Prospective student with brain injury calls University of Waterloo appeal 'callous'

Roch Longueépée says the University of Waterloo's move to appeal a court order forcing it to accommodate him in the admissions process shows how far society still has to go in including people with disabilities.

University ordered by court last month to use "accommodated admissions process"

Roch Longueépée, advocate for children victimized by abuse and trauma in institutions, pictured at a news conference in Ottawa, 2015. (CBC)

Roch Longueépée says the University of Waterloo's move to appeal a court order forcing it to accommodate him in the admissions process shows how far society still has to go in including people with disabilities.

Longueépée has a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress (PTSD). When he first applied to the university, he was turned down due to his low marks, which he attained before receiving his diagnosis.

The university has been ordered by a court to review Longueépée's application using an "accommodated admissions process," but is now trying to appeal that order.

"I think it's another example of how ableistic our society still is," said Longueépée, who is founder of Restoring Dignity, an advocacy group for survivors of childhood abuse and trauma suffered in institutions.

Longueépée said that since the court process began, he's heard from many people with disabilities who've encountered similar roadblocks to post-secondary education. 

"If it was only about me, I'm not sure I would have gone to the courts, but there's a lot more at stake here," he said.

Accommodation possible, says expert

Success in university is possible for people with brain injuries, according to Dr. Donna Ouchterlony, former director of the head injury clinic at St. Michael's Hospital. 

Dr. Ouchterlony has been an expert witness in legal cases related to brain injuries, including an appeal Longueépée made to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal in this case.

"The brain injured individual can often do very well with accommodations, but without accommodation will fail miserably," she said.

Dr. Ouchterlony said universities can help students with brain injuries by offering them more flexibility and time to complete assignments. Note takers can be helpful, because people with these injuries may have days when they aren't well enough to attend class, she said.

Although universities are becoming better at helping students with relatively common conditions like anxiety, Dr. Ouchterlony said they lag behind in accommodating those with more severe forms of trauma.

"We have two classes of people with disabilities that require accommodations, and they really need to look harder at the ones that require more accommodation," she said.

A spokesperson for the University of Waterloo declined to comment on the matter while it is still before the courts.