post secondary with disability or chronic disease: an introduction to accommodations for accessible learning

Diagnosed with learning and attention issues during my fourth (of five) year of university, I have said before that having my psychoeducational assessment done is one of the best things I ever did—next to that, was taking that next intimidating step to receive accommodations for the learning and attention issues that were brought to my awareness in a clinical fashion no more than 24 hours earlier. I have nothing but good to say about my experiences from that point forward receiving accommodations as a student with a disability. The other day, my friend Jenni posted on Facebook about her apprehensions surrounding taking the advice that she contact student disability services at her university.

While not intending to reinvent old posts (you can read those here), I’d like to summarize [or expand] the conversation I had with Jenni in the form of a hopefully usable rundown: of the help I have, or have heard first-hand stories of, people receiving from their post-secondary institutions, so that students with a variety of disabilities can consider for themselves whether or not these may work for them, and see if their campus offers such accommodations (or would consider adding them to their options).

Intimidation is normal.

Perhaps students who have been dealing with accommodations for their whole lives will feel more at-ease discussing their needs to university staff (I’ll be using the term university, but this applies to all post-secondary institutions)—or, it may be intimidating to move out of the familiar school system and into navigating the post-secondary environment. From my experience speaking with students newly accessing accommodations in university, these students can often feel very intimidated to take the first steps OR to self-advocate.

Self-advocacy (or, simply, sticking up for yourself and communicating what you need!) can be made more challenging with certain disabilities, or if a student don’t have much experience self-advocating. Accessibility/disability services staff deal with students with disabilities every day. If you don’t know what to say, that is okay. In my experience, I was simply asked questions so that it could be better understood what I might need to make my university experience more successful.

Bring Documentation

If you do one thing to prepare for your meeting with the necessary people on campus, bring documentation of your diagnosis. If you have a psychoeducational assessment report, bring that (they usually need to be done within the previous five years, but your campus may vary). If you have a chronic medical condition, or take medication that may affect your ability to learn, attend class, or sit in standard classroom seating, bring that documentation. They can’t help you if they don’t know what you’re dealing with!


If you struggle to communicate your thoughts verbally (or freeze under pressure), you might consider requesting to make accommodation arrangements by e-mail, or provide a list to the person you are meeting with what areas you struggle with or ideas you have. Accommodations are meant to level the playing field, not provide an advantage. With that said, I have had a lot of success with trial-and-error: “Could we try [x]?” “I’ve heard this work for someone else in similar circumstances, is that an option we could try?”

Remember, it’s about you, but it’s about forming allies—we can be an important word! It’s always worth a try: the worst they can do is say no—and in that case, you’re not any further behind than when you started, you’ve just learned more about yourself, your circumstances, and what might be able to be done in the future if plan A doesn’t work out. (Look, my plan C for anatomy wasn’t even my plan and it’s the one that ended up working—be OPEN and people will be open to your suggestions, too!).

As well, it’s important to be as transparent as you feel comfortable with: student support staff are trying to help you, and they have probably heard everything before anyways. Anything you say will be kept confidential, and if—like many of us—you are feeling overly emotional surrounding discussing your disability or chronic disease, that is okay. I know that I am not the only person ever to have cried in our kickass accessibility advisor, Jess’s, office, and I’m sure someone else has cried in there since I last did, too. The last time I wrote an anatomy exam (my last anatomy exam ever) I was visibly shaken up and Jess invited me in to hear office to talk before the exam—when I declined, she said that if I needed to, I could leave the exam at any point and go see her or just take a walk. Yes, we often don’t want to be vulnerable, but that vulnerability was what I needed to push me through that exam, knowing I had the freedom to take a break if I needed to—and that I was supported. People supporting students with disabilities aren’t afraid to think outside the box—don’t be afraid to encourage them to!

My university provided letters of introduction to students for their instructors/professors upon request. These were meant to start the conversation between the student and the faculty member, and provide an official way to communicate which accommodations were in place for the student in a clear way, without divulging information about the student’s disability. I used these for most of my classes, and was grateful for their existence—it changed a really potentially awkward conversation to “Hi, I’m Kerri [I e-mailed you for the syllabus three weeks ago for my alternate format texts…], I have this letter of introduction from accessibility services outlining the accommodations I have.” If I felt it was necessary, I followed up a few days later, because I’m an open book, but it was rare anybody asked questions—they kind of can’t.

