Understanding the needs of students with disabilities

Meet Sara Izadi-Najafabadi a PhD Candidate at BC Children’s Hospital where she focused on brain changes after rehabilitation in children with developmental coordination disorder and the effects of brain stimulation on their motor behaviour. Last year Sara received an AMS Impact Grant and used it to propel her research.

Sara came to Canada to complete her studies and joined the Graduate Student Society where she served as a VP Academic.  She has a background in rehabilitation and is committed to help students with disabilities.


“When I joined graduate student society (GSS), I realized there was not enough support for students with disabilities. Particularly, I found out there was not a comprehensive understanding from the students’ perspective. There was also a difference between the needs of graduates and undergraduates.

So, I started my research about disability at UBC focusing on students that are in research-based graduate programs. I work closely with Dr. Tal Jarus to identify UBC accessibility issues from the students’ point of view.

Thus far in my research, I have identified a few issues that students with disability encounter on a daily basis. For example, international students with disabilities are not eligible for government support. This involves a financial burden for them too because there is minimum funding for disability programs and disable students have extra costs.

Also, the leave of absence policy is a concern for students. They explained that they cannot predict when they are going to need it and therefore they cannot notify the university 3 months in advance as the current policy states. Students have to pay a fee to stay connected to the university and maintain their student status while they cannot have access to most of UBC resources, are not allowed to take on student jobs, and cannot involve in any activity that helps them academically. This policy is very different from the University of Toronto, for example, where students can choose whether to pay the fee or not while here at UBC they don’t have that option.

Lack of inclusiveness was another issue of concern that students mentioned. Most of the students I talked to had negative experiences with staff, students, or even faculty members, which prevented them from accessing the accommodation, taking on job opportunities, etc because not everyone was receptive of their disability.

Lack of Scent-free policy and its implementation in UBC public spaces such as recreation centres and libraries has also excluded students with Asthma from participating in various activities or has even made their condition worsen.

The funding from the AMS Impact Grant was very welcomed and it helped me to put together a team, conduct a focus group and compensate the participants. I am still collecting the data I need to further understand and advocate for the needs of students with disabilities at UBC.

I expect that the results of my study can get the university to think about the changes they need to do and make them aware of the problems students with disabilities face at UBC.”