Blundon Centre provides invaluable service
By Jeff Green
Ruth North, student affairs officer at the
“It’s called JAWS but it’s not as scary as the movie,” Ruth North said with a chuckle while sitting at a computer on the fourth floor of Memorial University’s Student Centre. Within seconds, a program is up and running on the screen. “This is neat,” she added smiling. “Like the film, it’s really impressive.”
She’s not joking. JAWS which stands for Job Access With Speech allows students who are blind or have a visual impairment the ability to surf the Internet, send e-mails and even write exams. The program includes a screen-reader application with speech-synthesize software. Information on the screen is read aloud to students and they can then type in their response.
The high-tech program is just one of the ways the Glenn Roy Blundon Centre for Students with Disabilities is improving its services to help Memorial students succeed throughout the academic year.
“That’s all part of our mandate,” said Ms. North, who has been the centre’s student affairs officer since it opened in 1992. “I think programs like this are essential. It provides invaluable services to students across campus.”
Named in honour of the late Glenn Blundon, a former Memorial student originally from Bay de Verde who died in 1984, the centre offers a long list of services to students with short- and long-term disabilities associated with learning, vision, hearing, mobility, chronic illnesses and psychiatric conditions.
“We even accommodate students with, for example, a broken foot who needs to avail of our on-campus transportation system or people who break their arm and need the assistance of a scribe,” added Ms. North.
That’s important information for freshmen students or those who aren’t aware of what the centre offers. Some students don’t know there’s “an avenue for help,” explained Ms. North. “We have services they can use.”
Now more than ever those services are in high demand. During the winter 2005 semester, officials assisted 150 students compared to just 46 students when they opened more than a decade ago. That number is expected to increase again this year. One of the biggest demands is for academic accommodations when students are writing tests or exams. Since September 2004, the centre has assisted with 1,500 tests compared to just six during the winter semester of 1992.
“That includes things such as helping students arrange permission to write exams in a quiet room, or request additional time,” said Ms. North. “Maybe students who have vision loss might need their test or exam enlarged. It could be a student who is deaf having a sign language interpreter for the test. Or, it could be the provision of a wheelchair-accessible desk for the student during an exam. There are a whole range of issues.”
Other services offered through the centre include note-taking assistance, keys for wheelchair-accessible elevators, access to TTY and a telephone with amplification, orientation of new students and on-campus transportation. For the most part, the centre relies on other students who are hired throughout the year to help provide services.
“A lot of students who apply to work in our offices are social work or education students so this offers them some hands-on experience,” said Ms. North.
In response to the demand for services offered by the Blundon Centre, the university has hired Renée Mercer as an assistant to help co-ordinate some programs.
“More people are becoming aware of our programs,” added Ms. North. “I think that some students wouldn’t be here at MUN if it weren’t for our services. We are vital to this community.”