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Update on the National Educational Association of Disabled Students' (NEADS) Graduate Student Experience Project

(June 9, 2015 – Ottawa)

As the number of students with disabilities entering Canadian graduate schools continues to increase, faculty in graduate programs, disability service providers, and students, are having to develop new strategies to facilitate their success. There is a considerable need to better understand the overall experiences of disabled students in graduate studies, owing to the paucity of research on the experiences of this population.

The NEADS National Graduate Experience Taskforce was formed in response to these issues by the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) in 2012. The Taskforce has the following goals:

-    To examine the experiences of, and barriers faced by, graduate students with disabilities across Canada;
-    To develop discussion papers outlining the current systemic issues for graduate students with disabilities;
-    To produce information which assists in the development of strategies that facilitate the success of students with disabilities in graduate programs;
-    To develop recommendations for the continued improvement of graduate experience for students with disabilities, which can be translated into policy at an institutional, provincial and/or national level.

The Taskforce is comprised of faculty from graduate programs in Canada, disability service providers, student financial aid administrators, graduate student services directors,  community service agencies, assistive technology specialists, legal experts and graduate students with disabilities. Additionally, graduate deans and university senior administrators act in an advisory capacity to the taskforce.

Participating organizations and post-secondary schools engaged in the NEADS Graduate Student Experience Taskforce include:

– National Educational Association of Disabled Students (sponsoring aegis)
– Council of Ontario Universities
– Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario
– Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
– Canadian Association of Graduate Studies
– Canadian Association of College and University Student Services
– Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
– Inter-university Disability Issues Association  
– University of Toronto
– York University
– Western University
– Guelph University
– University of New Brunswick
– Simon Fraser University

The work of the Taskforce consists of several phases. First, an online survey instrument was distributed to students with disabilities across Canada to profile the experiences of, and barriers faced by, graduate students with disabilities in master’s and doctoral programs. This survey explicitly focused on the application/interview process; disability-related accommodations and relationship with the disability service provider on campus; the student-supervisor relationship; academic integrity and intellectual property, including conferences and publications; and, collaborations and interactions with faculty and peers.
The survey results shaped a key informant interview protocol that will be applied to graduate students with disabilities. Canadian disability service providers, financial aid administrators, and graduate faculty constituencies were surveyed concurrently to obtain their perspectives on issues, barriers and accommodations for graduate students with disabilities. The Taskforce also undertook a detailed review of the legislative landscape in Canada, a comprehensive evaluation of the student experience literature, and a scan of relevant policies and best practices from across the globe.

The project’s first discussion paper, Defining a New Culture: Creative Examination of Essential Requirements in Academic Disciplines and Graduate Programs, is now available on the Canadian Association of Graduate Students’ website. Here is the full document in PDF format:

http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cags.ca%2Fdocuments%2Fpublications%2F3rdparty%2FDiscussion%2520paper%2520Essential%2520Requirements%2520FINAL%25202014-09-22.pdf&ei=S6F0VaqoOYrYsAXI-oG4Aw&usg=AFQjCNEpnkcsyM5cZGQvSMrKDW7f-71LgQ&sig2=kLBE5y2Q-DqBae0MTc8w2g

To date, members of the Taskforce, led by the Taskforce Chair, Dr. Mahadeo Sukhai, have presented at many regional, national and international conferences and meetings, including the Canadian Association of Graduate Studies (CAGS), the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), the Higher Education Reform Conference 2014, the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (CASFAA), the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS), and at the Simon Fraser University Summer Institute. Most recently, Emily Duffet, NEADS Chair and Ainsley Latour, Director-At-Large presented the project’s findings and recommendation framework during the 2015 Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Ottawa in the Christine Nieder Memorial session.

This innovative and timely project will provide significant background for policy and practice changes that will enhance the experience of the growing numbers of graduate students with disabilities in Canadian universities. The final project report of the NEADS Graduate Student Experience Project  is expected to be released publicly in winter 2015/2016.

For more information about the work of the Taskforce, please contact the  Dr. Mahadeo A. Sukhai, Taskforce Chair at: m.sukhai@utoronto.ca

National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS)
Rm. 426 Unicentre, Carleton University
Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 5B6
tel. (613) 380-8065, www.neads.ca


 




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