Your cool professor probably sucks

Exposing ableism in academia

Illustration by Bryce Creasy

Ableism within university institutions is consistently permitted, accepted and encouraged, and the University of Winnipeg (U of W) is no exception. People often do not realize the ableist structures they are supporting or the ableism they enact on people. This makes it difficult for a person with an invisible or visible disability to succeed in the current social structures present today. 

Within the university, there are countless professors each semester who are actively ableist to their students, be it by inappropriately and unethically exposing their disability to the class or by enforcing inaccessible field trips in the class syllabi. 

These field trips often come accompanied with a paper, participation grade or other marking criteria to ensure class participation.

However, although field trips can be fun for students and can assist with the application of class learning, they alienate students with any range of accessibility concern that makes it difficult or impossible to attend such outings. 

The course descriptions on the Urban and Inner-City Studies website celebrate the inclusion of field trips, while on pages of programs such as environmental science and environmental studies, they pride themselves on participatory learning styles. However, all of these things that are attempting to engage students and enhance learning can exclude students. 

An example of this is in the Introduction to International Development Studies course, run out of Menno Simons College. This happens within many first year classes, regardless of the program.

Within this course, there is a mandatory field trip and subsequent reflection worth 10 per cent of a student’s grade. Students with invisible accessibility concerns, such as chronic pain, sensory processing disorders and many other invisible disabilities, may be unable to participate in the field trip, thus compromising their grades. 

Although the U of W has an excellent Accessibility Resource Centre, students should not have to make themselves vulnerable to professors in order to be able to receive equal treatment. Professors and the institution must put in place policies that prohibit ableism and allow for equal education for all students.

In April 2013, The Accessibility for All Manitobans Act came into legislation. The act is working to actively remove barriers that prevent persons with disabilities to access employment, information and organizations. Currently, the U of W is failing to follow the act by actively creating barriers for students with disabilities to achieve an education.     

The continuing mistreatment of students with disabilities is a cause for concern for the university. There needs to be tangible policy and action taken to ensure that all students are receiving equal education. 

There needs to be a way in which all students – not just the privileged – can take part in participatory education. 

Participatory education is a beneficial part of the education system. Having students interact with the world outside the classroom is proven to be an important and effective learning tool. Removing it completely would not be beneficial, but instead, transitioning participatory education to be inclusive. All students deserve to be included in this form of educational style.

Institutions are all too often okay with the ableism that they inflict. They find ways to silence it, accept it or ignore it, and this is no longer acceptable. The U of W has proven its strength, acceptance and inclusion, and it is time that it extends that into the rights of persons with disabilities.

Published in Volume 71, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 2, 2017)

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