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 government leadership to implement the Postsecondary Education Standards.
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.
Government Leadership to Implement the Postsecondary Education Standards
The Committee recommends that all colleges and universities receive a memo announcing the pending Postsecondary Education Standards. The Minister of Seniors and Accessibility and the Minister of Colleges and Universities should write and distribute this memo together.
This memo should remind colleges and universities about the mandates that the AODA already requires them to comply with, such as mandates for accessible:
- Information and communications, including:
- Customer service
- Design of public spaces
- Transportation, including transit on campus
In addition, the memo should inform colleges and universities that students and educators have a variety of disabilities, including:
- Visible disabilities, such as use of wheelchairs and other assistive devices
- Invisible disabilities, such as mental health conditions
Moreover, the memo should point out that the AODA is proactive. In other words, even before the government enacts Postsecondary Education Standards, colleges and universities can comply with Committee recommendations. Colleges and universities can implement the strategies in these recommendations now to begin the process of identifying, removing, and preventing accessibility barriers. Furthermore, all college and university departments should work together to implement requirements in the Standards. In other words, colleges and universities should eliminate “silos” in which departments develop separate policies and practices for meeting requirements in the Standards.
Government Collaboration to Implement the Postsecondary Education Standards
Similarly, the provincial and federal governments must work together to assess and report on progress to implement all education standards, including the Postsecondary Education Standards. For example, all provincial ministries with responsibilities under the Standards should have assessment meetings four (4) times per year. In addition, the government should create mechanisms for communication between ministries about their joint work supporting the education sector. Likewise, the provincial government should communicate often with the federal government on joint efforts promoting accessibility for students with disabilities. Moreover, the ministries should report on their progress publicly in their multi-year accessibility plans. These meetings and reports will help the ministries ensure accountability in postsecondary education.
Furthermore, when the government plans new programs or services to support people with disabilities, it must consider the:
- Needs of students with disabilities
- Recommendations of the Postsecondary Education Standards Development Committee
The government should publish ideas for new programs and services in both English and French. Moreover, the government must conduct reviews to find out how these new programs might impact students with disabilities. Likewise, the government must conduct reviews to find out the impact on students with disabilities of any changes to existing support programs, such as:
- Targeted funding for Indigenous people with disabilities
- The Assistive Devices Program (ADP)
- The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)
- Attendant care services
In addition, reviews should identify increased impact on people with intersecting identities, such as people with low income. Finally, the government should report in their multi-year accessibility plans on the results of these reviews. For instance, reports should outline government strategies to mitigate any negative impacts that a review identifies.
Plain Language Version of the Postsecondary Education Standards
In addition, the government should publish a plain language version of the Postsecondary Education Standards, in both English and French. Similarly, the government should create videos summarizing the Standards in Sign languages. The government should provide the plain-language version of the Standards in other languages and in accessible formats, upon request.