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 addition, some members from both committees have joined to form the Education Technical Sub-Committee. This Sub-Committee recommends guidelines to prevent and remove barriers students face during transitions. Transitions include beginning school, and from high school to work, community life, or postsecondary education. In this article, we outline the Postsecondary Committee’s recommendations for accessible admissions to 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.
Accessible Admissions to College and University
The Committee recommends accessibility in all admissions processes that colleges and universities control, including:
- Application processes
- Admission tests or screenings
- Post-admission tests
For example, application instructions should alert prospective students that accommodations for tests and screenings are available upon request. Furthermore, applicants should know how to request these accommodations. Likewise, applications and tests should be in accessible digital formats that students can read with assistive technology. In addition, other accessible formats, such as Braille or large print, should also be available. Similarly, tests or screenings involving multi-media should be available with communication supports, such as:
- American Sign Language (ASL) or Langue des signes Québécoise (LSQ)
- Closed captions and audio description, or integrated audio description
- Reading aloud
A college or university must alert students if it cannot provide any of these accommodations for admission applications or assessments, and provide alternative accommodations.
Requesting and Accessing Accommodations
Moreover, colleges and universities should also inform prospective students that they have the right to full participation in all aspects of campus life, including:
- Academic life
Likewise, prospective students should know how to access all accommodations, supports, and services their schools offer students with disabilities. For instance, students should know that they should request accommodations as early as possible. As a result, colleges and universities should provide this information to the public in:
- A timely manner
- Locations that are easy to find
- Accessible formats
For example, a college’s or university’s interactive voice response system should inform callers about:
- The school’s commitment to accommodate students with disabilities
- The number callers can use to access more information about accommodations
Standards for Documenting Disabilities
Furthermore, the Ontario government should develop standards for students at all colleges and universities to consistently document their disabilities. When developing these standards, the government should work with:
- Colleges and universities
- Students with disabilities
- Other stakeholders
Documentation requirements should comply with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities.
Each college and university should then create policies and practices about the type and degree of documentation their school requires from students proving their eligibility for accommodations. These policies and practices should be:
- Based on the government’s standards
- Reviewed and updated every three to five (3-5) years
- Available in accessible formats through:
- The school’s public-facing website
- All other communication methods the school uses
In addition, colleges and universities should have policies for interim accommodations. For example, policies should state that students can receive interim accommodations while they wait for the results of assessments. Policies should also state the maximum time that students can access interim accommodations. For instance, a policy could allow these accommodations for one (1) term.
Finally, colleges and universities should request feedback from students with disabilities about their transition programming for students in their first year. Students can also recommend improvements to programming. Similarly, students should also be able to give feedback about supports for other transitions later in their college or university experience. For example, students can recommend changes to programs for:
- Experiential learning placements
- Transfers between schools