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Office of Students with Disabilities projects deficit of 15 per cent

The Office of Students with Disabilities (OSD) is currently awaiting funding for its 2015-2016 academic year operations. This upcoming year will see a grant of over $1 million to McGill University from the province of Quebec, which will be designated through the university’s various channels to support both the OSD and efforts to improve services for students with disabilities outside of the OSD on campus.

The OSD previously received direct funding from the provincial government, according to Executive Director of Student Services Jana Luker.

“Instead of the [approximately] $100,000 that the OSD was getting, it’s $1.2 million that the university will now receive,” Luker said. “It will be up to the [university] to distribute it. But the government [is] presently setting parameters on how to distribute it—what are the restrictions, who does it go to. Other divisions around the university […] also support students with disabilities.”

An upcoming question posed to Senate by Chloe Rourke, Arts and Science senator, indicated that due to the new funding structure, the OSD would face a budgetary shortfall.

“As a result of this envelope of $7.5 million, the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD) will no longer receive […] funding from the government and has […] indicated an expected shortfall of approximately 15 per cent of its budget for the next academic year,” the preamble to her question reads.

According to Luker, the province does not face a deadline by which they must set these guidelines or submit the funding.

“We have submitted a budget that covers last year’s expenses and we know that the invigilation—the students that are hired to supervise the exams of students with disabilities—will probably cost about $40,000, and there’s no money for that,” she said. “We’re short of cash right now, and that’s why it’s important that the government get this money distributed. In the meantime, McGill covers some of it, but they’re also waiting for any information.”

In the case that funding is not received by the upcoming school year, Luker emphasized that the OSD would be mandated to continue running, likely with very few additional services.

“It’s the law that we must accommodate all students with disabilities,” Luker said. “What’s happened in the past is we didn’t get a cut to the OSD budget, but we [saw an increase in] the uptake of students [….] We had to [reduce]  some of the services that we offered, and just offered the bare minimum around accommodation.”

Rourke underscored the challenges the OSD has been facing in recent years due to a surge in registered students.

“Even without a decrease in [its] budget, [the] OSD is struggling to provide the basic services to all the students who need it and have had to eliminate many additional learning supports,” she said. “I believe this is the main issue for students: Currently, OSD is extremely constrained in terms of the services it is able to provide. This has considerable impacts to the 1,600 students registered with the service.”

Drew Mulhall, U3 Science, spoke to the merits of OSD services. In Fall 2014, Mulhall broke his hand and took his final exams in the OSD offices.

“A lot of students’ academics might take a hit because I think the OSD provides students with a lot of resources with managing stress during exam periods, [for those] who require extra time for exams,” Mulhall said. “[That’s] a major concern if [the OSD] doesn’t get the funding that [for those]it needs.”

Rourke reiterated the importance of sustainable funding for the OSD.

“Ultimately, I believe OSD is critical to supporting an accessible learning environment and the academic success of many students at the university,” she said.

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