Common Accommodations

Access to Food/Drinks

If you have a medical condition that requires you to eat at regular times to avoid negative health effects, it can be arranged to allow you to have access to these items immediately (or in a timely fashion—as my friend Teigan pointed out, it may be hazardous in some classroom environments, and plans can be made for this).

Allergy/Sensitivity Awareness

If you have allergies to foods, latex, chemicals (etc.), sensitivities to fragrances, or asthma, your campus may have accommodations in place to assist you in mitigating these things. If they don’t, suggest that they start: signage can be placed on doors of classrooms students with allergies or sensitivities attend to inform people not to wear/use scented products in these areas; the same can be done for severe allergies to food or latex. My campus also had a bank of lockers that were peanut free; our accessibility resource centre also aimed to be an allergen (nut, fish and scent) free space.

Alternate Format Tests

Refer to the next point to see why the S is underlined!
While it may be obvious that a student with a visual impairment will most likely not be doing a standard written test, it may be less obvious that there are a variety of formats they can use to complete the same test as their peers—including large print, computerized versions [text-to-speech technology and typed responses], orally through use of a scribe… etc.
Students who have trouble writing by hand due to learning disabilities or neurological/neuromuscular disorders may also use a scribe, type responses, or use speech-to-text software (ie. Dragon) to communicate their knowledge. For students with other learning disabilities, swapping long-answer responses for short answer questions or multiple choice might help to organize information better and help to communicate knowledge more effectively.

This is just a small sampling of test formats that may be available—which is why it’s important to talk with the people on your campus to see what they can offer you. 

Alternate Format Texts

Far beyond the typical audiobook, alternate format texts can be both used to provide a different format for students with specific learning or perceptual needs, they can also be provided for students who struggle with turning pages, or cannot carry heavy textbooks. Alternate format texts can be digital, audio, or Braille; eText provides the advantage (in my opinion) of being portable using a tablet, and being searchable. As a student with a learning disability affecting my visual memory, it was recommended that I use audio books—I found that these books were too difficult to navigate—if I spaced out, I had a hard time finding where I’d been previously. Using the iPad, I set it up to highlight sentences as reading was occurring so I could find my place and easily scroll back if needed. With that said, some people might find audiobooks more friendly to their own disability: which is why options are important, and experimenting should be valued.
In Manitoba, Alternate Format Texts are handled by Manitoba Education—if resources were already produced for students with disabilities, on occasion I had access to them without purchasing the physical book; other times I needed to have a receipt for the book, or provide the book myself to have the eText created (students who wish to have audiobooks in Manitoba that are not already produced need to provide two copies of the book for production), so it’s important to find out your school’s needs early on in the term so that production can begin—your late request is not their problem.

In general, some provinces/states and a variety of programs may cover textbook costs for students with disabilities. It’s worth researching.

Assistive/Adaptive Technology

Computer access is commonly available for students with disabilities who need access to adaptive technology through the university’s accessibility services centre. These computers can offer print magnification, speech-to-text and text-to-speech programs (such as Kurzweil). An assistive technology specialist may be available on campus to help you explore which options may be relevant to your needs.

Extended Time (Tests)

Some students may need extended time on tests for a variety of reasons, including learning disabilities, ADHD, slow processing speed, or physical disabilities that affect writing speed. Extended time may be also provided based on circumstance (ie. people with diabetes receiving additional time to compensate in the event of a high or low blood sugar, or students with disabilities who need test time paused and restarted to take breaks to stretch/move or use the bathroom to ensure they are receiving a fair amount of writing time.

I had flexibility in adjusting my time accommodations—I started off with 125% (ie. received an hour and fifteen minutes for every hour my class had), but eventually adjusted to 150 to 175% for some classes, and 200% for others—it took some trial and error, but I was fortunately supported through this.


Students who are D/deaf and communicate through signed languages will require interpreters during lectures and tests to ensure prompts are communicated. (For the rest of us, remember to look at the person you are speaking to, NOT their interpreter!)

Lecture Recording

Using a tape-recorder or laptop to record lectures allows students with learning disabilities to return to lecture materials at their own pace. [I used Evernote to take notes and record at the same time. When I missed points, I glanced up and jotted the record-time into my notes to fill in later.]

