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 recommended guidelines to ensure accessible education for students with all disabilities.
Accessible Education for Students with All Disabilities
Under the current Education Act, students with disabilities receive accommodations to make lessons, assessments, and the school environment more accessible. Students receive these accommodations if they identify as “exceptional” under the Education Act. However, the word “exceptional” suggests the idea that students who use accommodations are unusual or surprising. In contrast, school boards and staff should not be surprised that some of their students need accommodations. Instead, all school boards and staff should expect to accommodate students who have disabilities.
Broader Concepts of Disability and Accommodation
The Education Act was written many years before other laws and codes that mandate accessibility in environments and services, including schools. For instance, these more recent laws and codes include the:
- Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
- Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code)
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter)
These recent laws and codes include broader definitions of disability. Likewise, the Code also offers a more expansive understanding of what it means to provide accommodations. As a result, students may have a disability under the AODA or the Code. However, they may not identify as “exceptional” under the Education Act. These students may not be receiving accommodations allowing them to perform to their full potential in school. Therefore, the Committee recommends that the Ministry of Education align its definitions of disability and accommodation with the Code and the Charter. In other words, instead of using the concept of an “exceptional” student who needs accommodation only for lessons and tests, the Ministry should broaden its understanding of what it means to have a disability, and of the types of support that students with disabilities receive.
For instance, the Committee recommends that the Ministry should not exclude students from special education programs or services based on whether or not they are “exceptional”. Instead, the Ministry should accept students into these programs if they have a disability under the AODA’s definition. Similarly, school boards should update their policies and programs so that all students with disabilities under the Code have access to any accommodations or programming they need to achieve their potential. Moreover, accommodations should be available not only in class, but for any school activity. These changes in policy and practice would help students with all disabilities receive a full education.