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Specialized Professionals to Support 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 this article, we outline recommendations for specialized professionals to support students with disabilities.

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.

Specialized Professionals to Support Students with Disabilities

Classroom teachers need to know how to instruct and accommodate students who have disabilities. However, these teachers need support from professionals who help students gain certain disability-specific skills. For example, qualified teachers of visually impaired students (TVIs) teach skills such as reading Braille and using assistive technology. Similarly, Orientation and Mobility (O and M) instructors teach students to travel safely using white canes. Likewise, other professionals work with students who have different disabilities, including:

  • Autism
  • Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)
  • Being deaf or hard of hearing

The Committee reports that shortages of these professionals result in limited support for students. For instance, many school boards have shortages of TVIs, O and M instructors, and Applied Behavioural Analysists. Moreover, Ontario no longer offers a program to train O and M instructors. To reduce this shortage, the government should establish and maintain a new O and M instructor training program. Furthermore, the Committee recommends that each school board keep records of how many TVIs and O and M instructors it employs. School boards should then report this information to the Ministry of Education. Likewise, the Ministry should determine whether there are shortages in any other professions supporting students with disabilities. School boards and the Ministry should post this information publicly. Then, the Ministry should develop plans to provide the number of qualified professionals that students in each school board need.

In addition, there is no province-wide standard to determine the amount of TVI or O and M support a student should receive. Instead, each school board has its own criteria to decide how many hours of support each student can access. As a result, the Education Standards should mandate a province-wide process to ensure comparable levels of support for students from all school boards.

Access to Community-Based Professional Support

Finally, some students receive support from professionals in the community, outside of school hours. While some students’ families arrange this support privately, other families access support through government programs. Many of these students could benefit from working with these community-based professionals in school. However, some school boards only allow professionals affiliated with the school board to work with students in class. As a result, students receive support from one set of staff in school, and another set of staff outside of school. Their families advocate for consistent support in and outside of school from community-based professionals.

Therefore, the Committee recommends that school boards should allow students to work with community-based professionals in school if their families make this request. Granting these requests aligns with school boards’ duty to accommodate under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Consequently, school boards should not have policies preventing students from seeking to combine the supports they receive in school and in the community.

On the contrary, school boards should have policies that help school-based and community-based professionals work together to support students. School staff and community-based professionals should create plans outlining what each person’s responsibilities are. For example, a community-based professional might observe the student in school, or show school staff alternative methods of providing support. Clearly outlining how community-based professionals will interact with students and staff should help all parties learn from and support each other.