Missed Lecture/Test Support

See note-taking next. If you have a chronic disease that may require you to miss class due to symptoms, medical appointments, etc., access to supports from the instructor/professor, as well as notes, can be crucial to being successful. Make arrangements BEFORE you need them! In the event of an unexpected circumstance  communicate with your instructors as soon as possible so they can help you catch up—being up-front, even without divulging too much information, helped me a lot when I got sick unexpectedly during two different terms. Meet with the instructor as soon as you are able so they can help you get back on track: most of them teach because they want you to learnlet them give you a chance. They can’t give you what you don’t ask for. Having a plan can also help you reschedule tests, extend deadlines, and help with group work—thanks to Rachel for these ones.

It’s also helpful to make friends in classes to share notes, study with, and, you know, have the occasional post-class eye-roll with.


Many campuses enlist volunteer note takers for students who need note-taking support. This can be fantastic at best and horrendously unreliable at worst (or sometimes nobody volunteers—been there). Make sure you have a back-up plan, and if at all possible, try to take your own notes and use the volunteer’s notes to supplement. 

Priority Registration 

To increase the ability that students can attend class, students with some disabilities can register early for courses to avoid landing in sections that don’t jive with their symptom patterns or needs for accessible transportation. [Thanks to Teigan for reminding me of this one!]

Separate/Private Space for Assessment

Alongside alternate format tests, students who need it due to test anxiety, learning and attention issues, or medical needs, should be provided the opportunity to use alternate space for tests. Sometimes this means having students with similar testing needs writing in a room together, but among a smaller group (ie. 3-5 students who need a less distracting environment and also have an hour and a half to write a test); others it means having a completely separate space (with access to assistive technology if needed) to write in. I did much better with private space. This can also be implemented for certain in-class assessments [ie. lab quizzes] with adequate planning.

Seating accommodations can also be covered for tests (see next); additionally, my friend Riki has just shared that she now has a test accommodation to have dimmer lighting in her testing space (to quote: “because I like never really even thought that could be a thing but it is! And it’s fantastic.”)

Seating Accommodations

Students who need to should be able to pre-select seating for lectures. This can be for a variety of reasons, including vision, hearing and attention needs, but also for other reasons. When I was selecting seating, I would choose a front row seat, but by the door if possible so that if I was fidgety, I could slip out easily without disturbing half the room. Someone I know experiences anxiety when people are behind her, so she prefers to sit at the back. Students using wheelchairs will need a desk with removable seating; students with chronic pain may require different sorts of chairs to comfortably participate in class. Seeing the classroom and having a seat picked out and marked as reserved ahead of time can alleviate a lot of stress—plus it can be a great deal of fun when someone sits down at your assigned seat and is kind of being all “I wish I had assigned seating,” [maybe he had a need, maybe not…] it is kind of satisfying to be able to walk up and be all “Hi, I’m sorry, I need you to move” after someone is acting all cocky…

Study Space 

At least before I made a bunch of friends, I found the Accessibility Resource Centre a great place to study (then all my new friends distracted me, but oh well). They also offered testing rooms as study spaces if they weren’t booked—ask around, especially if you’re on a crowded campus like I was. This may be less of a problem for people who live on campus (or in the US where campuses are often gigantic), but for commuters on small campuses like mine, study space is at a premium.


Whether directly through their university or through grants, some students have received funding to receive tutoring. At the local community college, someone I know says he has tutor coverage up to a certain number of hours per term, and then he has to pay. Investigate the options. If you’re new to post-secondary, I would also ask around with the student support people if you are thinking a mentor might be helpful to you—other students with disabilities themselves are a great wealth of knowledge—and fun. 

Peer Support!

While not a formal accommodation, if your campus has an accessibility centre… USE IT! My campus had a few tables in a room and a computer bank for students with disabilities to use—I also met a ton of friends here, and had some of the best times I had at university in this room (…Shotput on the floor, much? Bringing cupcakes back from a cupcake run for the Accessibility Services staff, puppy playtime when my friend Gerry would let his service dog, Marcus, off his harness, seeing a business prof do a headstand—all of that and more. Sometimes disability perks happen, y’all!)

So yes, there are some unexpected bonuses—at least in my experience… but that could be because I am slightly a troublemaker? In a good way.

Make it happen.

Remember Riki up there—even if you don’t think it could be an accommodation thing, it possibly/most likely IS A THING. Don’t let intimidation or nervousness stop you—you can always quit accommodations if you really hate it (I don’t know why you would, but hey), but you’ll never know if you don’t TRY.

