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 recommended accessibility lens for decision making at college and university.
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 Lens for Decision Making at College and University
Students with disabilities face many accessibility barriers, including:
- Physical barriers
- Information or communication barriers
- Technology barriers
- Organizational barriers
- Attitudinal barriers
Barriers often happen because organizations do not consider accessibility as an important factor when making decisions. For instance, when drafting new school policies, staff may not think about how elements of the policies might impact students, colleagues, or visitors with disabilities.
For example, professors may wish to prevent students from using technology in class, to reduce distraction and increase focus. Instead, these professors may require students to write notes by hand. However, some students with disabilities never use pen and paper, and instead need accessible hardware and software in class. As a result, professors may try to amend their policies to make them more accessible. Professors may allow students to use their technology in class if they disclose their disabilities. Nonetheless, this policy change does not remove all barriers. Requiring students to disclose their disabilities to their classmates violates their right to confidentiality. Moreover, this disclosure may expose students to increased attitudinal barriers from classmates with ableist beliefs.
In short, when colleges and universities develop policies, they should consider accessibility as an important factor. Moreover, staff should recognize the ways their policies can impact students and colleagues with disabilities. As a result, the Committee recommends that the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility develop an accessibility lens. Colleges and universities would be required to use this lens when they create or revise policies. Moreover, colleges and universities can also use the lens when they create or revise:
- Programs, including social programs and activities
Schools could use the lens to assess whether their policies, procedures, and programs contain accessibility barriers. Then, the lens could help schools to remove barriers before staff implement policies, procedures, and programs.
Creating the Accessibility Lens for Decision Making at College and University
The Ministry should have support to develop the lens, from community partners such as:
- Students with disabilities
- Accessibility offices at colleges and universities
- Committees and associations, including the:
- Accessibility coordinating committees at colleges and universities
- College Committee on Disability Issues
- Inter-University Disability Issues Association
- National Educational Association of Disabled Students
Furthermore, the government should continue to research ways to identify and remove barriers, to improve the effectiveness of the lens.
Colleges and universities should also train all employees on what the accessibility lens is and how to use it. Likewise, people who develop or deliver programs at colleges and universities should also receive this training. For example, students who run unions, groups, or societies should know how to use the accessibility lens. Finally, in their multi-year accessibility plans and yearly status reports, colleges and universities should confirm their use of the lens. They should also report on the lens-related training they have provided.