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Disability Barriers at Colleges and Universities

In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outlined many barriers that people with disabilities face. More improvements to the AODA would help to remove existing barriers and prevent future ones. Therefore, in addition to direct recommendations, Onley’s review also includes suggestions from attendees about how to remove these barriers. This article will explore disability barriers at colleges and universities, and ways to remove them.

Disability Barriers at Colleges and Universities

The review outlines some attitudinal barriers that college and university students face. Many college and university students have mental health challenges or learning disabilities. However, the review states that students with these invisible disabilities continue to face stigma and cannot access the accommodations they need.

For instance, many college and universities set limits on the length of time students can use private study spaces. These limits ensure that all students can have the chance to access this space. However, students with mental health or learning disabilities often need access to private study spaces as an accommodation for their disabilities. As a result, limiting their use of these spaces discriminates against them by depriving them of their accommodations. Colleges and universities must find ways to respect all students’ need to share space while upholding the rights of students with disabilities. For example, when they expand their campuses, they can prioritize creating enough study spaces for the growing number of students with disabilities.

Similarly, other attendees describe colleges or universities that did not implement the accommodations they needed, such as:

Finally, one attendee describes a college program designed to teach “animal care” but which taught her “to write résumés and covering letters”. The difference between this student’s learning and their classmates’ learning suggests that the college’s staff made harmful assumptions about how the student’s disability impacted her learning.

Removing Attitudinal Barriers

According to Onley’s review, some students who confront attitudinal barriers drop out of college or university. In other words, negative and inaccurate beliefs about people with disabilities can change these students’ lives for the worse. This pattern indicates the need for the cultural change Onley’s review recommends. This change would allow more non-disabled people to learn why accessibility matters and how it improves people’s lives.