N.B. law grad frustrated after being unable to cross stage at his own graduation

N.B. law grad frustrated after being unable to cross stage at his own graduation

While university graduates around Canada are celebrating their accomplishments, one University of New Brunswick law graduate said he was “humiliated” during his graduation ceremony.

“When I started law school, I said it myself, ‘When I cross the stage, I know I’ve made it.’ But I didn’t get to cross the stage,” Blair Curtis said.

He has a wheelchair.

In December, he said he filled out a form indicating that he has a wheelchair and a service dog. In February, he started discussions with the law grad committee, and in March, those discussions moved to the university-wide committee.

That’s when he was told he’d have an accessible ramp, but that he couldn’t test it until May 14, two days before the ceremony.

When he did test it, he discovered it was too steep to wheel up on his own.

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“Which was my fear right back in December when I submitted the request, was that I wouldn’t be able to get on it. And it was kind of arising in front of me, which was terrifying,” he said.

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He says the university then gave him three options: stay at the back of the stage for the full ceremony, have someone push him, or receive the degree from the floor.

He didn’t want to miss watching his friends cross the stage and wanted to be visible, so he did not accept the first option.

Curtis also didn’t want someone to push him up the ramp. He has a progressive syndrome called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

“So being able to maintain my independence for as long as possible is really important for me,” he said.

Instead, he crossed the floor.

“When Blair crossed on the carpet in front of the stage, those of us sitting really couldn’t see him cross, we had to watch on the monitors,” Mindy Parsons, his friend and another graduate, said.

University response

“Several accommodation options were presented and discussed. The accommodation plan was developed in consultation with the graduate prior to graduation,” a university spokesperson, Natasha Ashfield, said in an emailed statement.

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Curtis, however, recalls matters differently.

“I was given three options and told that I had to pick one. For me, that’s not consultation,” Curtis said.

The statement also said Curtis’ concerns weren’t brought to its attention until the story aired on CBC on May 17.

But Curtis said he vocalized his concerns three times before and after the ceremony to members of the grad committee and the student accessibility centre.

His concern is about the wider impact.

“I feel bad that the ceremony happened that way for me but also other disabled students watching who wanted to be able to see a disabled student make it,” he said.

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