'It feels like it's very lacklustre': some students are concerned with Centre for Accessibility's COVID-19 safety policies

Clara, a third-year science student whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, was filling out some paperwork before her exam at the Centre for Accessibility when she saw a staff member walking around with his mask below his chin. She had seen this particular staff member with his mask down before, but this time had made her more uncomfortable than usual.

“I was already having a pretty bad day, very anxious and everything,” she told The Ubyssey.

Clara asked the woman helping her with the forms if they could move to a different room, but the woman “kind of brushed [her] off.”

“She was just like, ‘Oh, don't worry we're almost done anyways,’” Clara said, adding that she thought the other staff member overheard the conversation but did nothing to fix his mask.

This is one instance of many that has left Clara feeling “a little dissatisfied” with the Centre for Accessibility’s approach to COVID-19 safety in its test taking spaces.

“It feels like it's very lacklustre, as if the staff don't care,” she said. “And I feel like that's an environment where you would expect them to be extra careful because a lot of students with accommodations may also have medical conditions that would make them more vulnerable to COVID[-19].”

Among other services, the centre offers accommodations to registered students who may be unable to take exams “under standard conditions” due to a disability or medical condition.

In a now-deleted post on the UBC subreddit, some other students complained about the lack of ventilation and crowdedness of the centre’s testing rooms.

While Clara said ventilation hasn’t been a big concern for her — “I’m usually too stressed out to really notice” — she noted that she hasn’t seen anyone sanitize shared surfaces, or any posters outlining the centre’s disinfecting policies.

Fiona Davies, a third-year international relations student, takes tests through the centre in a private room, but has noticed some students with their masks down in other testing spaces. She noted that this has been distracting for one of her friends who also tests through the centre.

“He's mentioned a few times that it's been kind of annoying and distracting [when he] is trying to focus on writing, but then he's getting distracted by the fact that somebody else has their mask down,” she said.

Janet Mee, the director of the Centre for Accessibility, told The Ubyssey the centre follows all the required safety protocols as outlined in UBC’s safety plan.

She said custodial staff clean every exam space every morning and that centre staff disinfect these same areas at the end of each day.

On mask-wearing policies, Mee said masks are required in all indoor spaces, but noted some students may have a medical condition that exempts them from wearing one. “We would be required to accommodate exams for those students as we would with students who are wearing a mask,” she said.

In response to Clara’s concern over the unmasked staff member, Mee said a “supervisor would address it.”

“We are following all of the protocols and are happy to address any concerns that may come up,” she said.

COVID-19 isn’t the only thing on students’ minds

Clara brought up more general concerns with the centre’s testing accommodations, calling the process a “hassle” multiple times in her interview with The Ubyssey.

She complained about how difficult it is to ask a professor a question during an exam — the centre will send the professor an email, but it might go unread until after the test finishes — and how the centre lost a formula sheet she made for a class. Both of these issues, Clara believes, puts students registered with the centre at a disadvantage.

“If I had written with the regular class, it doesn't seem like there would have been an issue because nobody from the regular class had that problem,” she said in reference to her lost formula sheet.

Davies, meanwhile, said the centre’s advisors are “super, super helpful” and will try their best to provide students with their requested accommodations.

Mee acknowledged that the issue of asking professors a question during an exam is a “perpetual challenge.”

“We're clear with students about this when they sign up for accommodation exams through the centre. We can't guarantee that we will be able to get ahold of the professor. And we do our very best,” she said, adding that the centre will also text an instructor if it has their phone number.

Mee said the centre is “constantly monitoring” the processes it has in place, but also stressed that students should come forward with their concerns.

“We can't make adjustments to things we don't know about. So we do rely on students.”

Still, Clara doesn’t think going to the centre with her complaints will change anything given her past experience bringing these forward.

“I've kind of accepted at this point that I need to study in a way that I'm aiming for a grade higher than I would originally have aimed for because I need to take into account the chance that there will be marks loss due to these kinds of hassles,” she said.

— with files from Charlotte Alden