TORONTO — PhD student Navi Dhanota has succeeded in convincing her university to change their policy around accommodating students with a mental health issue.
Dhanota needs a quiet environment to focus. It’s one aspect of a mental health condition she’s had to deal with, and one she was hoping York University would accommodate by letting her write exams in a place free of distractions.
But to apply for accommodation, she was required to name exactly what her diagnosis was.
“I called them and asked if there was any alternative way to register without disclosing and they said there wasn’t,” said Dhanota, adding it was a privacy concern for her.
“I want to be able to keep that private between me and my doctor.”
Dhanota said she also felt a label would do just that, label her.
“It seems that the psychiatric label they assumed directed them to sort of an umbrella direction of what you require,” she said.
Dhanota filed a Ontario Human Rights complaint and months of mediation with the university resulted in a new policy.
York University’s Executive Director of Counselling and Disability services said they only ever required a diagnosis so they could best help students.
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“We want to make sure students get the best accommodations and there aren’t any barriers for them in their learning,” explained Marc Wilchesky, adding that the university now believes that students have the right to choose whether to disclose their condition or not.
Now students at York University won’t have to reveal the nature of their mental illness to get accommodation, just provide a doctor’s letter confirming they have a diagnosed mental health condition.
“For example, instead of saying I have a borderline personality disorder or I have schizophrenia they just have to say, ‘In order to succeed I need to, for example, write my exam in a quiet room or I need more time,'” said Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
They’ll also be making other colleges and universities aware.
“We see this as a standard setting decision,” Dhanota said that was her goal.
“To not only clarify what York had to do, but system wide, the rights of students.”