With recent global events and grassroots movements striving for equity, representation, and acknowledgement and redress of historical, as well as current injustices, The Voice Magazine reached out to AUSU about their new initiatives to increase inclusivity here at AU. Our second in a series of interviews focuses on the recent initiatives for students with disabilities, with AUSU VPFA Monique Durette.
Although the new AUSU disability initiative has not yet been formally written, it is currently on the Monique’s Council work plan. When asked about the origins of the initiative, Monique recounted that when she first decided to run for Council, she read a great deal of Council literature, such as minutes and finances, beforehand to get a sense of the organization. She noticed what “was missing was the voice for students with disabilities.” This became the focus of her campaign, suitably, since as she stated, accessibility is “something that is part of my life and part of my husband’s life.”
Monique continued by building upon her previous interview with The Voice Magazine, where she spoke briefly about the car accident that caused permanent disabilities for her husband, as well as PTSD and anxiety for herself. Although her husband originally began his education at Mount Royal University (MRU) in 2017, Monique started at AU right away. Despite MRU having a great accessibility services department, when her husband eventually transferred to AU, she stated, “it became apparent to me that there were some things that were, not necessarily lacking, but the navigation of them was significantly different.” Additionally, although she did not necessarily think that she herself needed accommodations when first starting at AU, this changed over the years. She continued, “Since being on Council and being elected to the Executive, I found that about half of our Council uses the ASD services, so to me it was a natural progression.”
Expanding on the origins of this initiative, she stated, “It has since been acknowledged by AU and AUSU that not a lot of focus has been put on students with disabilities. And I say that in a very positive way, in that … persons with disabilities weren’t even a focus of anyone until the 2000s …. [I]t just shows that there’s this progression that is happening towards inclusion and equity for persons with disabilities.”
The goal of this initiative, according to Monique, is similar to other AUSU position policies, such as the Indigenous policy, in that it ensures representation for students with disabilities who have different needs than other students. She stated, “We are aware of this and we are going to advocate for those needs to the University at all times.”
When asked about consultations with students with disabilities, she revealed there are already quite a few students with disabilities on Council, “so it’s easy to get perspectives on the day to day,” but that they have also been approached by AU students with specific stories and scenarios. Although Council has yet to take the step to directly seek out students, she stated, “We are doing what we can right now to open those doors and ensure that students know that they can come to us and talk to us about what their needs are and what their experiences have been so we can advocate” for them. Monique also mentioned that students with disabilities many not be aware of certain accommodations currently available, including the ability to borrow iPads from ADS for e-reading, as well as various apps, such as ReadWrite for note taking, in addition to regular accommodations.
Currently, Monique has begun building a relationship with the ASD department, as well as plans to reach out to the Alberta Office of the Advocate for Persons with Disabilities. She intends to strive for both internal advocacy as well as external advocacy to national and provincial organizations that represent students with disabilities on a post-secondary level. In addition, Monique sits on many of the Council’s AU Committee seats, stating, “I’m constantly advocating to AU for students with disabilities. I’m always making sure that those needs are being represented. And I’ve actually started to see a little bit of feedback in that other people are also now saying, ‘Oh, what about students with accessibility needs?’”
Next, Monique spoke briefly about the possibility of the initiative becoming something akin to an AU Committee with specific goals and projects, which would include faculty, administration, and students, “ensuring that there is a holistic viewpoint.” She also mentioned the possibility of developing a bursary or award specific to students with disabilities, as funding for students with disabilities is often lacking. In addition, although not yet a reality, there are hopes for collaboration with other student unions in the future.
She also referred to VPEX Stacey Hutchings’ external advocacy portfolio, which advocates on an external government level, mentioning the different funding level of students with disabilities, as “students who are taking a reduced coarse load but are still considered full time are going to take longer to … get their degree. And so, they shouldn’t … have the same lifetime limit as other students because it’s going to take them longer to finish.”
Monique believes, “There is still so many conversations to be had … There’s still so much that can be done. It feels positive in that these doors haven’t been closed yet, they haven’t even been opened.” Although the initiative is still in its beginning stages, AU students will be informed of any possibility to become involved in the future. In the meantime, students are encouraged to join any committee position that becomes available, including Member-at-Large positions, as well as the upcoming by-election. All positions are remote and virtual, which means one less barrier to accessibility.
Monique also revealed that the response from AU “has been very positive,” including Carrie Anton from ASD, who is “open to all the ideas that I brought forward,” as well as Deputy Provost Anne-Marie Scott, who is “a very big believer in having student voices at all tables, and so she’s always open to hearing what we have to say … We’ve had nothing but positive experiences with Anne-Marie Scott so far.”
This year’s Council is only a few months into their term and AUSU is just getting started, she continued. Addressing previous years’ efforts, “I don’t say that in a way that it has been purposely ignored or anything like that; it’s just that there hasn’t been a specific focus on it.” She believes “there needs to be more specific focus going forward.” Monique would like to pursue a similar direction that Council has taken with the Indigenous Representation Committee, because students with disabilities are “such a large portion of the student body and so it makes sense to have a formal representation.”
As to the future, Monique spoke from her experience in working in the non-profit sector, stating, “things don’t happen overnight like some people would hope that they do” in any large bureaucracy—including corporations, governments, and even smaller institutions like AU—many steps need to be taken.
She ends on a positive note, stating, “I’d love to say that I’m going to be able to accomplish all of my goals and dreams for accessibility in my one-year executive term, but it will probably take a little bit longer than that. But I am hoping to run again for my second-year term. It would be great to know that I can continue this work or at least set it up so that whoever comes in next can just carry it forward. That’s really my goal; that it’s not just something that dies with me. I can build something that will continue on for as long as students with accessibility needs require representation, which is to infinity.”
Monique welcomes any questions, comments, or stories from AU students, including those with disabilities. Students who would like more information about AU’s ASD – Learner Support Services are encouraged to visit their website.