Wednesday, February 28, 2018

How 'I became more than the kid in the wheelchair'

By Louise Kinross

Max Setka, 21, is in his second year studying journalism and history at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont. Max has a long history with Holland Bloorview as he was part of our integrated kindergarten program. We spoke about what it was like for him to transition to university with a physical disability.

BLOOM: What is your disability and how does it affect you?

Max Setka:
I have arthrogryposis, and it mainly affects my legs. I wear ankle-foot orthoses every day to stand, and depending on the weather and how I’m feeling, sometimes I use a wheelchair. I used the wheelchair a lot last year when I was in residence. This year I’m often walking.

The campus isn’t completely accessible because everything was built in 1964. But all of the classroom levels are flat and there are elevators in all buildings except for two—and one of those doesn’t have classes in it. I managed relatively easily using the wheelchair last year.

BLOOM: What was the greatest challenge of moving from high school to university?

Max Setka: For me personally, it was discovering how to adapt to everything. I obviously was very excited, but then it was like ‘Okay, how do I get to this place or all these different places?’ There was also some general anxiety about being away from home. But I’ve gone to Camp Awakening for 10 years, so I was used to being away. It was basically: ‘How am I going to manage 11 months of figuring out how to get to places?’

BLOOM: Is speed an issue?

Max Setka:
It is sometimes. I try to give myself a certain amount of time and not rush places. I’ve had a few times where I’ve come into classes late and I’ve apologized at the end and said ‘I’m not the fastest person,’ and that it might happen occasionally.

The big issue for me in residence was leaving myself time to plan ahead for what I needed for three classes, so that I didn’t need to rush back to my room in between classes.

BLOOM: Do you have any accommodations in class?

Max Setka:
I get note-takers. I can type, but my hands aren’t the greatest at speed and coordination. In the first class the professor will ask if anyone is willing to type or write out their notes and submit to an online system. Having someone else’s notes at the end of the class or day is one of my accommodations.

BLOOM: Did you work with an accessibility office on campus?

Max Setka:
Yes. They have an accessibility services office. You go to an orientation in July with them, before school starts, and they explain that you’ll be assigned an advisor who will help figure out what you need. Then at the beginning of September you meet with the advisor. My other accommodations are extra time for exams and I can use my computer for all exams.

BLOOM: Did you feel supported in your accommodations?

Max Setka:
The support is less hands-on than in high school. But if I need anything, I just shoot my advisor an e-mail. All of my professors have experience dealing with things like this. Unfortunately, I’ve got one class where the person who volunteered to take notes stopped after the first two weeks. Luckily, with this class, my professor posts literally his entire lecture, so it’s not affected me as much.

BLOOM: Was it hard or easy to make friends in your first year?

Max Setka: It was fairly easy. You meet a lot of people in residence. Trent is very passionate about connecting people, so we did a lot of floor meetings and activities together. I didn’t have the greatest roommate. I don’t know if my disability was a factor in that.

BLOOM: Were there other students with disabilities on campus?

Max Setka:
I noticed my first year that I was one of the few people in a wheelchair. But having gone to orientations at accessibility services, I found there were quite a few people who maybe didn’t have physical disability, but had invisible disabilities or learning issues. So I didn’t feel completely alone.

BLOOM: I guess Trent can’t advertise itself as being full accessible?

Max Setka: No. They’ve got some building that can’t be retrofitted because they’re so old. But they do advertise as the first university in Canada to have an MV1 van. It’s a small wheelchair accessible van you can book and it will come and take you from one building to the other.

BLOOM: What was accessibility like in residence?

Max Setka:
I was in the one residence that has elevators. My room was slightly wider than average. One of the things that was an issue in the first week was pushing open the door and closing and locking it. They’re very heavy fire doors. So the school attached an automatic opener to the door and gave me a small key fob.

This year I’m off campus, and I started using Peterborough’s Handi-Van, which is like Wheel-Trans. Otherwise I have to take two public buses and they're not reliable.

BLOOM: I understand you’ve been quite involved in extra-curricular activities.

Max Setka:
Last year when I was in residence I ran, and was elected, to the student government in my building. Our job was to get people involved and help them feel that they were a part of the college even if they’d moved out.

We met every other Sunday and had to do required office hours. I think personally for me it made me noticed, because I was always around, and people would say ‘Hey, you’re that guy, right?’ I became more than the kid in the wheelchair.

BLOOM: This year you’re reporting the university's hockey games.

Max Setka:
Yeah. I’ve always been a great hockey fan and because I can’t skate with a disability, I always looked for different ways to be involved.

BLOOM: How often do they play?

Max Setka:
Right now it’s Thursdays and Saturdays every week. I do the full recap, so I have to be at the game and watching every move so I can write it down. I take notes on my computer. The idea is that by the end of the game the recap is out so that if you didn’t see the game, you know what happened before the newspapers publish it in the morning. Anyone can go on the team’s website to read it.

BLOOM: Isn’t it hard to get everything down as the game is happening?

Max Setka:
No. I’ve become really proficient with typing. I take my little laptop and type as the game’s going. Typing has really helped my hands to be able to do more.

BLOOM: Are you interested in sports journalism in the future?

Max Setka:
Yes, this is exactly what I want to go into. I love anything related to hockey.

BLOOM: What advice would you offer a high school student with a disability who plans on going to university?

Max Setka: I’d say don’t let your disability define what you think you can do. If you want to do something, go for it. In my first two weeks in residence I was writing applications for student government, and putting up posters and campaigning.

The other thing is to keep good communications with your school’s office of disability or accessibility.

BLOOM: Have you faced any ignorant attitudes about disability at Trent?

Max Setka:
I haven’t. University is a different place from high school. People admire that you’re there and you’re doing what you’re doing. In high school, you may have an assistant with you, and there’s ‘a special room’ for students with disabilities. In high school there’s the perception ‘He’s from the special room, he’s always got this person with him.’ Coming to university I’ve been able to find out, and be, the kind of person I want to be.

BLOOM: Do you feel you’ve changed a lot?

Max Setka:
 I think I've found myself. I’ve gone through rejections and acceptances when trying to do different things. For example, I applied to be an orientation week leader this past September, but I didn’t get accepted. But that didn’t stop me from trying out for other things, like applying for this position with the hockey team.