UMSU students with disabilities service group in limbo

More than a year after the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) approved the creation of a service group for students living with disabilities, advocates say they are still waiting to see results.

UMSU council approved the creation of the service group at one of its meetings in September 2015. However, beyond setting aside space and collecting applications for the coordinator position over the summer, former UMSU students living with disabilities representative and current Arts Student Body Council member Andy Fenwick said little progress has been made.

“Stalling the group is also stalling crucial services like peer-to-peer support and financial workshops, and stalling the ability to advertise to members and recruit members,” Fenwick said.

“UMSU needs to hire a coordinator and furnish the Accessibility Centre so it can start planning events, recruiting students, and flourishing as a student service group,” he said.

With UMSU Accessibility Awareness Week scheduled for the week of Nov. 28 , Fenwick said the council is missing an opportunity to have the centre play a pivotal role in the week’s events.

“The Accessibility Centre should’ve been operational by this point so it could have advertised services and [hosted] an event, but with the coordinator still not hired, the chances of being able to have that are very slim,” he said.

“It’s actually pretty [unintentionally] disrespectful when I see the Accessibility Centre logo being advertised, or when they say they have it as a student service group, because they don’t at all – it’s just an empty, locked room.”

 Overcoming obstacles

In June, UMSU council approved spending more than $6,480 to paint, remove carpet, and improve accessibility to a room in the Helen Glass Centre that will serve as the group’s home.

A job posting to hire a coordinator for the centre closed June 17. However, UMSU’s vice-president advocacy Dara Hallock said the union’s executive is looking at restructuring how its community and service centres operate, which has held up the hiring process.

“There are many inefficiencies within the currently established community groups that we are looking to resolve,” she said. “We feel it would be irresponsible to open the centre without any real formal preparations or with the potential of having to modify the centre’s structure after the opening.”

There are currently five UMSU community representative positions and three service groups: the Womyn’s Centre, the Rainbow Pride Mosaic, and the Aboriginal Students’ Association. In addition to the accessibility centre, UMSU council is looking at creating a community group for international students.

Hallock said that while the motion to approve the accessibility centre was initially passed last fall, the previous UMSU council did little toward making the centre a functioning reality.

“There are many logistics that still need to be finalized,” she said. “UMSU is attempting to complete a long list of tasks, including preparing a formal vision statement for the centre, identifying the goals and objectives of the centre, as well as identifying the types of resources we will have available within the centre.”

“This executive team would like to see very active community centres – ones who are collaborating with UMSU on advocacy campaigns, on events and programming, and ones that offer tangible resources to students, in addition to the safe space,” she said.

“We felt it was appropriate to do our due diligence and follow a proper procedure for opening the accessibility centre. This may take more time than originally anticipated by the individuals who first proposed the motion to council, but we feel this will ultimately result in a better community group and centre for the students who need it most.”

Hallock said she would still like to see the centre open for Accessibility Awareness Week.