Earlier this school year, the Centre for Accessibility moved their accommodation letter system online onto Clockwork, the same system used for exam reservations. The system started on September 9 and allowed students to request individual accommodation letters and customize their accommodations for each course.
Janet Mee, the director of the Centre for Accessibility, explained the change was made in part to save time.
“So we have 35,000 clients. And we needed to take the information that was in the student information system, and enter it into a letter and then produce all 35,000 letters separately, which is a very time-consuming process,” she said.
Mee explained that the transition itself had been a long time coming.
“The system was already set up to sync the information from the student information system into Clockwork in order to make the exam reservation system work,” said Mee. “And so knowing that Clockwork also had the capacity to produce letters in an automated fashion, we had been exploring for quite some time, probably for up to two years, how to make that component of Clockwork work for us.”
Mee also cited how the UBC Okanagan campus has been using Clockwork for their accommodation letters prior to the Vancouver campus’s transition.
“The faculty and the students loved it. Like they ranted and raved about how great it was. So it reinforced the notion that this would be a good direction to go,” said Mee.
However, UBC Vancouver students have mixed opinions on the change.
Peter Bruno, a student registered with the Centre, said the system felt “unintuitive”.
Bruno explained that prior to the change, advisors would email the letters with all of the student’s accommodations on it, and students would then submit their letters to their professors. Now students can customize their accommodations for each class, request and download their letters, and then submit their letters to their professors.
“For me, one of the main problems is… I don't have accommodation letters for all my classes because it's just pending on the advisor,” said Bruno.
For Talynn English, a student registered with the Centre who is deaf in both ears, her accommodation letters were immediately approved.
“It's instant. One of the things that I really liked about it was that you request it, and then you get it. It takes two seconds to request it,” said English.
“But it might have been because I didn't change any of my accommodations... I do know that some people who change their accommodations, they do have a bit of a delay in responding to those kind of things.”
The Centre for Accessibility’s Associate Director Sarah Knitter clarified in a written statement to The Ubyssey that as long as students have already been approved for their accommodations, the process is automatic.
“Students can access the system 24/7 and download their letters without delay. The system may list ‘letter pending’ when the instructor information is not available from the central university system,” wrote Knitter, and encourages students experiencing any technical issues to connect with the Centre as early as possible.
Overall, English likes the idea of being able to customize her accommodations but personally chooses not to.
“I just do the same thing for every class because I try to cover everything that might happen in that class,” said English.
Bruno maintains that “[customizing accommodations] can be nice, but it's not necessary right? Because your accommodations are supposed to be for every class, at the end of the day. These are not the kind of accommodations that are just for single uses.”
According to Mee, this change was made in order for “[students to] have more control over what they share with an instructor depending on what they actually need from that class.”
This is also in part why the Centre itself doesn’t send the letters out to professors.
“Philosophically, we want to have agency in deciding who they share information with. And so there are some people who only seek accommodations in certain classes,” said Mee. “..[S]ometimes if they've chosen a class and there are no barriers to learning for them, they might not even want to disclose to that instructor that they're a student with a disability, registered with the Centre for Accessibility.”
A late launch
The new system was announced September 9, almost a week after school had started. For students registered with the Centre, the days leading up to the announcement were surrounded by uncertainty.
“I was one of those people asking friends who were also registered with them ‘what the hell's going on now?’ Like, where are accommodation forms that we need to actually sent to these professors?” said Bruno.
English wished it had been handled in a more time-sensitive manner.
“I would have preferred this information, maybe, a week before classes? Just so if you don't know where your accommodations letter is, or how you're going to obtain that accommodations letter... I really like telling my professors on the first day of classes, here's the thing, here's my accommodations.”
According to Knitter, the Centre exercised caution as they implemented the system.
“As with any major change, there can be delays and unanticipated glitches and we worked diligently to be ready to launch by [the] beginning of Fall term. All along, we were prepared to fall back on our manual system just in case we weren’t ready for the full launch. We waited until we were confident the new system was viable and notified students as early as possible.”
After two years of planning, the new system for accommodation letters is finally in place.
“I would say that we are hopeful that the more systems that we can put in place that create a better interaction and more efficiency, the more time we have for those kind of value-added conversations with students and with instructors around creating a more inclusive environment,” said Mee.