How to Advocate For Yourself in Post Secondary

Hello! If you’re a student that is graduating from high school, and will be starting post-secondary education - this resource is for you!

I thought I’d dive in here and talk a little about navigating post-secondary education with a disability - with a focus on self advocacy. Below is a step by step guide on some things that you can do to properly advocate for yourself - with examples centering around hearing loss (but these steps can apply to all folks).

Before I get into the steps, I’d like to share a personal story about my own experience several years ago, before I officially started classes in university. I did everything that I thought I was supposed to do - I went on my campus tour, I registered for my classes, and I brought all my textbooks.  I found my classroom, and walked into a large lecture hall that was meant to fit about 500 people. I sat close to the front, in the fifth row - got my pen and paper ready. So far, so good! The instructor walked in, and stood at the podium at the front of the classroom, pulled out his notes, and started speaking into the microphone on the podium.

His voice echoed off the walls, and there was some feedback from his mic. I spent most of that lecture struggling to decipher what the instructor was saying. When the class ended, I walked out, unsure of what to do next. I couldn’t just brush this one under the rug - I was faced with the fact - I couldn’t hear what the instructor was saying for almost the entire lecture.

In high school, any accommodations that I needed were taken care of by my itinerant teacher, or by the high school itself. I didn’t think about accommodations…actually I didn’t realize I had the opportunity to get accommodations. I spent my first couple of days in university scrambling. That’s something I don’t wish on anyone!

Without further adieu, here are some tips that you can take away to make your own post-secondary transition a smoother one.

Step 1: Do some research and book an appointment with your school’s accessibility centre

  • Almost all post-secondary schools have a website that you can go to and find out if they have an accessibility centre or hub that you can register at. Usually, they will outline how you can register for accommodations etc. Check it out and find out if they have an accessibility centre or hub that you need to register with.
  • Book an appointment with your advisor and make sure to ask some questions. Some questions you can ask are:
    • What kind of documents will they need?
    • What type of accommodations do they offer for e-learning and/or in class settings depending on your classroom type?
    • Is it possible to get a certain type of accommodation that is not initially provided for?
    • Is there a deadline to apply for these accommodations?
    • If an instructor is not accommodating me, what do I do? 
    • What options do I have to make sure I get the accommodations that I need to make the learning experience a seamless one for me?

Step 2: Consider what obstacles or barriers you might face

An example of this for someone with hearing loss could be:

  • Do a mock lecture in the classrooms your classes will be held in.
  • Consider the following:
    • Does the room echo?
    • How far from the podium, or the front can you sit and still hear everything that is being said?
    • Where in the room would be best for you to sit and hear the lecture?

Step 3: Submit all required documents on time.

I cannot stress this enough. Make sure to submit all required documents on time to the accessibility centre. This is to make sure that you’re ready to go from day one, and not spending days or weeks struggling without accommodations like I did.

Step 4: Explore how the accommodations are working for you.

Explore how the accommodations are working for you, and make sure that your instructors understand what you need. There could be a chance that the accommodations you thought you needed won’t be what is right for you, and that’s okay. Sometimes you’ll need to experiment and figure out what is best for you - and that might need to happen while you’re in the thick of things!

These four steps are critical when it comes to registering for accommodations and exploring the different methods that will work best for you and your disability. Another thing that you should also prepare for is what to do when an instructor is resident to your accommodation requests.

What if an instructor is not accommodating?

For the most part, instructors are very understanding about accommodations. However, on the off chance that you get someone that is resistant to your accommodation requests, here are some ways that you can handle it, who you can reach out to, and what it would mean for you later on.

How you can handle it:

  • Book a 1:1 with the instructor and explain why you need the accommodation and what happens when you don’t have them.
  • There’s a benefit to being as transparent as possible, and also as specific as possible behind the ‘why’ of your ask - so they can understand the urgency of your request.

Who you can reach out to:

  • If the instructor is still not budgeting, then it’s time to recruit the help of an accessibility advisor from the centre and see what can be done.
  • In the meantime, as a backup, see if you can find a similar class or the same class taught by a different instructor. This is a last resort, but if the instructor is being difficult, chances are, you don’t want to be taught by someone that doesn’t want their students to excel or doesn’t want to be inclusive.

What it means for the future:

  • Advocating for yourself can sometimes be hard, but advocating for yourself in this way brings the matter to the attention of the accessibility centre and they can hopefully work with that instructor to make sure future students are not impacted negatively by them.

Advocating for yourself can be tough, but it’s worth it because not only will it help you thrive at school but in all areas of your life. I used to be really shy about my hearing loss, and when I started to be more active in advocating for myself, I formed valuable connections and formed some pivotal life experiences that set me on the path I’m on today.  

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