The University of Calgary Students' Union recently abolished the Access Levy Board, requiring all accessibility requests to go through the SU Executive Council. The SU is also questioning the need for the Access Levy altogether, citing the federal government's "Duty to Accommodate" requirement.
The restructuring occurred last month and is designed to facilitate the distribution of funds collected via a $1.50 levy paid by students every semester. According to SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Joel Lockwood, the change is intended to help students with disabilities receive the services and equipment they need within the first month or two of school, instead of around December as was often the case in the old system.
"They don't have what they need to learn and the meeting to approve their proposal might be the latter part of October or maybe Nov-ember," said Lockwood. "But then they need to get these things bought and these things are pretty specialized and it takes more time to get these things in. So this was done because these students weren't getting [their needs met] in a timely fashion."
Also on the table is the question of whether the U of C itself is required to accommodate students with disabilities, instead of the SU. Under the legal notion of "Duty to Accommodate," the university may be legally obligated to provide services to students currently under the SU's care. However, Lockwood is quick to note these are only preliminary investigations by both the SU and administration.
"This isn't a confrontational issue," stressed Lockwood. "It's not like we want to get out of collecting this fund. We don't want to get out of anything, we just want to explore what the university's obligation is."
U of C VP Finance and Services Michael McAdam admits the university has a duty to accommodate students, but said removing the levy would be disadvantageous to disabled students as they wouldn't receive the kind of quality aid they currently do from the SU.
"There's no doubt at the end of the day, we're the ones responsible," said McAdam. "But I don't think we want to underestimate the value of the Students' Union taking a leadership role, even if it means a $1.50 levy. If you take the number of [students with disabilities] and eliminate the $40,000 or whatever the levy produces, that's a big deal for those peoples' experiences here at the university."
McAdam also said if the levy was removed and the university was required to pay, other improvements would be neglected.
"Let's just say that we did pick up that gap," he said. "Something else on that list would not get funded because we've redirected those resources. At the end of the day, the student population is ultimately disadvantaged by such a decision."