Attending (virtual) post-secondary education in the fall?  Set yourself up for success with these 5 tips for students with arthritis.

Young adults living with arthritis can experience a number of challenges when it comes to accessing post-secondary education, including financial barriers, the need for flexibility when a flare occurs, as well as trying to keep up with schoolwork while managing a chronic condition.  A report from HEQCO indicates that 59% of Canadians with a disability between the ages of 18-21 have attended some form of post-secondary education, compared to 72% of their peers without a disability.  Further disparities exist in terms of participation in university, with only 30.2% of youth with disabilities attending university compared to 45.3% of their peers. 

The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) identifies that in addition to “navigating the life transitions associated with attending post-secondary education, [students with disabilities] must also think through complex systems and scenarios that their non-disabled peers may not,” such as accessible transportation and housing, managing their condition and treatment, learning to use assistive technology, and well as requesting accommodations.  “These ‘extra’ activities lead to an impact on the student’s time management, efforts and priorities.”  While barriers to accessibility continue to exist for many youth in post-secondary education, there are supports in place to help you succeed.

These five tips can help you access available supports so you can thrive academically and personally at school.

1. Learn about your rights and responsibilities

Because post-secondary education is regulated differently than high school, the laws around accessing accommodations will be different.  Across Canada, discrimination against post-secondary students on the grounds of disability is prohibited, including chronic, episodic conditions like arthritis.  Supports for students can vary from region to region and school to school.  Learn more about human rights and accessibility legislation in your province or territory so you know what you can expect from your school.  Your post-secondary institution may require more documentation to prove a disability than in high school, and you may not receive the exact same accommodations.
With these rights come responsibilities for students, including the responsibility to self-identify the need for accommodation and for providing required documentation.  Additionally, students are expected to comply with the rules for accommodation set out by your institution.        

2. Decide whether or not you’re ready to disclose

Disclosing the need for accommodations is a personal decision and can only be made by you.  Some students choose to wait and see, while others choose to disclose at the beginning so that they are prepared before a crisis happens.  It’s important to note that most accommodations, like note takers or extra time for exams, can only be accessed through your school’s Accessibility Services Office or equivalent.  A student will need to disclose their disability and register with the office as well as provide the necessary documentation.  Once you’re registered, your school’s Accessibility Services will coordinate your accommodations, so you don’t need to disclose to your instructors, though you might choose to let them know.  Returning students might need to re-register with Accessibility Services every year.    

3. Connect with your school’s Accessibility Services

Post-secondary institutions have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities in order to remove barriers to participation.  Publicly-funded colleges and universities will have services available to support students with disabilities.  An Accessibility Office or Disability Centre can provide a number of customized services for students, including assessing accommodation requests, providing appropriate support and accommodations, making school policies and procedures available in accessible formats, helping students communicate with faculty if needed, and maintaining confidentiality.

4. Look into other support services offered by your school

In addition to providing academic accommodations, many post-secondary institutions offer other supports to students with disabilities as well.  These can include peer mentorship programs, tutoring, access to a learning strategist, orientation programs, and clubs or social groups.  Your school may also have a number of other services available that can help you thrive as a student with arthritis, such as a student health centre, counselling services, academic writing support, workshops offered through the library, academic advising, and career services.  Find out what your school offers and take advantage of these services designed to set students up for success.     

5. Find out what scholarships and financial supports are available

There are a number of different scholarships and grants available for students with disabilities through post-secondary institutions, corporations, foundations, as well as the government.  Take the time to look into what funding opportunities exist at your school and through your provincial/territorial government. You can learn more about programs available through the Government of Canada on their webpage Education Funding for People with Disabilities. There are also websites that lists scholarships and awards available to students with disabilities in Canada, including Disability Awards and Disabled-World. Some private and non-profit organizations offer scholarship opportunities as well, such as the UCBeyond Scholarship for students with inflammatory arthritis diseases, the Lupus Canada Scholarship, and the Dr. Bonnie Cameron Post-Secondary Scholarship for students with arthritis.

Adapted from the Transition Resource Guide for Students with Disabilities, created by the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre (RARC) https://www.transitionresourceguide.ca/

Was this information helpful to you?