Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In contrast, the other committee has recommended guidelines for the university and college education system. In this article, we outline the Postsecondary Committee’s recommendations for accessibility in college and university policies.
The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on publicly-funded colleges and universities. However, students and educators with disabilities also face barriers in other education settings, including:
- Privately-funded colleges and universities
- Transitional job training programs
Therefore, all these settings should comply with the forthcoming postsecondary education standards.
Accessibility in College and University Policies
The Committee recommends that all college and university policies and procedures related to students should be easy to understand. Moreover, they should be available in accessible formats, so that all students with disabilities can read them. For example, staff and students should write all policies and procedures in clear language. These rules should apply to academic and administrative policies and procedures. Furthermore, policies and procedures should support the needs and human rights of:
- Full-time students
- Part-time students
- Students at all stages of their programs
Policies to Allow Alternate Program Pathways
Likewise, colleges and universities should have policies allowing students to use alternate program pathways to complete their programs. For example, the standard time to completion for most university degrees is four (4) years. However, some students with disabilities may need more time to finish their degrees. They may take fewer courses per year, to allow more time for arranging and using accommodations. As a result, these students may complete their degrees in five (5) years.
College and university policies should allow this flexibility, unless completing a program in a certain timeframe is an essential requirement of the program. Students in all programs should have access to alternate pathways, including students completing:
- Graduate school
Moreover, colleges and universities should alert students, before and during admission, about the process for using an alternate program pathway. Examples should outline what possible pathways are, and should be available in accessible formats for:
- Prospective students
- Current students
- Academic teams
- Program coordinators
- Staff of accessibility offices
Policies for Procuring Accessible Resources
In addition, the government should develop other accessibility policies that colleges and universities should follow. For instance, the government should create standards for procuring accessible teaching resources. These standards should guide colleges and universities to consider accessibility as they procure resources such as:
- Goods and services
All purchases should comply with current and future requirements under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), including the:
Academic and administrative staff should know about their responsibilities under these standards, and report on their compliance with their schools’ procurement policies.
Finally, colleges and universities should review all policies, procedures, and dispute resolution processes related to accessibility every five (5) years. During the review process, colleges and universities should consult students with disabilities, and their committees for responding to the Campus Climate Instrument. Reviews should assess whether policies comply with the AODA and the Ontario Human Rights Code. If needed, colleges and universities should then revise policies. For instance, policies may need updates to account for changing structures or new resources.