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Accessible Formats and Communication Supports 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 recommendations for accessible formats and communication supports 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.

Accessible Formats and Communication Supports at College and University

Colleges and universities should require faculty and staff to assign textbooks and reading packages that are available in various formats, such as:

  • Hard-copy print
  • Electronic text (E-text)
  • Audio

Textbooks and reading packages should be available in these and other accessible formats within “a reasonable timeframe” after they are available in their original formats. Each college and university should develop a policy establishing a “reasonable timeframe” for every program and course. These policies must also outline how faculty should accommodate students if they do not receive accessible resources within that “reasonable timeframe”.

Furthermore, the government should collaborate with publishers to make more of these textbooks and reading packages accessible. The government can consult with publishers through partnerships with:

  • Canadian Research Knowledge Network
  • Ontario Colleges Library Service
  • Ontario Council of University Libraries

These partnerships can help colleges and universities acquire accessible resources, and understand how legislation impacts accessible-format acquisition.

Similarly, faculty and other teaching staff must produce print and multi-media course materials and assessments in conversion-ready formats. Alternatively, when faculty or teaching staff use pre-existing print or multi-media course materials or assessments, these resources must also be available in accessible formats.

If any of these materials, from textbooks to assessments, is not available in the format a student needs, the school should find another way for the student to fulfill the essential requirements of their courses.

Likewise, each college and university should develop a process for students to request accessible-format copies of materials. The process should include timeframes for preparation of materials, as well as procedures for meeting students’ needs during delays.

Moreover, colleges and universities should provide support for one-on-one communications between:

  • Peers
  • Students and teaching staff
  • Other members of the school community

 Other events that should feature accessible formats and communication supports include in-person and virtual:

  • Conferences
  • Seminars
  • Symposia
  • Colloquia

Training for Producers of Accessible Formats and Communication Supports

The government should also work with colleges, universities, employers, and apprenticeship organizations, to consider means for training professionals who provide accessible formats and communication supports, such as:

  • Live captionists
  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters
  • Interveners
  • Braille transcribers
  • Audio describers

All these professionals should take courses, in English or French, preparing them to fluently translate technical terms and concepts. In particular, trainee interpreters and interveners should learn to translate scholarly or technical terms in fields such as:

  • Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)
  • Trades
  • Healthcare

In addition, the government should develop more tools and guidelines for creation of described video and integrated described video.

Sharing Accessible Format and Communication Support Resources

Finally, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities should develop discipline-specific hubs to share resources in accessible formats or with communication supports. For example, one college might develop a new way to present STEM concepts to students with print disabilities. The college can share this solution within a hub for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) resources. As a result, students at other colleges and universities can benefit from the same method or solution.

Similarly, the Ministry can work with colleges and universities to create a database of accessible-format course content, such as:

  • Textbooks
  • Print resources
  • Multimedia resources

Students could have access to the database, and download copies of relevant and accessible content, through their school libraries. Teaching staff could upload content, or download colleagues’ content to use as templates when enhancing the accessibility of their own resources. This database should be based on existing efforts of multiple organizations, such as:

  • Ontario Council of University Libraries
  • Accessible Content E-Portal
  • Alternate Education Resources Ontario
  • College Libraries Ontario