Disabling University Services

Directors: New Quebec Budget is Nothing to Look Forward To

The Concordia Access Centre for Students With Disabilities will lose two employees who took buyouts from university via the Voluntary Departure Program.  Photo Brandon Johnston.

Maria-Teresa Zenteno has been an advisor with the Access Centre for Students with Disabilities for 25 years.

In that time she’s seen the number of students seeking help from the access centre increase from 130 to approximately 1600.

“And the numbers continue to grow,” she said.

Zenteno has seen the approach to teaching become more inclusive. Disabilities are no longer understood as individual issues dealt with on a one-to-one basis, but as consequences of inaccessible environments. Learning spaces and physical classroom spaces alike need to be adapted to suit everyone’s needs.

As a result of these advances, more students at the centre are likely to be full-time and complete their degrees successfully.

April will be Zenteno’s last month at Concordia. She leaves with pride in the work done by the university, which she says has put the school at the forefront of innovating services in North America.

That includes changing approaches from “medical” models to social ones and being less prescriptive when helping students.

“Students were coming here knowing they were going to be accommodated,” she told The Link. Facilities at Concordia are relatively new and accessible, but accessibility also means delivering information in a way that can be understood by everyone.

“When someone designs a webpage they think, who is going to see this webpage?” she said.

“I have to think that there are people that have dyslexia, that have visual impairments, who have difficulty maneuvering and ‘surfing.’”

Zenteno understands the process and issues faced by students on an intimate level because she’s been in the same situation. Zenteno arrived in Montreal from Chile with a limited understanding of English and a hearing impairment.

She is one of 90 staff members at Concordia that took the buyout offered last fall to help the university cope with $30 million in budget cuts imposed by the provincial government.

She will be leaving with a colleague from the centre. Right now the access centre counts two advisors and one technology consultant, along with four other support staff.

“I hope that those who are retiring like me will eventually be replaced,” she said, “and that whatever is implemented is to the benefit of the students.”

The Voluntary Departure Program, as the buyout is officially known, aimed to cut 180 administrative, support and professional staff jobs.

President Alan Shepard has since said that about 20 new hires will re-fill critical positions.

Concordia has its hands tied by government cuts to education spending, and Shepard and other university heads are not taking it lightly.

On Thursday, the Bureau de Coopération Interuniversitaire published a letter signed by the rectors and presidents of the 16 major universities in Quebec. They’re not happy with the new budget cuts of $70 million in the education sector.

In the last three years, universities lost $200 million—and with no sign from the government on restoring this funding, students will be the obvious losers when it comes to quality and accessibility.

While students are picketing classrooms and university admin expresses its discontent through more formal avenues, Maria-Teresa Zenteno is preparing for life after Concordia. She already works as an academic coach for students from other universities.

“I’m glad that I never lost the passion for my job,” she said.