Have stories to share about being a student with a disability? Have tips to share that I’ve missed? [There are probably seventeen thousand.] Share ‘em below [or shoot me an e-mail if you want to guest post or just connect off the record!]

plan, initiate… result?: reflecting on goal progress [from 2011?!]

So this, this is all too true. And with that, I present, Goals from 2011 – Revisited.

Small things

  • Focus on the good things.
  • Complete the onehundredpushups program and not derail. Yes, I am doing girly push-ups. It is better than no push-ups.  If all goes well, this will be completed by the end of January.
  • Stop making Saturday and Sunday the exception: 
    • the weekend is not an excuse to only brush my teeth once a day instead of twice
    • it is not an excuse to forgo a workout or two
    • and it is not a cop out for eating all kinds of random food.
  • Become more reliable at hitting up the cardio workouts 45 minutes/day, 5 days/week.
  • Read over the day’s notes when I get home from school and make study notes as the term goes on, because it will make finals suck less.

Bigger things

  • Health advocacy: do new things, reach beyond what I’ve already been doing in some way.  [Maybe that’s doing more races sporting the Team Asthma gear, maybe that’s trying to see if volunteering at asthma camp will work this year, maybe that’s giving my time and my own body for research if I’m eligible.  It could be a lot of things, or all of these things].
  • Actually walk a half marathon.  I’ve been saying I’m going to do one for about two years, so let’s make 2012 the year pending all goes as planned.
  • Work with others to help them realize their own potential, be a part of that ripple effect.
  • Figure out where I’m at with God.
  • Make another attempt at the 365 project.
  • Hesitate less, do more.

So. How have I done?

Focus on the Good Things: It’s a conscious choice, but I try to nail it every. Single. Day. And I think I’m succeeding for the most part.

Onehundredpushups: Nope. I can safely say that I have not, nor am I trying presently, to be able to do 100 pushups… of any sort.

Stop making Saturday and Sunday the Exception: Here’s the issue: every day is Saturday and Sunday to me right now. Which means that I try often and fail at brushing my teeth twice daily—I always get bedtime in, morning is a bit tougher to remember and I don’t know why—I can tell you that I haven’t done any working out since several weeks ago when I impulsively bought a yoga app and did a yoga workout I really enjoyed and then… didn’t touch it again—and, I eat random food all the time. Right now I have Combos beside me. If you want to talk about random food, that is the epitome of it right there.

Become more reliable about hitting up the cardio workouts: 2013 derailed this because I was sick for so much of it. But you know what? it’s effing over. 2013 is effing over and it has been for a long time, and yes that got me off track but it is no reason to still be off track.

Studying: Currently irrelevant, but I can say I never really made good on this, except for in Anatomy round 3.

Health advocacy: In the big picture, I have done this—when I wrote this, I had maybe haphazardly filled out an app to medicine-x at Stanford… But then I got in for 2012. I had yet to learn of attending the World Congress of Asthma with the Asthma Society in Quebec City in 2012. And, I had yet to know that I’d start taking on more roles with the ASC, link up with the Canadian Severe Asthma Network, attend MedX again, and, most importantly, find more ways to practice everyday advocacy within the places I was all the time: school and work. So I’m going to give this a check mark—but it’s a constant growth, and I still have more work to do. See also: Badassmatics!

Actually walk a half-marathon: I don’t even know if this is on the goals anymore to be perfectly honest. But maybe see that thing about cardio above.

Work with others to help them realize their own potential, be part of that ripple effect. I’m gonna give this one a check-mark, but once again, that isn’t something that ends.

Figure out where I’m at with God. My journal would indicate that is still a big question mark, but it’s actually something I’ve been contemplating in the last week. And, I feel like I might never figure that out and that’s just part of my story.

Make another attempt at the 365 project. CHECK MARK. More to come on this!

Hesitate less, do more. Sometimes I meet random strangers off the internet in airports in a country I don’t live in, and they drive you down me state awhile and drop me off to crash in a hotel with someone I also don’t know. And then I repeat that process in a few different ways in a few different states. And, sometimes those people end up becoming your best friends. That’s a pretty extreme example, and I’m sure there was a lot of reservation, but… adventure is really not born of extreme caution, it’s born of optimism and trusting your instincts. And, it’s worked for me.

