On Sept. 23, the doors opened to a new home for students living with disabilities on the World Wide Web, at umsudisability.ca.
The new UMSU Disability website is the brainchild of Bryan Douglas, UMSU representative for students living with a disability, with the help life of Saffron Scott of Creastra Creative Marketing and Design.
Douglas explained that the website is special in that it was built for a community, from within the community, so that everything is adapted for the needs of the community.
“Scott is a person I’ve known for a long while. [ . . . ] She’s a person with a disability, and I wanted to keep it inside of our community [ . . . ] so that the needs and the understanding of the site was community-based,” said Douglas.
The website boasts a slew of features including links to news articles, information on resources on and off campus, and community forums where students can post questions for Douglas and other UMSU representatives.
The site will also feature an online magazine with several different blogs where students can share their stories.
Douglas highlighted one of the planned blogs, which will be entitled “Breaking Down Barriers.”
The blog will serve as a sounding board for students to tell their personal stories of how they broke down barriers they faced, so that other students might become inspired to overcome similar issues in their lives.
“It will be something that just makes people feel better about their day, and give them a boost and inspires them to go further for that day [ . . . ],” explained Douglas.
“Sometimes it just takes a little extra; a smile on the face makes it so much easier to go class when you don’t feel like going to that class.”
The “Resource Centre” and “Did you know?” sections of the website were created to compile all disability related information, so that it was organized and available in one place for students.
“The idea of the website was to create a convenient, one-stop shop for disability students coming to and leaving campus.”
Douglas also stressed that the website will continue to grow, adding more and more information.
“The website itself is not completely finished. It is an organic, growing thing that is going to be added to over the next however long the website runs,” said Douglas.
The website will be up and running for the duration of Douglas’s term as UMSU representative, but Douglas hopes his successors will keep the site going after his term is finished.
“There is only so far I can take the website as the representative. Students have to pickup the ball and really run with it too,” said Douglas.
Tiffany Sobczak, a student living with a disability, felt the website could be used to communicate issues and possibly effect change.
Sobczak explained that currently, the most significant issue for her on campus is the shuttle service run by Disability Services, and pointed to the forums as a helpful communication tool.
“[The shuttle bus] runs from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and there are classes that start way later then that. [ . . . ] I am going to put that up as something [on the Community Forum] and see how other people feel about it,” said Sobczak.
Currently there about 1,000 students registered with Disability Services, according to Caroline Christie, coordinator of Disability Services at the U of M.
Christie explained that the population of students living with disabilities on campus may be higher but not all students with disabilities will require supports through her office.
“I would say the challenges that students with disabilities face at the U of M are similar to the challenges that all U of M students face,” said Christie.
She said that in addition to the typical stressors of managing workloads and accessing financial support, “students with disabilities may need to also access disability-related supports or services while at the U of M.”
John Corlett, vice-president (academic) at the University of Winnipeg, explained that accommodating the needs of students with disabilities is a complex issue.
“Each student is an individual with respect to his or her disability and the most appropriate accommodation it requires,” said Corlett.
“The challenge is to find the right individual solution in an environment that is used to dealing with students as if they are largely all the same [ . . . ].”
Douglas hopes the site will foster a positive mood amongst students living with disabilities on campus and provide students with opportunities to improve upon themselves.
“I’m trying to give more self-empowerment to students,” said Douglas.