Landing : Athabascau University

Episodic Disabilities and Post-secondary Education in Canada

The paper looks at how well students with episodic disabilities (e.g. chronic illnesses like asthma, HIV, psychiatric illnesses) are served by Canadian post-secondary institutions.

"Post-secondary education has been identified as an especially important social determinant of health in that it provides disabled individuals - particularly women, who are especially vulnerable to the downward mobility that accompanies the onset of chronic incurable illnesses - with opportunities to find more flexible, well-paid and professional employment."



  • Jon Dron June 9, 2015 - 10:32am

    It is disappointing that there was no mention of institutions like Athabasca and Teluq that bypass a fair number of these problems (although we do of course have our own special accessibility challenges). The assumption that post-secondary education means face-to-face is very deep-set in some circles!

  • Sandra Law June 10, 2015 - 12:09pm

    True, the report does focus on f2f institutions. Students with disabilities are already isolated from social opportunities on f2f campuses (Foley & Ferri, 2011). Unless the online environment mitigates such social exclusion, it doesn't have much to recommend it. Courses need to be designed in a way that gives students an opportunity to interact with peers within their home institution and in the broader community.

    A recent CBC story spoke to the social isolation of deaf and hard of hearing students at Canadian universities when compared to students attending Gallaudett University in the USA. "It's a very isolating experience to be the only deaf person in a completely non-deaf environment."

    Though I realize that a proportion of students at AU are very instrumental in their approach to their education, others want to establish connections with instructors, tutors and peers while at university. The problem of social isolation of students in the online environment and particularly students with disabilities is not an easy fix but I think we need to ensure adequates supports are in place if we are to recommend an exclusively online/distance education for students with disabilities.

    Foley, A. and Ferri, B.A. (2011). Technology for people, not disabilities: ensuring access and inclusion. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12(4), 192-200. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-3802.2011.01230.x

  • Jon Dron June 10, 2015 - 12:27pm

    Hear hear! (excuse the unintended pun). I strongly believe that, at least for some students, online learning can greatly diminish the social distance, even and especially when compared with face-to-face teaching. The widely believed myth that physical distance necessarily means isolation is simply wrong, though there are too many examples, even in our own institution, where it is reinforced.

    Especially for those that are excluded from full participation in a face-to-face setting, online learning can be liberating and richly connected, and awareness of the other people involved in the process can be greater even than when students are packed into a physical lecture hall. We desperately need to make more of that: the Landing is one partial solution but it only goes so far, hobbled in its effectiveness as long as it is just another site to visit. I think its fundamental design pattern of ubiquitously enabled opportunities for dialogue and engagement should be built into every single online space we create, from registration pages to online books.  There should not be a single page in our online environment that does not incorporate the means to engage with others. I don't just mean a link to Facebook or even the means to bookmark something on the Landing. We need to make people and their interactions tangible whenever and wherever they gather.