Opinion: To better accommodate students with disabilities, U of T should compensate note-takers

Pay or extra-credit would improve the quality and quantity of notes
JACQUELINE RENEE/THE VARSITY
JACQUELINE RENEE/THE VARSITY

Throughout my academic career at U of T, I’ve had many note-takers, all of whom I appreciate more than they could ever know. However, I’d like to start this piece with a thank you to one in particular: a man whom I will call Herbert.

Herbert was a volunteer note-taker for an evolutionary anthropology course. His notes were effectively perfect. He uploaded a set for every lecture, never missing a single class, and always wrote the date, lecture number, and lecture topics at the top. He put in a table of contents, diagrams, and bullet points that changed based on the subject matter. His wording was simple yet eloquent, and he covered all the necessary material without overdoing it.

Herbert, if you’re out there — this one’s for you.

Like many of us at U of T who require accommodations, I sometimes miss classes for disability-related reasons. There are definitely a lot of reasons why other students need note-takers, but the gist of it is that not every student can attend lectures, or if they can attend, not all of them are able to efficiently take notes every class. This is why note-takers are so important.

Unfortunately, volunteer note-takers are few and far between. There are many classes that don’t have any note-takers at all, and the ones that do might only submit one or two lecture notes and then stop. This makes it hard for students who have no other way of following the lecture material.

You could try to get notes from our friends, but what if you don’t have friends in your class, or they spend all class watching shows on Disney+? What if you don’t want your friends to know you have a disability, or don’t feel comfortable asking them for notes?

Students are left shouldering this responsibility, but they should not have to make up for U of T’s inability to provide equitable access to course material. Volunteer note-taking is a necessary service for many students. Without it, they would have almost no other way to study for material covered in lecture.

By failing to adequately provide this service, the university is failing these students, and furthering accessibility challenges for those who are reliant on them.

If note-takers are so necessary, why are volunteer notes so subject to chance? As a student who depends on accessibility services, I know that there are ways to improve both the quality and quantity of notes. These include financially compensating note-takers or providing an extra-credit incentive.

Paying note-takers would create an incentive for students to not only apply for the position but also to improve the quality of their notes.

Furthermore, note-taking is a necessary accommodation, and it should be compensated as such. By only compensating this labour through co-curricular credits (CCRs), we are undervaluing the impact of good note-takers, and potentially leaving those who depend on this service with limited access to coursework.

Whether it be through a work-study scheme or through an honorarium, providing financial compensation for note-takers is long overdue. This will not only provide some students with more opportunities to earn income, but it will also provide students with better learning materials.

Another way to compensate note-takers would be providing extra-credit opportunities for submitting high quality notes. By doing this, students would be able to receive some academic recognition for their work, rather than just CCRs.

It’s important for U of T to accommodate all its students, and that includes those who require accessibility services. Students who use accessibility services are just that: students. They’re people who deserve to be given the opportunity to learn the course material through high quality notes.

I would like to thank every note-taker who has ever submitted notes. I printed out your notes, colour-coded them, sat on a pink blanket on the floor with my incense burning, and read them over and over until it was time to take my meds. They are in my heart — always.

Especially your notes, Herbert. Your notes have a special place in my heart.

Bao Li Ng is a third-year student at Victoria College.

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