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 accountability in accessible postsecondary education.
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.
Accountability in Accessible Postsecondary Education
The Committee recommends that the Ontario government should create an accessible standardized campus climate instrument, or survey. This instrument would help the government, as well as colleges and universities, to learn about:
- Students’ experiences of ableism on campus
- Effectiveness of efforts to reduce ableism
- Attitudes toward disability among faculty, staff, and peers
- Effectiveness of efforts to change negative attitudes or behaviours about disability
For instance, some students or staff may stereotype or stigmatize peers or colleagues with disabilities, resulting in attitudinal barriers. The government’s campus climate instrument would help colleges and universities learn how well they are preventing or removing these barriers.
In addition, the instrument would also assess how satisfied students are with the accommodations their school provides, on campus and in experiential learning settings. Likewise, the assessment would measure students’ sense of belonging on campus, such as through their involvement with campus life. Moreover, the instrument would analyze non-disabled students’, staff, and faculty members’ knowledge of and attitude toward accessibility and accommodations. Similarly, the instrument would gauge students’ experiences of accessible teaching methods.
In short, this survey or instrument would measure how welcoming each college or university is toward students and staff with disabilities, and means for improvement.
Therefore, the Committee recommends that, once the government creates the instrument, each college and university should require all students, staff, and faculty to complete it. As a result, each school should have a plan for administering the instrument, analyzing results, and responding to them. Alternatively, schools can include questions from the instrument in surveys they already ask students and staff to complete, such as:
- Education, Diversity and Inclusion surveys for staff
- Feedback surveys for students
Committee for Responding to Results of the Campus Climate Instrument
Less than six (6) months after a school administers the survey, the school must publish results in its yearly status report. The school should also describe its planned measures for responding to results of the instrument.
Moreover, each school should establish a committee to analyze and address the instrument’s findings. The chair of the committee should have knowledge about disability and intersectionality. Furthermore, at least half of committee members should be students or employees with disabilities and other intersectional identities. Schools should fairly compensate all student committee members, who should be involved in planning any changes in response to instrument feedback, including to:
- Physical spaces
- Plans, procedures, or policies
In addition, other Members of the committee should include representatives of the:
- Office for students with disabilities
- Human resources personnel responsible for staff and faculty accommodations
- Facilities services
- Campus Lead on implementation of the AODA, if any
- Other campus human rights offices, such as offices serving:
- Race relations
- Indigenous students and staff
- Sexual diversity
The committee should explore how the campus community can:
- Improve attitudes, behaviours, perceptions, and assumptions about disability
- Prevent or remove physical disability barriers
The committee should meet at least two (2) times a year, and report to a senior executive leader, such as a vice provost of students or vice president of human resources.
Finally, each school should administer the instrument every three (3) years.
Furthermore, the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility should work together with other government departments and stakeholders to create ways for colleges and universities to collect data about students and employees with disabilities. For example, there should be a standardized way for colleges and universities to take official note of:
- Organizational barriers that students, staff, or faculty face
- Human rights complaints that students, staff, or faculty must make
- Number of students registered with their school’s accessibility office
- Number of full-time and part-time students with disabilities
- Types of disabilities students have, such as:
- Mental health
- Other Human Rights Code grounds that students identify with, such as:
- Indigenous ancestry
- Number of students enrolled in alternative pathway programs
- Retention and graduation rates of students with disabilities
- Faculty or staff who identify as people with disabilities
Each college and university should then analyze this data, and include it in the yearly status report. Moreover, the report should explain how data will be collected, analyzed, and used in ways that protect the privacy of individuals with disabilities. Data should lead to new strategies for removing barriers.