750 students across the university receive lecture notes from peer note-takers, but inconsistencies across departments are still a barrier for some students with learning disabilities.
Disability Information and Support provides a range of assistance to around 1500 students each year, half of whom use the peer notetaking system. This system involves students providing a set of notes from each lecture in a paper to Disability and Learning Support, receiving $6.50 for each set provided. 325 students provide notes at Otago, many providing notes from more than one paper. Melissa Lethaby, Manager of Disability Information and Support at Otago, said Otago University is a “leader in the field of disability support,” with two other tertiary institutions having adopted the University’s model of peer note-taking.
“Our peer note-takers say that the notes they take often make them better students, because they’re taking more comprehensive notes,” Melissa said. Providing notes for a paper with two weekly lectures would come to $169 (nice) for the whole semester. The cost of peer note-taking accounts for $90,000 of Disability Support’s $480,000 budget. If that budget increased, Melissa said that support would pass on to the peer note takers, but they would “never be in a position to hire an individual notetaker on an hourly rate.” The university does hire some full-time electronic notetakers, who transcribe lectures in real time, predominantly for deaf students.
If notes can’t be sourced for a paper, lecturers are asked to provide detailed notes. Otherwise, extra tutoring is provided for the student.
Fourth-year student Georgia has been accessing the service since being diagnosed with dyslexia in her third year. She said notes have always been available in her papers. Prior to her diagnosis, lectures were overwhelming for her to attend. “I would always leave them frustrated that I missed things instead of actually being able to critically think about what I had just listened to,” she said.
Georgia said the inconsistency of lecture recordings across the University is a “barrier” to her study. On papers where lecture recordings are only made available in certain circumstances, she said that “those with disabilities should also get access to these recordings, to put people on a level playing field.”
This sentiment is echoed by OUSA Welfare and Equity Representative, Maya Polaschek. “I don’t think it's fair to limit people who have particular disabilities to a specific department,” she said. “I think it’s a shame [the system] is not uniform.”