By Executive Director, Tammy C. Yates
Since 1992, the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) has been annually observed on December 3rd around the world. The theme for this year’s IDPD is “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. In marking IDPD this year, Realize hosted a webinar on our project titled ‘Fostering INclusion and Environments of Support for Students with Episodic Disabilities (FINESSED)’ on November 28th.
The objectives of the FINESSED project are to develop a training program for post-secondary education teaching and support staff to:
- raise awareness of the challenges faced by students living with episodic disabilities and,
- Provide strategies to support and accommodate students living with episodic disabilities
The impetus to explore this area of work came out of an initial Think Tank that we conducted in 2015 and a literature review on episodic disabilities and post-secondary education that was done to inform that event. The initial findings of the literature review – and subsequent explorations of the topic through surveys and an in-person summit held in October this year – demonstrate the following:
- An increasing number of post-secondary students are experiencing episodic disabilities;
- There is a lack of awareness or training for staff about episodic disabilities;
- Stigma and bias against invisible and episodic disabilities is quite evident;
- There are inconsistent definitions of disability;
- Inconsistent consideration is given for situations where there is an episodic disability;
- Eligibility for accommodations among students with episodic disabilities is problematic;
- Students with episodic disabilities often face financial challenges;
- Tensions exist related to perceived academic integrity and requests for accommodation; and
- Systemic inflexibility stymies the process for students, instructors and disability support services staff.
As noted by Consultant Elisabeth Harrison in our literature review on Episodic Disability and Post-Secondary Education in Canada (CWGHR, 2015), “As Canada transitions to a “knowledge based economy,” undertaking post-secondary education has become particularly important for all students (Fichten et al., 2003). Human Resources and Skills Development Canada estimates that in the period from 2008-2017, 75% of new jobs in Canada will require applicants to have post-secondary education, and 70% of positions replacing retired workers will require post-secondary education (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 2011).” “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”, therefore, must include removing barriers to the successful completion of post-secondary education for students living with episodic disabilities and as such, we resolve to continue our work in this area.