Cross-functional team creates virtual orientation for students with disabilities

A virtual resource is being developed at York University for prospective, new and returning students with disabilities. Comprised of an online collection of instructional clips and video resources, the material is being created to help students with disabilities learn about the array of support services that are available for them on York’s campuses.

The Virtual Orientation to Support Services for Students with Disabilities project, which is receiving support from the Catherine_bestAcademic Innovation Fund (AIF) at York University, involves an nine member multidisciplinary team of experts from the York University Libraries, Counseling & Disability Services and Learning & Technology Services.

Catherine Davidson, associate university librarian, collections

Led by AIF project champions Catherine Davidson, associate university librarian, collections, and Maureen Haig, manager, Learning Disability Services, the group is working with student stakeholders to develop an enduring inventory of virtual supports for students with disabilities.

“We want the resources to be ubiquitously available via the University Libraries’ website as well as through Counseling & Disability Services and as many other places that we can insinuate it – the Student Portal, Moodle and more,” says Davidson. “We are also planning to point to existing videos that have already been created about the Learning Commons [SPARK].”

Created in compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) guidelines, all of the material is being designed keeping universal accessibility in mind for use with screen readers and will be close captioned.

“This resource is needed because York can be a large, confusing place to navigate and understand,” says Davidson. “Our hope is that these instructional clips and videos will demystify the process of getting around the campus and provide students with a better understanding of what they need to do in order to obtain timely supports and services.”

“Students who are arriving at York from high school worked in a very different system for support where there was not a need to request services,” explains Haig. “The instructional clips and videos will give students a visual of where services are located prior to arriving on campus. This will reduce the anxiety that is often associated with asking for support services. At the same time, it also introduces students who might potentially need the support to a way to get in touch with our offices.”

To ensure the material meets the need of students, the project team worked with students in focus groups. “We had them evaluate the online material,” says Haig. “The feedback we received was that students usually start their first visit on campus at the Bennett Centre for Student Services and view this as their first point of contact.

“The students liked the idea of the instructional videos being available to them while they were off campus without human supports to assist them. They wanted more videos with more detail,” says Haig.

“Eventually with the next round of instructional videos, we hope to introduce students to software that might be geared specifically to students with disabilities for which the University holds the site license,” says Haig. “This will mean that any student can use the software to support their studies.”

The project complements work by another AIF project team developing SPARK, a virtual learning commons that will offer students 24/7 access to learning and research supports provided by the libraries.

“Our project expands the scope to specifically target needs of students with disabilities,” says Davidson. “Those same students also need to be made aware of the services available to them via the Learning Commons service points – research, writing and learning skills.”

This kind of virtual orientation to resources for students with disabilities is essential, says Davidson. “York University is a complex and dynamic institution composed of many part. While many of us find it overwhelming, students with disabilities can find it even more so.”

Davidson and Haig are quick to point out that the support offered by the AIF was a vital step towards getting the project off the ground. “We think that the AIF initiative served as a catalyst for us to submit our proposal,” says Davidson. “Its greatest value has been in ensuring that our project progressed from being an idea into a reality.”

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