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How to Apply to UVic’s Centre of Accessible Learning

Maybe you’re a first-year who’s looking for help. Maybe you’re coming to CAL later in the game. Either way, you’ve come to the right place! The Centre of Accessible Learning provides support for students with disabilities through accommodations. These accommodations may look like extra time for exams, note-takers and extensions, just to name a few. 

As a fourth-year student who only applied to CAL this past fall, I know both the logistics of the application process and the fear that can accompany going through it. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was a child, but I didn’t apply to CAL in my first year because I didn’t want to take advantage of resources I didn’t think I needed or deserved. However, after a bad experience with antidepressants last summer, I was referred to one of UVic’s psychiatrists, who recommended that I apply. 

Up until that point, I struggled with time management, exhaustion, an inability to focus, and anxiety. I maintained my GPA by sacrificing my physical health and wellbeing and begging my professors for extensions, but, because my grades didn’t drop, I thought I was fine. I didn’t think I needed accommodations, so I refused to ask for them even though I did need them. 

If you struggle with any kind of mental illness, I encourage you to apply. Trust me, it’s worth it. Here’s how you go about doing that. 

Get medical documentation.

I know, scary stuff. If you already have this, skip ahead to Step 3! If not, UVic has a system in place to set you up. I’m less familiar with this process for those seeking accommodation for physical disability or chronic illness, but as someone who went through the process with mental illness, I can confirm that you’ll need to start by talking to a doctor. UVic’s Student Wellness Centre and mental health resources are not without their problems; I’ll be the first to admit it. But they’re a quick way to get a referral. 

If the doctor doesn’t offer, bring up applying to CAL yourself. They’ll refer you to the psychiatrist, who will chat with you about your challenges and start your referral to CAL.

Set up an appointment with the nurse who specializes in CAL referrals.

They’ll ask you to rate scenarios 1-5 on how hard you find functioning on a really bad day to get a sense of your needs.

Fill out the pre-intake forms.

If you go through the UVic system, the nurse will send the documentation to CAL for you. Alternatively, upload your documentation to the registration site. Either way, you’ll have to fill out the pre-intake form on their website, which is a few short questions.

Make an appointment with your advisor.

Once CAL has processed your application, they’ll contact you to help you make said appointment. I worked with the mental health advisor, but you may be referred to someone else. They have phone and email options to book appointments (by video call at the moment due to COVID-19), so don’t worry if you have phone anxiety!

Meet with the advisor.

Once you’ve done that, the next step is to meet with the advisor, who will help you make an accommodations plan. Maybe you need more time on exams. Maybe you need help with time management. Maybe you need extensions. Whatever it is, they’ll help you sort it out.

Send the letter that outlines your accommodation plan to your professors.

The advisor will walk you through how to do this. This letter doesn’t tell the professor what you’re struggling with. Having my professors prepared to make these accommodations has been a life saver for the weeks when I simply can’t make it to class or when I can’t finish an assignment.

If you’re looking for a sign to apply, this is probably it. I totally get the impulse not to bother: Imposter’s Syndrome is very real, and your brain might tell you that you shouldn’t “take advantage of resources that other people need more.” Your brain is a liar. CAL is a resource that you should absolutely access if you need it. It’s here to help you. I know that society tells us to muscle through mental illness, but as someone who did that for my first three years, you don’t have to. Asking for help is okay! I promise!

Eli Mushumanski is a queer Writing and English Honour undergrad in their fourth year at the University of Victoria. They specialize in fiction and poetry. Their work has been published by The Albatross, The Warren, and Flare: The Flagler Review, and they are a fiction editor at UVic's literary journal, This Side of West. When not caught up by schoolwork or reading, Eli plays Stardew Valley and chats with their mom on the phone.
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