There are certainly things to build off of here, but the important thing is, I have been building. But, I need to act more, and more fully. And I know this—I just have to harness the energy to make it all happen, because I can. In the coming weeks, I’ll revamp the goals list for 2015—and be doing some introspection surrounding previous goals lists, too.

Even though I am to not be bound by calendar years, yes, that fresh start effect everyone gets so into is contagious.

modifying the process, not the outcome: part two.

I am a mess at making series properly. I’ll provide background, but for full context…
Related posts:
Modify the process, not the outcome: Assessment results. . . and hope | March 23, 2013
Modifying the process: Part one | April 3, 2013 
Beyond expectations | September 9, 2013

This one time, I failed anatomy. You know how many people fail anatomy? Lots. You know how many medical students fail anatomy? Lots. As I discovered after googling “failed anatomy”. So, after that I wasn’t too fazed by my first F in university. I mean, it’s anatomy, I didn’t really even expect to come close to passing the first time, it was like the experience round.

Except then, this other time, I failed anatomy again (and social psych, the only other class I was in at the time), and I was not cool with that at all.

Then I was diagnosed with learning and attention issues, and was handed a report that literally says, in part, that I am “not suitable for visual learning” and “therefore, finding ways to have information presented through other means may be [of considerable help].” and to “[…] be mindful that subjects that require an abundant amount of visual learning, such as understanding graphs, charts, and diagrams may be a challenge […]” (Wang, 2013).

Key word there is understanding graphs, charts, and diagrams. That says nothing of the abundance of memorization and application of [memorized] knowledge required to pass Human Anatomy. Yes, a lot of people struggle with these things—anatomy is by no means an easy course for most people (there are some people who are wizards, however, and I cannot explain them). Except not only was it simply extremely difficult for me, I then learned after two terms of extreme frustration that I am pretty much not even wired to do it—especially, at least, not in the format they were providing.

 help me if you can, it’s just that this is not the way i’m wired so could you please, help me understand…

the outsider, a perfect circle

I took this knowledge alongside my recent registration with Accessibility Services to chat with Dave, the Department Chair of Kinesiology. At the time, program requirements for my degree kept changing, so I made a few swap requests which he took to the departmental review committee for approval—two of the requests were approved. The swap of anatomy to physiology, though, was not, as “the department feels it’s important for all of our grads to have human anatomy”. I don’t disagree, but with documentation like the above, it sucked to hear. I had a meeting scheduled with Dave to follow the e-mails, and when I asked if we needed to keep the meeting, the Associate Dean of Kinesiology, Glen, replied, “I think we should still meet to discuss how you are going to handle the Human Anatomy requirement.”

Pause right here to note that Glen has a PhD in Human Anatomy, 30+ years of teaching experience, and a reputation for being awesome. So I was kind of like “Okay, see you Monday.”

I’m pretty sure this was the day he said for the first time “We’ll get you through anatomy, whether I have to help you through, or drag you through.” Yes, dragging apparently can be a thing. I was expecting . . . not nearly as much as he had worked out. I left the meeting with him saying, “Let’s get you through this and get you out of here.”

This was September. I started anatomy in January, for the first time with accommodations (and my iPad).

By three weeks in, I was meeting with Glen once or twice a week. He would quiz me, attempt to figure out how to make things stick in my brain. We’d go sit with a model in the athletic therapy lab, or in the anatomy lab, or around my iPad and binder of notes from the instructor. Beyond this, I was making anatomy a full time job (on top of two other classes and a part-time job, and a contract project with the Asthma Society). A week before the midterm, week 5, I texted him this picture:

Yes, that’s a 3/10 there. 30%. Despite everything we were throwing at this, well, it sucks when your best simply isn’t good enough. I met with Glen the next day—we intended to meet in the open lab session to study, but given that lab quiz result a mere three days before the exam, we took a detour and took over one of the kinesiology instructor’s offices instead.

“Well, I told you that we’d get you through this, whether I had to help you or drag you,” (yes, this was probably more dragging than anticipated) “I know you’re working hard. What’s not working? What can we do to get you through this?”

My brain isn’t working, that’s what. “If I knew, I wouldn’t be almost-failing again.”

