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School Transitions for Indigenous Students with Disabilities

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 addition, some members from both committees have joined to form the Education Technical Sub-Committee. This Sub-Committee recommends guidelines to prevent and remove barriers students face during transitions. Transitions include beginning school, between elementary school and high school, and from high school to work, community life, or postsecondary education. In this article, we outline the Sub-Committee’s recommendations for school transitions for Indigenous students with disabilities.

School Transitions for Indigenous Students with Disabilities

All students with disabilities may face accessibility barriers, including organizational and attitudinal barriers. However, Indigenous students with disabilities transitioning between schools or school systems may face more of these barriers. In other words, they may experience intersectional discrimination in school. Therefore, the Sub-Committee recommends the creation of an Accessible Indigenous Education Circle to focus on removing these barriers. Members of the Circle should include:

  • Indigenous educators
  • Disability service providers
  • Representatives from:
    • First Nations Boards and communities
    • The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility
    • Other government ministries
    • Ontario school boards

Moreover, members should have knowledge, understanding, and experience with:

  • The cultures, values, and histories of Indigenous peoples
  • Current issues facing Indigenous peoples
  • Disability
  • Ableism
  • Education

The Circle should research the systemic barriers that Indigenous students with disabilities experience in education. For instance, the Circle should know the number of Indigenous students with disabilities in Ontario, and recognize what their needs are. Moreover, the Circle should develop a process for identifying and meeting students’ accessibility needs during transitions in their schooling. Furthermore, the Circle should develop plans, processes, and protocols that will improve students’ well-being and help them succeed in school. The Circle should ensure that school boards and Indigenous communities share resources that meet students’ needs and foster their identities as Indigenous students with disabilities. Likewise, the Circle should share the information and resources it creates with Special Education Advisory Committees (SEACs) in school boards across the province.

In addition, education service agreements between the Ministry of Education and Indigenous Boards and communities should discuss transitions for Indigenous students with disabilities.

Transitions Between Indigenous Schools and Provincially-Funded Schools

Furthermore, students should easily transition between Indigenous schools and provincially-funded schools. They should receive the same accommodations, supports, and services from both school systems. The Circle should develop processes to ensure that a student’s new school knows about and provides these accommodations. For instance, a student should not need to wait until they receive their Ontario education number before they can access their accommodations. Moreover, students should receive supports before they make this transition, so that they are mentally and spiritually prepared to deal with the organizational and attitudinal barriers they may face.

For example, the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility should create mental wellness tools for transitioning Indigenous students with disabilities, based on the Indigenous Wellness Framework. In addition, Transitions Facilitators should meet with students, their parents, and staff in both school systems.

Furthermore, teacher’s colleges should offer more training about teaching Indigenous students, including Indigenous students with disabilities. Similarly, teachers in provincially-funded schools should have professional development to learn about Indigenous cultures, and how to support transitioning students:

  • Physically
  • Mentally
  • Emotionally
  • Spiritually

For example, teachers writing individual education plans (IEPs) should recognize not only a student’s disability-related needs, but also cultural differences. This focus should ensure curriculum, assessments, and learning environments that are barrier-free for students of all abilities and cultures. For instance, schools should celebrate and raise awareness about Indigenous cultures and communities. The Sub-Committee reports that racial tensions exist in certain regions of the province. Actively promoting welcome for Indigenous students, including those with disabilities, can be a starting point for countering these tensions.

Transition to Higher Education for Indigenous Students with Disabilities

The Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility should also create a plan to encourage Indigenous students with disabilities to transition to university or college. For example, the Ministry should inform students, families, school staff, and Facilitators about financial aid, such as:

  • Band funding
  • Scholarships
  • The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)

Finally, the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility should encourage scholars to research trends surrounding Indigenous students with disabilities in university or college. For example, researchers could study factors that encourage or prevent students from enrolling or continuing in school. This data could help the government develop further strategies to remove barriers and work toward the success of Indigenous students with disabilities in higher education.