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Business Continuity Plans for Emergency Situations 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 business continuity plans for emergency situations 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.

Business Continuity Plans for Emergency Situations at College and University

The Committee recommends that colleges and universities should develop or update business continuity plans. These plans outline a college or university’s response to events that create service disruptions, such as:

  • Emergencies
  • Labour disruptions
  • Public health restrictions

These disruptions may require people to evacuate from buildings, or prompt other service changes.

Colleges and universities should respond to these events in ways that respect the dignity and independence of people with disabilities. For example, a labour disruption may interfere with transit services in or around campus. However, a college or university can plan to work with local public transit companies to reduce this disruption. Advance arrangements would ensure that students and staff with disabilities can reach their classes and jobs.

Similarly, response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires changes in teaching and learning, notably online learning. When disruption requires these changes, colleges and universities should have plans to make new modes of learning accessible. Therefore, colleges and universities should develop teaching strategies and resources that allow students and staff of all abilities to benefit from sudden changes in learning format. Likewise, colleges and universities should have continuity plans to maintain the support services that students need during a change in learning mode. All teaching staff should have access to these resources, teaching strategies, and continuity plans, including:

  • Faculty
  • Instructors
  • Part-time and sessional faculty
  • Lab demonstrators
  • Teaching assistants

Service Disruptions

Likewise, some events may not interrupt classes, but disrupt services that students with disabilities rely on. For instance, a labour disruption involving non-teaching staff, such as librarians or accessibility office staff, negatively impacts students with disabilities. Business continuity plans should establish procedures for providing ongoing support to students during these disruptions.

Moreover, colleges and universities should consult accessibility experts as they develop their business continuity plans. These experts can help staff identify accessibility barriers that occur during various disruptive events. Furthermore, experts can then recommend strategies schools can use to prevent or remove these barriers.

Planning for Consequences of Disruptions

In short, colleges and universities should recognize how service disruptions negatively impact students and staff with disabilities. Furthermore, plans should limit this impact during all stages of a disruption. In addition, staff and experts creating the plan should use an accessibility lens to understand how consequences of disruptions could affect students and staff after the disruptions are over.

For example, some students may need to withdraw from courses or take disability-related leaves of absence during disruptions. These students should return to campus without re-applying to their faculty or program. Instead, colleges and universities should have processes outlining how students can easily suspend and resume their programs for disruption-related reasons. Part-time and full-time students should have equal access to these processes. Likewise, colleges and universities should recognize the need for alternate pathways to complete programs. All students should know that these pathways are possible, so that they can use them during disruptions if needed.

Finally, colleges and universities should review their voluntary or involuntary leave of absence policies to ensure compliance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.