Back to the drawing board. We talked about the lab quizzes—the big issue in previous terms, and becoming the (an) issue in this one. We’d already accommodated those by having me do the lab quizzes before lab with the lab demo before my weekly labs so that the time component (quickness required in having the models move by me too fast). Since this was my only form of assessment thus far, it was the one that needed to be addressed. We also covered what, exactly, the struggle was for me outside of processing speed: visual memory. It was just too much for me to be able to hold that information in my head, and manipulate it to get the correct answer without any sort of visual guide to work with. I tried to explain more about this, but three days before the exam I was just really stressing and emotional (I was thankful that the office we borrowed contained Kleenex). Fortunately, to an extent, he got it; he said again that he knew I was working hard, but that things just weren’t working. After three attempts, I knew that I knew more than I was able to demonstrate. Sometimes lab questions involved the model being partly covered and flipped in another direction, and being asked “Does this bone belong to the left or right side of the body?” So not only would I have to figure out the bone from it being partly covered and oriented bizarrely, I had to flip it around in my head and identify the side or structure in question.

He rolled with it. He first contemplated with me whether oral quizzes would be better—except, writing’s not the problem (he’s seen this blog—he knows that now :]). Well, if writing’s not the problem, then, it was decided we’d eliminate the lab quiz aspect altogether, and then assess me in a way that worked with that. He took the reigns and simply pulled me from lab quizzes—the grades thus far were thrown out. Instead, I submitted weekly 1-2 page papers on an aspect we covered in anatomy that week to cover that portion of my grade. We also agreed that I would be allowed to sign out the lab models to work more with them at home, because by my 4:30-6:30 lab time, with all the potential chaos on lab, I simply wasn’t able to absorb enough in that allotted time to make a difference.

Then, of course, I was brought back to earth with, “This doesn’t help that you have a midterm on Friday.”
“Yeah, I have one tomorrow too that I haven’t even started studying for, since I’ve been trying to keep my head above water in anatomy.”

With that he told me he was deferring my midterm and to “get the hell out of lab and go study”, and he would talk to my instructor about the new plan of action. He met me briefly outside the lab after I’d gotten my stuff to discuss when I’d write the midterm (since the next week was Reading Week), but since I had test accommodations with Accessibility Services, I didn’t need anybody to invigilate so I got the “Oh, you can write whenever you want!” response again (like I’d gotten in the Fall when my instructor approved a midterm deferral in Sport in the Ancient World because once-upon-a-time-my-uterus-tried-to kill-me-except-it-failed). We also briefly discussed that we’d have to figure out how we were handling the final lab exam, but we’d deal with that after the midterm. Tutoring was also basically off the table (which we hadn’t implemented yet aside from working with Glen), as were my study sessions with Glen beyond if I had specific questions. In reality, if the sessions with him weren’t working, I think we’d be hard-pressed to find many tutors who could help. As much as this man knows anatomy, he’s an educator through-and-through in my perspective :).

I wrote the midterm a week after the rest of my class, on the Thursday of Reading Week (since I had a project deadline the Sunday of Reading Week with the Asthma Society). I got my test mark back a couple weeks later—53%.

I was all

My instructor was all “How do you feel about that?” “AWESOME. I PASSED.”

These people really didn’t understand I was serious when I said “I just want a D.”

Glen, however, wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was (I mean, I maybe was overzealously excited about my bare-pass, but SO?): 

I have looked at you midterm exam and it is unfortunate to see that you were not able to score better (42/80). […]
You had difficulty with almost every part of the exam except for the short answer questions.  You had the most difficultly with the Charts section which gave you one or two clues from which you had to determine the anatomical structure being asked for.  Similarly you had difficulty with the diagram section which I would have thought you have done well with given the drawing you were doing on your iPad.

[This] exam is challenging in that it calls for information that is gained by memorization, visualization, conceptualization and functionality.  I think you did well in the  functionality portion of the exam (short answers) but had the most trouble with the visualization aspect (relation of now structure to the other, charts based on one or two clues, diagrams).
Not sure where we go from here.  Do you have any suggestions?  Who in disability services are you working with?
[Note: The charts are torture.]

Of course, I was like “WHAT I DID AWESOME” (there’s no punctuation in my brain), and told him that. Except at this point, we not only moved forward with the alternative assessment in labs, we got Accessibility Services in on the shenanigans once more, and Jess had a lot of good suggestions on how we could work with the lab component for the final. For the finals, we eventually decided that we’d do a modified format to both the final written [lecture] and lab [bellringer] exams (more on that shortly).

