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Removing barriers

Blundon Centre: Accessible education at Memorial a shared responsibility

Part of a special feature highlighting the student voice, student experience and the range of student supports and opportunities available at Memorial.

By Rebecca Rebeiro

In its early days, the Glenn Roy Blundon Centre saw between 30-40 registered students in a year.

This past academic year, the centre supported more than 1,160 students in undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs.

“Five to 10 years ago there was a greater focus on providing services, like helping students access accommodations,” said Kathy Skinner, student learning accessibility advisor.

“Our philosophy and practice is grounded in a social model of disability, and so additional staffing resources at the Blundon Centre has allowed us increase our programming and support not only for students, but the wider university community. We’re now going out on campus and working directly with faculties in a variety of capacities to help break down barriers in students’ learning and living environments.”

Great strides since 1992

Named in honour of a former Memorial student for his leadership on equity and accessibility issues, the Blundon Centre has made great strides in promoting and instilling the importance of accessibility and inclusion at the university since it opened in 1992.

Watch and hear from students Josh Garland and Antonia Francis, two clients of the centre, below as they share just how far the centre has come.

Moving forward

As the Blundon Centre continues to provide support for more and more students, close collaboration with other faculties and units has become essential.

The centre recognizes individuals or groups who contribute to the development of equitable and accessible learning and living environments for Memorial students at an award ceremony each year.

This past October, the Department of Biology took home the 2019 Glenn Roy Blundon Award for its efforts in improving accessibility and ensuring all students receive the same laboratory experience.

Group of people posing for the camera in front of a white screen
Members of the Department of Biology accepting the Glenn Roy Blundon Award at a ceremony in October 2019.
Photo: Submitted

“Our lab instructors, instructional assistants and science technicians were the focus of our nomination for this award as they unfailingly find a way to implement any accommodation request, regardless of the time available or resources required,” said Dr. Tom Chapman, head of the Department of Biology.

Some examples of recent accommodations offered by the department include deconstructing and rebuilding lab benches to ensure appropriate space is available; provided materials in alternative formats and additional teaching assistant support; and staff donating time to ensure students have a quiet, reduced-stress environment and the opportunity to take breaks, as needed, when writing exams.

“We have to have access be a shared responsibility.” — Catherine Shortall

The School of Graduate Studies was also recognized at the awards ceremony for its promotion of academic accommodations to graduate students, as well as the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning for their use of universal design for learning (UDL).

In a collaborative self-study, several instructors used UDL as a reflective framework to enhance understanding of classroom practice and embedded UDL principles and guidelines into curricula to make learning more accessible for undergraduate students.

Larger scope

“While there have been advancements in accessible education at Memorial, there’s still more to be done,” said Mr. Garland.

“For students to have success they have to have a sense of belonging, and be included in all aspects of the university. In order to do so, we have to have access be a shared responsibility and have all parts of our campus working through an accessible and inclusive lens,” said Catherine Shortall, educational accessibility specialist at the Blundon Centre.

Ms. Francis added: “The Blundon Centre is trying to change the culture around accommodations and students with disabilities, and it’s only going to get better from here.”

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