In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. One of these improvements is the need to help more Ontarians learn about people with disabilities and understand accessibility. During public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees requested that the government mandate accessibility in school curriculums at every level. If students learn about disability during elementary and high school, they will know the truth about how disability impacts people’s lives. Moreover, they will be comfortable interacting with people who have disabilities.
Accessibility in School Curriculums at Every Level
Many people without disabilities cannot imagine what it is like to have a disability. As a result, they may think that living with a disability means a low quality of life. They may think this way because they assume it must be hard or impossible for people with disabilities to do many things, such as:
- Raise families
- Make friends and have fulfilling social lives
- Travel, from the corner store to vacation destinations
People who do not have any friends or family members with disabilities may also feel uncomfortable starting a conversation with someone with a disability. They may fear saying the wrong thing, or be unsure about what topics the other person would want to talk about. Accessibility in school curriculums would teach children and young adults that talking to and befriending people with disabilities is easier than they might expect.
Learning about Accessibility, Barriers, and Inclusion
There are resources to help teachers offer lessons about the daily lives of children and adults with various disabilities. For instance, the ReelEducation program provides films about disability that teachers can stream in their classrooms. Films show some barriers that people with disabilities face, and how they can overcome barriers through inclusion and accessibility. Moreover, films are targeted to various age groups and come with lesson plans, so that teachers can hold class discussions or activities. Films also include open captioning and video description. Therefore, they are accessible for students who are deaf, hard of hearing, learning English, or blind. In addition, students without disabilities can learn about how people who are blind or deaf watch TV and movies.
Learning from Lived Experience
Furthermore, teachers can invite guest speakers with disabilities to visit their classrooms. Guest speakers can tell students about their experience growing up with a disability or gaining one later in life. Moreover, they can do live demonstrations of how they:
- Move around using an assistive device
- Work with a service animal
- Communicate in different ways, such as with Sign language, communication devices, or speechreading
- Read and write in different ways, such as with Braille, accessible computers, or large print
Furthermore, guest speakers can answer many of the questions students might have about daily life with a disability. For instance, students might be curious about how a guest speaker:
- Cooks, cleans, or does other household chores
- Cares for children or pets
- Travels through the community (by car, bus, cab, special transportation, walking, etc.)
- Confronts barriers (physical, technological, social, etc.)
Younger children may have more questions about how a person:
- cares for other daily living needs
Long-Term Benefits of Disability in School Curriculums
Older children who have never met someone with a disability may still wonder about these and other questions. However, when they do meet someone with a disability in their school or neighbourhood, they might feel that asking this kind of question would be rude. As a result, children without discussion of disability in their school curriculum may grow up feeling uncomfortable whenever they meet someone with a disability. Moreover, they may one day believe the idea that people with disabilities always have very hard or sad lives. As a result, they may choose not to get to know neighbours, classmates, or colleagues who could have become their friends.
Accessibility in school curriculums at all levels would ensure that children grow up with realistic ideas about people with disabilities. Mandatory lessons about disability would make more future adults aware of how people with disabilities live day-to-day. Students who learn about disability in school could grow up into adult:
- employers happy to hire someone with a disability
- Architects who design buildings without barriers
- Restaurant staff or cab drivers who welcome customers with service animals or assistive devices
- Event organizers who make information and communications accessible
Finally, students would find out that most problems people with disabilities experience are not due to their disabilities. Instead, problems happen because of barriers and misunderstandings. Students who learn about disability in school will understand that preventing and removing disability barriers allows all people to be involved in their communities. More community involvement makes economically and socially stronger cities, provinces, and countries.