Today is the International Day of Persons with Disability and I would like to take this opportunity to share a bit about my experience at a (virtual) PhD program at OISE as a disabled person.
First, I need to say I did not get my Accessibility Services enrollment as I know now I should have and as I strongly encourage everyone who needs it to do. The accessibility and accommodations services at UofT are comprehensive and an important tool to make your path in grad school as smooth as possible. The accommodations you receive depend on your specific needs and can include everything from getting official note takers and adapted software, to lower course loads and more. Being enrolled is important not just for yourself but also for the professors and admin staff to better support you without having to ask. I however didn’t think I needed to enroll and access those services because I thought, being virtual, I wouldn’t have any accommodation needs. Of course, I was deeply mistaken, especially given the challenges that virtual studies can put on ones mental health.
Not doing so, however, hasn't been a problem, because in my experience at OISE so far, all professors, my supervisor and my bosses have been completely understanding and accommodating. As soon as I realized the challenges that laid ahead of me in my first year, I communicated with my professors and my supervisor. This meant extra time for some assignments, the possibility to miss the classes I needed to miss, and most importantly, an awareness on my supervisor's part that every now and then I might be struggling. For those in research-based programs, with supervisors, I believe they are one of the central people who need to be aware of the extra challenges you face, even if you are registered with Accessibility Services. They are the person you will deal with the most, and they are also the person who will demand the most from you, as they should.
So I’m not going to say I haven’t had bumps along the way. I did, as anyone – disabled or not – is bound to have. But I did make use of the supports offered by UofT for mental health through MySSP. I took a few days, 100% off. I continued with my ongoing mental and physical health supports. I even found an organization for people like me and got some extra support. Most importantly, I had long conversations with my supervisor, and I learned to speak up and draw my boundaries to put my health first. And I have always been respected for that. Now, I guess I can say I’m thriving. I found support, I found community and I found my way.
I understand every disability is different. So I guess the only 3 general pieces of advice I have for everyone out there, current or future students, are:
Register with Accessibility Services as soon as possible.
Draw your boundaries and speak up to maintaining them. Nothing in the world is more important than your physical and mental health. If you still find resistance or conflict, UofT can also help you navigate conflict with other individuals.
Seek support. UofT offers many paths in terms of mental health.
If you would like to discuss this topic further or still have questions, send me an email and I might be able to help or point you in the right direction. If you're a current student, don't forget there's also counselling services available at ORSS .