilities Awareness Month.
“It’s important to know that every learning disability is different,” said Sara Jordan, counsellor at the Centre for Students with Disabilities (CSD) at Algonquin. “Just because someone has a learning disability, doesn’t mean they’re not capable. It means they need to be accommodated to help them overcome the challenges presented to them from their learning disability.”
Between April 1 and Oct. 9, all three Algonquin campuses registered 572 students with learning disabilities. The Ontario Colleges Committee on Disability Issues reported over 8,000 registered students with a learning disability province-wide in 2011.
“A learning disability is defined as the difference between cognitive abilities,” said Jordan. “They do very well in one area and in another area they’re challenged and it makes it very hard for them to get their ideas across to a certain extent or express themselves. But there’s many different kinds of learning disabilities.”
Learning disabilities may affect a person’s listening, speaking, reading, writing or mathematic skills and can range in severity, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada website.
A 2010 report by the Social Planning Council of Ottawa revealed that education access barriers still remain for those with disabilities and that over 45 per cent of youth between ages 15 and 24 have not yet completed a certificate or diploma.
Jordan wasn’t surprised by the statistic.
“There are more barriers to overcome if you have a disability,” said Jordan. “So, if the right accommodations aren’t in place then it is more difficult for you to succeed. That’s when someone with a disability needs to become a really good self-advocate and be proactive at times in seeking out support.”
Dual-credit programs are offered to high school students seeking a more comfortable transition into post-secondary education.
Kimiya Keyhan, manager of Academic Partnerships, says that although nothing is specifically done for students with disabilities through this program, the program is helpful and extra support is always there through the CSD.
Karen Coffey, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and diversity advisor with Algonquin’s Accessibilities Office, says that services like the CSD are there to support students to ensure that they have a successful college experience.
“I think Algonquin has done a tremendous job in ensuring that all of our services, be it education or Student Services, are accessible,” said Coffey. “I think that there is a gap in services for individuals with disabilities who may not be college-ready, but I think that once the students are college-ready and they’re here, the services are available and the students do well.”
The Accessibilities Office’s role is to verify that the college meets all legislated requirements of the AODA, a provincial legislation mandating standards of accessibility for public institutions.
In order to receive support from the CSD, the disability must be diagnosed through a psychologist and paperwork must be provided. Students then meet with a counselor and will be provided with an Individual Student Plan (ISP), a strategy that outlines accommodations needed for the student by the college.
“I find that (the college) is very accommodating,” said Jordan. “I think that we are very progressive in supporting students with disabilities. But like anything else, if you’re not already working in the field and familiar with it, then there might be a lack of understanding at the start. But I find that people at Algonquin work hard to understand the needs that the student has in order to accommodate them.”