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First steps for students

🔆 Prior to enrolment

  • Check the modalities of support, teaching, and evaluation. Yes, you should be able to do anything you put your mind to; only don't make things more difficult for yourself than necessary. Sometimes, when looking around, you can find that there are more adapted alternatives worth considering for the same results (or better).

  • Reach out! Go to the open days to see the grounds and the people yourself. Contact the student desk and ask practical questions, however simple they may seem. If you know what to expect, things might be a lot easier down the road. Being in touch with the people there also lets you know much about their state of mind regarding disability and accessibility.

🔆 Expand your network

Check out the available support: student associations, tutors, student life officers, therapists, and information seminars. Expanding your network translates into expanding your support system. Everyone involved can help you in different, specific ways. Even if you don't need it now, it is always useful to know about it, and it will make the process of asking for and getting help much easier when you need it.

🔆 Gather medical documentation

Before each academic year or after a noteworthy change in the state of your disability, make sure you have updated medical documentation if possible.

Such documents might be requested from you later on to complement your accommodations requests, and it is not always possible to see a doctor in short delays.

🔆 Write a letter to your teachers

Introduce yourself, and give a short, relevant description of your disability, what situations are challenging, and the possible solutions. Giving out such information in a standardized way has two main benefits: 1. You can keep a record of what has been said and 2. it prevents you from forgetting something (as you probably would if you had to do this vocally multiple times).

  • You can refer to the dedicated page of the Disability Handbook for descriptions and accommodations.

  • Take some time to think about the challenges you face in your studies and the possible solutions.

  • You must be comfortable with the content of your letter: you do not owe your teachers extensive information about yourself.

  • No need to be personal! Stay focused on what is relevant to the teaching/learning circumstances.

  • Make yourself available to meet with your teacher, if necessary, for follow-up questions, specific challenges, etc.

🔆 Ask for accommodations 

You have a right to accessible education. Request the accommodations you need to make it happen.

  • Before: Inform yourself of the process. Most often, it is very proactive. Thus, it is up to you to meet with the university’s doctor, officers, and the board responsible for such requests.

    • Check the deadlines!

    • Check what documents might be required.

    • Check whether meetings are required (doctors, university officers).

  • Draft your request. This is the most challenging step. You should take some time to think about it. If possible, ask a friend to review it and give you feedback. Most importantly, find the balance between the information required about yourself, your disability, and what is relevant in this context.

    • What are the challenges you face? Describe the situations and why they are challenging.

    • There are two ways to respond to a challenge: you can make it accessible, or you should justify why you cannot do it at all and thus need an alternative assessment/setting.

  • Tips:

    • Don’t forget the attachments.

    • Stay formal. There is no need to be plaintive or familiar.

    • Use your letter and the Disability Handbook!

🔆 Share the Disability Handbook!

Most challenges related to disability arise from a lack of information. Teachers want to help but don't know how. Students ask for support but don't always know what they need. Administration members know there are initiatives to take and structural changes to make but don't know which course of action is effective and which isn't.

One thing you can do that will not cost you time (or money) and will make an impact, helping teachers and supporting students, is share the Disability Handbook with your institution's community. Individual action following up on the Disability Handbook's content can and will make a difference.

🔆 DOs and DON’Ts

✅ Be proactive. In most situations, proactivity is required. You can get the help you need, but you should be the one asking for it.

✅ Keep your boundaries. Some questions you will be asked might not be appropriate. For instance: "Why are you like this?", "Was it hard to grow up with this disability?", "What happened?" You do not have to answer.

✅ Stand up for yourself.

✅ Stay focused. There is no need to diverge: stay focused on the learning/teaching situations.

✅ Respect the hierarchy. Talk with your teachers before going over their heads.

✅ Keep track of your communications. In case of disagreements, you should be able to show what you argue for.

✅ Stay formal. Disability can be a personal matter, but this is a formal setting

❌ Don't harass your teachers. There is no need to send multiple emails daily. Don't go over their heads before they had a chance to get back to you. If you still haven't heard from them after too long, send a polite follow-up email before reaching out to someone else.

❌ Don't wait for the last minute. You have a right to accommodations and accessibility, which requires internal organization. If you didn't follow the procedures, you cannot expect your need to be met at the last minute (i.e., show up to an exam and announce you need extra time).

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