Working Through Barriers to Accessibility
Whitney Hodgins works as the Brandon University Students Union (BUSU) Accessibilities Director and is also a full-time student.
In addition, she has taken on a voluntary position as Accessibility Commissioner with the Canadian Federation of Students, Manitoba.
Whitney was recently named an Outstanding Female Student for her work as an accessibility advocate.
I became involved with accessibility on campus for the first time when I was asked by administration to help develop an accessibility plan for BU.
Then someone asked me if I going to run for the accessibilities director position in the BUSU election.
After looking into it I found that a lot of the previous directors only lasted two to six months before leaving, usually because of family or academic issues.
I decided to run, and after being elected, set a goal that no matter what happened I would finish my term. I owed it to the students to stay and be a voice and representative for them.
I’m now finishing my second year, and have just been elected to serve for a third term.
Students come to see me for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, it’s an ‘I’ll talk, you listen’ situation, or they ask me ‘how did you get through this barrier’?
They might need reassurance or emotional support — it hits home when I tell them, ‘it’s okay, you can get through this,’ because it’s another accessibilities student saying it.
Some students come from communities where they felt stigmatized for having a need. I tell them that it’s okay to have a need, it doesn’t make you any less of a human being to need help.
I know from having been diagnosed on the autism spectrum, and having anxiety and depression, that mental health can be a barrier.
A student who was perfectly comfortable in high school can become very anxious at university, and it’s a problem they haven’t dealt with before.
We all have anxiety, but for some people it gets out of control and they need assistance to manage that. I let them know about resources that offer help, such as the Student Services Counsellors and Student Accessibility Services.
I’m also on various boards and committees as an accessibilities representative. One of my projects was looking at blueprints for a renovation to the bookstore.
It was an opportunity to see what the barriers were for someone in a wheelchair and make accessibility recommendations.
Because I’m making a difference on my campus and have an accessibility need, organizers ask me to speak at their events.
It ranges from giving a presentation to a group of psychiatric nursing students in BU’s Health Studies Faculty, to speaking at national academic conferences.
Being invited to attend national conferences allows me to connect with accessibilities directors from other provinces and learn about what they are doing. I always come back with ideas on how I can help students.
— by Brandon Now