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Disability Barriers in Education

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 in education and ways to remove them.

Disability Barriers in Education

According to Onley’s review, many families of students with disabilities agree that Ontario has many barriers in its education system. For instance, families state that there are too many physical barriers in school buildings. These barriers may be costly or time-consuming to remove. However, school boards can find creative solutions to give more students access to the classrooms in their local schools. For example, one review attendee describes accessing the classroom remotely through digital technology. This student could not physically access the school building. However, the student could interact with their teacher and their peers in real time.

Barriers in School Boards

In addition, attendees report that each school board must develop its own policy for deciding which students need individual education plans (IEPs). As a result, the quality of each student’s education depends on their school board’s understanding about disability. Moreover, some school boards may have attitudinal barriers. For example, the review describes a family moving from one school board to another because their original school board “babysat” their child instead of offering accommodations to help the child access the curriculum.

Similarly, some school boards do not have enough educational assistants to meet the needs of all their students. As a result, students do not receive the classroom accommodations they need. For example, the review describes one school that tries to have students with different needs “share” an educational assistant.

Likewise, each school board must develop its own policy outlining how students should request to bring their service animals to school. As a result, policies may differ widely. Students’ access to the accommodations they need may depend on where they live.

The Ontario government may remove some or all of these barriers by developing an education standard for the AODA. A standard could mandate a province-wide process for determining whether a student needs an IEP. Similarly, a standard could mandate the number of educational assistants that should be available for students at a given time. Moreover, government could partner with other sectors to develop more training programs for educational assistants. Campaigns could increase public awareness about the need for educational assistants, so that more people would follow this career path. Likewise, a standard could give students across the province equal access to the accommodation of bringing their service animals to school.

Other Barriers

Review attendees suggest more mandates for the developing education standard. The current education mandates under the Information and Communications Standards focus on the needs of students with print disabilities. Therefore, attendees suggest that the future education standard should “keep in mind” students with other disabilities. For example, the new standard’s mandates should outline more supports for students with invisible disabilities, such as autism. The standard should also support the needs of parents with disabilities, such as accessible communication at parent-teacher interviews.