I kept pushing through—I had, fortunately, also made two friends in the course, helpful in working through the labs with and teaching each other, and also having people to study with outside of labs (…”The articulating end of the radius is conCAVE because that’s where the radial bear lives!” Merry: It clearly worked!). I studied my ass off, with Merry and Ashley, and by myself: with a pile of pencil crayons and coloured pens, many killed trees (sorry trees, blame anatomy), Quizlet and other online flashcards, and $50+ worth of iPad apps to try to get smart things into my brain one last time. I asked initially if there was a way I could get into the lab to use the models more often (since we had so few open lab sessions in a term and were only really allowed to use models during our lab times) but with limited availability of people to provide supervision, I ended up getting permission to take models home. I’d like to say it helped, but I’m also realistic about the amount of information from visual input my brain actually is useful for.

With a now 175% time accommodation for tests, I asked if I could write one exam Monday [two days before the day my class was scheduled to write] and one on Wednesday [the same day as the rest of the class], as otherwise I’d be writing for like 9 hours on a single day, which all parties agreed to—I was no longer writing the same exams as my class, so this was no longer an issue. I did my lab exam in a way similar to the class, except through flash cards and without a per-question time limit, and formatted in multiple choice to reduce the number of variables in front of me (the traditional bellringer allows students one minute per station with an open-ended question and most times a sticker on the model identifying the structure in question. The model can’t be touched). For the lecture exam, I was provided a multiple choice/fill-in-the-blank/true-false exam created by Glen and based on the class exam, and allowed a very simple, un-detailed, un-labelled diagram to use simply to orient myself to the questions.

(I spent much of the night before my final lab exam doing this, above—I have no clue if it helped, though!)

The lecture exam went okay, or so I thought, except for the amount of lower-body questions (what we had covered on the midterm) that I hadn’t realized were going to be on there. The lab exam? I was freaking out even prior to it starting, because of my difficulty on the lecture exam. The epitome of all this? If I failed anatomy, I wouldn’t graduate in June. From Facebook, Jess in accessibility services knew how hard I’d been working, and told me so while I was waiting—she asked me how I was doing and when I almost broke down, she asked if I wanted to go talk in her office. I basically knew if I did this, I’d lose it and declined, so she said to come see her or go take a walk during the exam if I needed to. Of course, the exam was kind of an emotional disaster—I have never cried during an exam before, but this was the one. I spent some time staring at the ceiling and eating a Rice Krispie square to calm myself down; I knew I could leave and take a break, but I also knew if I did, I wouldn’t want to go back in, so I kept going. 

I finished the exam, and went to see Jess, who got the whole anatomy-related breakdown (and was awesome about it, because she’s always awesome), and assured me that if I didn’t pass we’d figure things out, and regardless I’d worked really hard. I went out for lunch and then as I was waiting for the bus, got a text from Glen saying “Check your e-mail – good news :)”. 

Turns out, four minutes was too long for him to wait for a reply to his e-mail.


Anatomy = PASSED.

A photo posted by kerri (@kerriontheprairies) onApr 4, 2014 at 3:58pm PDT

77% on the bell ringer? Yeah, my brain just about exploded because that’s the thing I’ve failed hardcore the last two times.

Final grade? C+.

Yes, I had some pretty awesome people on my team. Some very awesome people. But, I didn’t work any less hard than I worked other terms: in fact, I probably worked harder, but also more effectively. The style of my assessment was heavily modified, of course, but in no way was I handed this grade: after the exam, I texted Glen to thank him for all of the work and hours he invested in me, he replied “No thanks required, you earned it” (thanks were still totally required); he told me the same when I took him cupcakes one day in May to [attempt to!] thank him. Not only did I potentially work harder than many of my classmates (who possibly received better grades), I worked that much harder for the second time (the first time through was the first time through, really—many people have two attempts at anatomy).

Accommodations don’t give an advantage—they level the playing field. I know this, and the people on my team know this. I just hope that other people realize it, too. Sometimes, students would ask about certain things, accommodations I had, and say “I wish I had that”—I wish I could use the instructor’s notes/have a volunteer note-taker; I wish I could write tests in a private space; I wish I had electronic textbooks. An honest response, yes, but one that is not well thought out: I wish that I could spend the normal amount of time reading a chapter and taking notes, not one or the other; I wish I had a GPA higher than 2.8; I wish I knew the right technology to access earlier.

Mostly, I wish I knew earlier what I know now. That I have a learning disability and ADHD, that it’s a part of who I am, and that I can work with this.

