It is unlikely that there was much thought of accessibility when Carleton University decided to link its buildings by underground tunnel. However, as the University expanded the tunnels did as well. As a result, students with disabilities discovered they could travel around campus with relative ease.
As more students with disabilities enrolled at Carleton, the need for further structural improvements and increased services became apparent. Since Carleton was founded as a college for returning war veterans and was one of the first schools to actively recruit women, it was natural that the school embraced students with disabilities.
When students with disabilities began to live in Residence, they were placed on the second floor of Glengarry House. There was a nurse on duty in the mornings that would assist students to rise and prepare for school. During the rest of the day, these students had to be independent or to get assistance from floor mates. As service demand grew, problems arose. The nurse on duty was responsible for the entire residence population, but was spending most of her time with a few students with disabilities. Furthermore, students had no support other than the morning assistance.
Beginning in 1986, limited attendant services became available. Two local health care companies provided attendants, most of the attendants came from the residence population at Carleton.
The primary responsibilities of the attendants were to assist students with disabilities with morning and evening care allowing the nurse to return to regular duties. However, outside of morning and evening routines, students with disabilities still had no assistance for the majority of the day. The Attendants had little training, there were no policies to follow, and since the assistance was available for only very limited times during the day, only students with low level disabilities could live in Residence. The service operated on a small grant from Vocational Rehabilitation Services, this organization had never funded this type of unique arrangement. Although the service showed great promise, there was little chance of increased funding from VRS.
Larry McCloskey, Director of the Paul Menton Centre applied to the Ministry of Health for funding to expand the service to provide 24 hour on campus attendant services. Although this type of service had never been offered before, the Ministry of Health could see the merits of a program that allowed students with disabilities to live on campus from September to April and to study alongside their able bodied peers.
The two community agencies that had been providing the attendants both wanted to exclusively manage the service beginning in September of 1987.
However, Mr. McCloskey disliked the idea of a company receiving a high per diem rate of funding for each student with a disability, retaining a large percentage of the funding for off campus management, and paying a much smaller amount to attendants on duty. Mr. McCloskey envisioned a “made at Carleton” solution and so pursued the idea of the University managing all aspects of the service.
That September, an early version of the Carleton University Residence Attendant Services Program began. Moving away from the medical model where only health care professionals provided personal care, student attendants were hired and trained in the philosophy of independent living. A part time Program Coordinator, Mary Harris was hired by the University to schedule attendants and oversee the program budget. This allowed a person to be on site to deal with management issues, and by excluding outside agencies, more funding was available for direct service.
In the initial stages of the service there was little formality but plenty of goodwill. The Program lacked organization but made up for it with enthusiasm and a sincere belief that something worthwhile was being accomplished. In recognition of the unique service, the first of its kind in a University setting, the program was given an award by then Minister Responsible for Persons with Disabilities, Remo Mancini.
The Program had more flexibility and offered more hours of service. Clients enjoyed a higher level of independence since they could access an attendant at any time of day. Not only did existing students have more flexibility, the increased service also allowed students with a higher level of disability to join the Program.
In the summer of 1990, funding for the Program was increased to allow students to receive service year round rather than just the eight month academic year. Clients could now stay in Residence and study during the summer rather than being forced to find alternative accessible housing, which is extremely scarce.
By 1992 Ms Harris had left the Program, long time devoted employee Pat Curran had become Team Leader and later managed the Program as acting Coordinator for a short time until Matthew Cole became the Executive Director in early 1993.
A program guide was created and sent out to every high school in Ontario and to disability-based organizations across the country. By September of 1994 the program was again filled to capacity with students from Calgary to St. John’s while many recent graduates were fulfilling their aspirations by starting promising careers or by moving on to graduate schools.
As the mid 1990s became the late 90s, the program took on a larger role on campus. Despite the constant turnover of graduating attendants, the management team remained in place for five years and managed to expand service. Rather than just serving students with disabilities in residence, having attendants available for other events on campus was becoming commonplace. Off campus events such as Orientation and the annual Charity Ball, were also made more accessible by the availability of attendants.
As the year 2000 approached and persons with disabilities continued to make gains at all levels of society, the service at Carleton was swelling beyond capacity every year. In addition, Algonquin College was making great strides in accommodating students with disabilities at its Woodroffe campus, which rivalled and in some areas surpassed Carleton in terms of physical accessibility. A new initiative was forwarded to the Ministry of Health to expand Carleton’s service and to operate a new program at Algonquin, and its newly constructed residence.
By 2001, the proposal had little chance of success. The Program was already growing at Carleton faster than its funding model allowed, making expansion unlikely. Several health care companies in the community wanted to bid on a possible program at Algonquin, but Carleton was the obvious choice. The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care however, was under increasing pressure to trim province wide expenditures and no new supportive housing programs were being funded anywhere in the province. Despite these odds, the merits of the program were obvious and the new program was approved, though the funding constraints were formidable. In September of 2001 Algonquin College became the first college in Canada to offer 24 hour attendant services.
Staff worked hard to keep the service operating efficiently while resources were clearly inadequate. Every program employee earned significantly less than comparable positions in the community but complaints were non-existent. Eventually the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care recognized the tremendous benefits being provided to students with disabilities and increased funding to the program.
At Carleton, physical accessibility continued to improve particularly with the construction of Leeds House in 2001 and Prescott House in 2003.
By September 2004 the Program was growing rapidly at Algonquin and staffing there was doubled. The Program seemed to make the transition smoothly, but constant growth threatened to once again strain the budget. This challenge was overcome with a well-deserved operating grant increase which lead to significant wage hikes for the attendants in September of 2005.
In the fall of 2006, the program took on a record number of clients and launched a new web site including a state of the art virtual tour.