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 student union commitment to accessibility in colleges and universities.
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.
Student Union Commitment to Accessibility at Colleges and Universities
Student unions, and other third-party businesses and non-profits associated with colleges and universities, are often legally incorporated. However, the Committee notes that these businesses are “not otherwise covered under institutional governance structures”. As a result, mandates under the Postsecondary Education Standards, which other college or university departments or services must comply with, may not automatically apply to these unions or third-party businesses. Therefore, the Committee recommends that colleges and universities must hold their student unions and other associated businesses accountable for following these and other AODA Standards.
For instance, student unions should know about their colleges’ or universities’ commitments to accessibility. Moreover, student unions should comply with AODA requirements in all of their businesses’ activities. Likewise, if a college’s or university’s student union is not incorporated, that union should still be accountable for accessibility. For example, student unions hosting campus life events on behalf of their colleges or universities should plan accessible events. Student unions can promote the participation of all students in these events by proactively providing accessibility supports, such as:
- Sign language interpreters
- Attendant services
Colleges and universities should make compliance with these requirements prerequisites for unions to receive their student activity fees. In other words, colleges and universities should only provide their student unions with funding if their activities are welcoming for students with all disabilities.
Accessibility Training for College and University Student unions
In addition to accessibility training recommended for all college and university employees, the Committee recommends specific training for members of student unions. This training should take place online, and teach student leaders about their duty to accommodate people with disabilities, under the:
- Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code)
- Postsecondary Education Accessibility Standards
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter)
- All other AODA standards
Finally, this training must be anti-oppressive and intersectional. For example, training should alert members of student unions that many people with disabilities also have other intersecting identities protected from discrimination under the Code.
Members of student unions must receive this training during their onboarding. Furthermore, any member who continues to participate in their college’s or university’s union must renew their training every three (3) years.