Maybe it took a bit more time, but I accomplished what I set out to accomplish—and that’s what is important: learning and attention issues or not.

My cousin Dean and I—I still got to graduate 24 hours before him.

Photo credit to Linda Mikulik.

graduation: the start of a new chapter.

i crossed a line five years in the making
that the biggest eraser can’t clear.

–this is the sweetest little song, butch walker. 

 Photo credit to Amber

Five years, and far more stories than I would have ever imagined.
Today, I close this chapter in the story and move on to the next one, with the storyline embedded deep within me.
These five years are worth far more than a piece of paper and these pictures. The last five years are the story, the experiences, the process. And this day, this piece of paper may symbolize that I can put the things I know onto papers and into practice, but only to an extent.
The degree, Bachelor of Physical and Health Education, implies much about what I have learned outside of myself: in no way can those six words even begin to indicate what I learned inside myself and what I—and those around me sharing this story–changed inside myself. And that the change inside me is far more crucial to my ability to connect with others than most things I could ever be assessed on.
The last five years are not about this moment: they are about the collection moments that lead me here.

connect the dots there is a picture in these lines
my favourite parts of life are in the nights of better sleep i never find.
but even if i don’t decide to chase my dreams, i won’t throw them away
[…] i won’t forget everything i wen through to get here
but i haven’t decided if here is quite where i belong.
—where i belong, farewell fighter
They are about the process.
The people.
Photo credit to Becki
The story.
And what’s ahead.
Note: I’ll be updating this post with more pictures/quotes over the next few days… Check back :].

beyond expectations


Last year, my university changed their graduation requirements for the kinesiology program. This means, since I started the program in 2010 [or something of that nature, I’ve been there too long], I can choose between the new option or the old one. [Main point: the new one requires only anatomy. The old one requires both anatomy AND physiology].  I met with the department chair last year to discuss swapping some previous credits in teaching/psychology related courses for other related ones, and seeing if I could switch anatomy for physiology–just to see if I maybe could handle that better.

Since May, the whole department has kind of switched things up turning into a faculty, however, so I e-mailed the new associate dean on Thursday last week to follow up–turns out that the department chair was taking my request to the curriculum review committee the next day, but we scheduled a meeting anyways. Within 24 hours of his response, I had received an e-mail from the chair as well as a follow-up from the associate dean […got that?].  Approved: Switching coaching/teaching requirement and swapping the psychology class. Not approved: Anatomy exemption/swap. So, I was rather surprised when the associate dean responded with my question of whether we still needed to meet with “I think we should still meet to discuss how you are going to handle the Human Anatomy requirement.”

So what’s changed between last round and this round? Another F, being assessed for learning problems, and becoming registered with Accessibility Services.  I got his reply and my jaw just about dropped.  I walked into his office this morning, and the first thing he said to me was: “Kerri my dear–let’s talk. The department is willing to work with you to get you through anatomy and out of here.”

I was choked up the whole appointment.  The results of that meeting? I couldn’t believe it. At all.

The kinesiology department is not just willing to work with me, they are going beyond what I had ever imagined–much like the accessibility department did. I am floored.

The department is going to pay for a mentor/tutor to work with me. I was prepared to pay for a tutor [and I probably still will for some extra hours]. The number of hours they will cover has yet to be determined, but this is huge. On that note, their hope is that this person is able to work with me in lab . . . in a separate lab section to minimize distraction and ensure I am actually understanding things. This will also allow me to work a bit slower at quizzes in lab and give me a bit more time for the model to sink into my brain.

Second, we discussed testing, specifically in the lab. My accommodations through Accessibility Services already allow me lengthened time for tests [thanks second percentile processing speed!]. We have yet to figure out how we are going to make this work, but it is just awesome knowing that they will make it work. [He offered, also, to exempt me from quizzes and weight my final exams higher, but I decided that it is good to get that kind of progress report on a weekly basis.]

Third–yes, third, and definitely the most interesting–is that the associate dean himself is all over this. He wants me to meet him every few weeks for an hour or two so we can go over what we’ve been working on class–through this, he can figure out the best ways to help me retain what I’m doing in the course, and figure out what I need to work on and help me actually understand it–not just memorize it–and check in regularly about how things are going.

Seriously? Speechless. Honestly, I was told awesome things about this guy. And he not only met my expectations of his awesomeness–he went so far beyond them.

I hope that, with all of the above, I can go far beyond my own expectations, too.