OTTAWA -- Carleton University students with special needs are being told they won't be allowed to live in residence this semester. The attendant services program has been suspended, forcing the students to learn online.

Ben BourneFlosman, 17, has a disability called spinal muscular atrophy and needs 24-hour care. Before COVID, that care was available to Carleton students like him who need to live in residence, but not anymore.

"I’m being denied the university experience,” says BourneFlosman. "PSW support at Carleton is not available to individuals like myself.”

The university suspended the Attendant Services Program last year when school went virtual at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that in-person learning is back, these students want to be part of it.

BourneFlosman says he wasn’t even given the option to bring his own personal support worker.

"And they denied me residence. Even though I was going to use outside help."

Students with a disability who would normally need the program have no choice now but to do their classes from home, virtually.

"Before this, Carleton was really well-know for being Canada’s most accessible campus, because they provided all of this. And that’s one of the reasons why I chose to go here," says BourneFlosman.

Kimberley Chiasson is in her fourth year at Carleton and says without the assistance program, finishing her course will be difficult.

"This program was the only reason that I came to Carleton," says Chiasson. "It is the only option for a lot of folks that require higher needs at their universities. So it would just really eliminate a lot of options for people, but also just a lot of hope in terms of getting the education itself."

Kimberley's mom Sue says what the university is doing to these students is unacceptable.

"This is just not fair, and just not right," says Sue. "All these students are playing safe. They’re all double vaccinated. Their caregivers are double vaccinated. I cannot emphasize enough how disheartening this is. And how disgraceful I feel towards this university for doing this. I cannot believe this."

Sami Islam is the president of the Rideau River Residence Association. He says if abled students are welcome, all students should be.

"It seems like it’s due time to open attendant services back up to have students with disabilities return to campus because everyone else has been able to," says Islam. "I know a lot of these students have mandatory classes in-person and they haven’t been able to attend them for those reasons."

In a statement from Carleton, they say, "We understand the frustration some students have expressed because of the suspension of the Attendant Services Program (ASP). The health and safety of Carleton students, staff and faculty is our top priority and the guiding principle in our pandemic response plans.

"The nature of the ASP program does not allow for safe distancing, thereby heightening the risks of COVID-19 for participants and employees. The university has been in contact with all affected students to provide online learning assistance and information on additional community resources."

"This program is the only one like it in Canada," says Chiasson. "It means a lot to other people. And I just hope that it can resume."

"I think Carleton needs to declare their program an essential service,” says BourneFlosman. "So that people like me can be treated equally."

Carleton University says they hope to resume the ASP program in January 2022, pending health and safety requirements.