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Accommodating College and University 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 this article, we outline the Postsecondary Committee’s recommendations for accommodating college and university students with disabilities.

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.

Accommodating College and University Students with Disabilities

The Committee recommends that colleges and universities should create and implement policies for accommodating students with disabilities. Likewise, colleges and universities should also establish and implement accommodation procedures and best practice guidelines. Accommodation policies, procedures, and guidelines should be similar across the higher education sector. Therefore, provincial organizations should support colleges and universities to develop their policies. For example, these organizations include:

  • The Ontario government
  • Colleges Ontario
  • The Council of Ontario Universities

All these organizations, as well as the Ontario Human Rights Commission, should advise colleges and universities about situations where accommodations may overlap or intersect with students’ academic freedom.

In addition, colleges and universities should create these policies in consultation with students who have disabilities. These students may have different needs for engaging in their learning environments. Similarly, students may need to participate, interact, or express their knowledge in different ways. Consequently, colleges and universities should provide various learning environments to meet multiple student needs, including:

  • In-person
  • Virtual
  • Synchronous
  • Asynchronous

Policies, procedures, and guidelines should outline processes for accessing accommodations in academic settings, including:

Moreover, policies, procedures, and guidelines should address how students should disclose their disabilities to access accommodations in all these settings. Moreover, all these documents should outline how students should request priority consideration for:

Furthermore, policies, procedures, and guidelines should discuss other elements of physical space, such as:

  • Accessible seating
  • Maximum numbers of people in rooms

Individual Accommodation Plans for College and University Students with Disabilities

In addition, colleges and universities should have processes for students to develop individualized accommodation plans. Through these plans, comparable to individualized accommodation plans in employment contexts, students request accommodations proactively. Staff of college or university accessibility offices should meet with each student to create their plan. Colleges and universities should alert all students about their accommodation processes in timely and accessible ways.

Moreover, all students needing accommodations should receive the support they need from accessibility office staff. Therefore, accessibility office staff should always have reasonable case loads. The Ministry of Colleges and Universities should perform a study to learn about current case loads in higher education. Results of this study should be available to all colleges and universities.

The study would show trends, such as growing numbers of students with certain disabilities or accommodations. This study would also determine the amount of students that an accessibility office staff member can adequately support. Furthermore, the study would gage how much staff case loads impact the well-being and success of students using accommodations. Likewise, the study would measure the degree of support that specialized staff, like learning strategists and assistive technologists, can give growing numbers of students using these accommodations. Similarly, the study would determine how to implement findings from the Autism Spectrum Transition Pilot Projects. Implementing these findings should not only support accessibility office staff to manage caseloads, but also support students with autism to:

Finally, the study would determine any needed funding additions that would allow colleges and universities to hire new staff and lower case loads. Colleges and universities should also include student-to-staff ratios in annual reports, as another way to determine increased funding needs.

Accommodation Coordinators

Furthermore, small colleges and universities, and faculties in larger colleges and universities, should appoint accommodation coordinators. These coordinators should encourage colleagues and students to create accessible environments within their schools, faculties, or programs. At large schools, coordinators should network to share resources and expertise. Coordinators at small schools without accessibility offices should also work with students to plan and implement accommodations. All coordinators should be senior staff reporting to a dean, director, or chief executive officer (CEO). If coordinators do not have backgrounds in accessibility, they should have additional training before assuming their roles.