Experiencing Disability as a Graduate Student

Graduate Students, Identity, Currently Offered

A space for graduate students with disabilities to seek support in a safe environment.

Navigating graduate school can be difficult at the best of times. Navigating graduate school as a student with a disability can add layers of complexity to the experience, that are often coped with in isolation.  Common experiences during this time can include but are not limited to questions around disclosure of disability status, accommodation, impact on relationship with supervisors and peers, impact on productivity and output, comparison and self-criticism, additional stress in relationships with family and friends, self-doubt, the impact of disability on our sense of identity, and anxiety about the future. 

Feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, isolated, stuck, or unsupported can interfere with the process of writing and research, as well as your ability to enjoy and learn from your graduate student experience. You are not alone.  This group is designed for any graduate student who identifies as having a disability who would benefit to have the opportunity to connect with other students who share a lived experience of disability. The aim of this group is to provide the opportunity for group members to learn from one another in a safe space that honours and is sensitive to the unique challenges of navigating graduate studies as a person with a disability.

What can you expect?

This group will provide a safe and confidential space for graduate students with disabilities to share their experience and receive support from each other and the facilitator, as well as give support to each other. We will start by creating group norms together, and identifying and exploring struggles currently experienced by group members, and tailor the group to address these specific issues. Interactive activities and discussion will help us to understand our experiences and explore new tools and skills for coping with these and other challenges.

This group is appropriate for students who:

  • Are enrolled in a graduate program
  • Identify as having a disability – this group is open to all diagnoses/disabilities
  • Are experiencing challenges navigating graduate school with a disability
  • Are interested in being a supportive part of a group of fellow students with disabilities
  • Find it hard to balance the challenges of life and graduate school
  • Are having difficulties with their program/supervisor
  • Are willing to engage in group activities and share at their own pace

Former group participants/members:

If you participated in this group in previous offerings you may contact the facilitator directly to be placed on a waitlist for possible participation this semester, should space allow: sean_heaslip@sfu.ca


To register you can contact your CAL disability advisor and indicate to them that you are interested in participating in this group.

Please be specific about which group you are wanting to participate in as there is more than one group being offered this term. Your advisor will then forward you an email referral, which will contain instructions that outline how to book an intake appointment with the group facilitator. Once you have completed those steps you will meet with the facilitator for a 30 minute group screening meeting during which he will discuss with you whether the group would be a good fit for you and the possibility of your participating in the group, and answer any questions you may have.

Space in the groups is limited; once the group has filled it will be closed for the semester, and a waitlist created for those interested in joining future offerings of these groups. Sessions: 8 - *Students must commit to attending all 8 sessions, and missed sessions (e.g. emergencies, medical appointments) can be discussed during your intake with the CAL counsellor.

Because there is limited space, please consider if you have the mental and emotional energy to participate in this group consistently, as it does run through stressful times like exam periods, and exam stress, which is to be expected is not considered an emergency circumstance. We ask you consider others who may be waiting and able to attend all sessions. Once groups begin, new members will not be admitted in order to foster a sense of safety and consistency for existing group members.

Feel free to email Sean if you have any further questions about this group, or individual counselling (sean_heaslip@sfu.ca).

Spring 2024

Wednesdays | 1:30pm - 3:30pm

  • January 17 to March 14

About The Facilitator

Sean Heaslip

HCS counsellor

Sean is the HCS counsellor liaison with the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL), and works with CAL registrants, providing individual and group counselling services. Sean works in an experiential and emotion-focused way, and incorporates grounding and regulation techniques to help clients move through painful areas in order to regain their connection to their goals and themselves. Sean is partially blind, and possesses a lived experience of disability in both the broader world, and as a student, as Sean is also a Masters level counsellor, and current PhD candidate in counselling psychology at the University of British Columbia, having completed his pre-doctoral internship at SFU in 2020. Sean’s research areas also focus on disability issues, around seeking psychological services as a person with a disability, and the impact on blind/partially sighted people of receiving unsolicited help from sighted helpers.