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 this article, we outline recommendations for disability coach programs in school boards.
The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on the publicly-funded K-12 school system. However, students and educators with disabilities also face barriers in other school settings, including:
- Private schools
- Pre-school programs, such as early literacy programs
Therefore, all these settings should comply with the forthcoming K-12 education standards.
Disability Coach Programs in School Boards
A disability coach is a specialized job coach who knows how to teach students with various disabilities. Like a literacy or math coach, a disability coach is a teacher who uses their expertise to support colleagues. For example, a disability coach may share resources that will help other teachers work with students who have disabilities. In addition, a disability coach can help other teachers plan lessons or teaching strategies that meet the needs of students with disabilities.
The Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education should create disability coach programs in all school boards. Each school board should have a disability coach to support educators throughout the school board, including:
- Classroom teachers
- Special education teachers
- Educational assistants (EAs)
Forms of Disability Coach Support
For example, when a classroom teacher gains a student with a disability, their school board’s disability coach could answer any questions they have about working with the student. Moreover, the coach could also help the teacher plan lessons that are fully accessible for the student.
Likewise, educational assistants (EAs) work specifically with students who have disabilities. However, they may work primarily with students who have specific disabilities, such as:
- Intellectual disabilities
- Physical disabilities
Nonetheless, an EA’s school board may need them to work with a student whose disability the EA does not have experience with, such as a sensory or learning disability. Sessions with their school board’s disability coach could help the EA learn best practices for supporting their new student.
Similarly, special education teachers know how to teach the students they work with. However, they may have limited knowledge in the subjects their students are learning. For example, some teachers of visually impaired students (TVIs) lack knowledge of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. This knowledge gap is one factor leading to inadequate STEM education among students with print disabilities. Working with a disability coach could help TVIs and classroom teachers learn to consult each other and plan accessible STEM lessons.