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Accessibility Standards for Teaching and Learning at College and University

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 standards for teaching and learning 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 Standards for Teaching and Learning at College and University

The Committee recommends that the government should work with college and university teaching and learning centres to develop accessibility standards for teaching and learning. In addition, other stakeholders the government should consult while developing these standards include:

  • The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC)
  • Students with disabilities
  • Accommodation service providers

Moreover, these standards should apply to all programs offered at postsecondary institutions, including:

  • College diplomas
  • Apprenticeships
  • Postgraduate diplomas
  • Undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees
  • Continuing education
  • Micro-credentials

Likewise, the standards should address teaching and learning in many settings, including:

  • In-person
  • Virtual, including through learning management systems (LMSs)
  • Synchronous
  • Asynchronous
  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Labs
  • Studios
  • Field placements

Furthermore, the standards should involve best practices in Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and from the Council of Ontario Universities. Finally, the standards should reflect respect for the variety of identities students have, such as:

  • Black
  • Indigenous
  • People of colour

The standards should become a component of accessibility training for college and university educators.

Guides on Accessibility of Teaching Adults

To maintain these standards, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities should develop and distribute guides on teaching adults in accessible ways. Moreover, other organizations should assist the Ministry in guide development, including:

  • Colleges Ontario
  • The Council of Ontario Universities
  • Colleges and universities

Furthermore, guides should provide useful information about teaching adults in any format, including:

  • In person
  • Online
  • Blended learning

However, there should be separate guides for specific disciplines, such as:

  • Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
  • Healthcare
  • The arts

The Ministry should update these guides at least every five (5) years.

Likewise, each college and university should employ staff experts in accessible teaching. Like the guides, these staff experts should specialize in various disciplines. All teaching staff should have access to the guides and experts, such as:

  • Faculty who are:
    • Course coordinators
    • Full-time
    • Part-time
    • Sessional
  • Teaching assistants
  • Lab demonstrators
  • Guest presenters

In addition, experts and teaching staff should form “hubs” of expertise in making specific disciplines and trades accessible. Hubs should then produce and share resources.

Accessible Teaching and Quality Assurance

Moreover, the government’s teaching and learning accessibility standards should become part of quality assurance processes. In other words, accessible teaching and learning should be one of the measurements of high-quality college or university education. Therefore, colleges and universities should work with organizations measuring quality assurance, including:

  • Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance
  • The Ontario College Quality Assurance Service

Together, these organizations should develop ways to measure the accessibility of teaching and learning. For instance, each college and university should consider these standards when assuring the quality of new programs or courses, and when reviewing existing ones. Similarly, reviews of new and existing programming should consider how closely assessments are related to essential course requirements. Likewise, reviews should assess college and university policies on the use of accessible formats, and other accessibility guidelines.

Furthermore, when colleges and universities request student feedback on courses and programs, compliance with the Postsecondary Education Accessibility Standards should be one of the factors this feedback assesses. Colleges and universities should use this student feedback to constantly improve the accessibility and intersectional inclusivity of their courses and programs.

Finally, quality assurance processes should include accessibility reviews of new and existing practical course components, such as:

  • Labs
  • Simulations

For example, reviews should focus on accessibility of the essential requirements in STEM and arts courses. All in-person and virtual labs or simulations should allow equal opportunity for student engagement. In addition, reviews should verify the presence of accessible formats and communication supports, if needed, including:

Teaching staff should have the support they need to provide these and other accommodations.