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Processes to Resolve College and University Accommodation Disputes

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 processes to resolve college and university accommodation disputes.

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.

Processes to Resolve College and University Accommodation Disputes

The Committee recommends that a college or university refusing to accommodate a student should provide reasons for the refusal. Moreover, the college or university should provide these reasons orally and in writing three to five (3-5) business days after the refusal takes place.

In addition, colleges and universities should create and implement processes to resolve accommodation disputes. Each school’s process should be:

  • Transparent
  • Respectful
  • Non-adversarial
  • Timely

When a student disagrees with a refusal of accommodations, or believes that their school is failing to provide an agreed-upon accommodation, the school should alert the student to the dispute resolution process. Both the student and the school should explain their concerns. Someone who is independent and impartial, such as a person from a campus human rights office, should lead the process. This person should have experience in educating students with disabilities.

Furthermore, colleges and universities should have mediation processes, for students to appeal the outcomes of their dispute resolutions. Colleges and universities should have processes to appoint impartial mediators with knowledge of disability and higher education, at no charge to students. Therefore, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities should have a list of mediators for colleges and universities to consult at need. Finally, students can appeal the outcomes of mediations to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Students should continue to receive their accommodations throughout the dispute resolution process. Alternatively, students can take voluntary leaves of absence during dispute resolutions. If a resolution lasts for at least three-quarters (3/4) of a disputed course, the student who has not received their accommodations should instead receive a refund for the cost of the course.

Dispute Resolution Processes Outside the Classroom

Similarly, disputes may happen in learning environments outside the classroom, including:

  • Research labs
  • Fieldwork or work integrated learning settings, under jurisdictions such as:
    • Provincial
    • Federal
    • International
    • The private sector

If possible, a college or university’s process to resolve accommodation disputes should apply in these settings. However, if a college or university’s process for resolving accommodation disputes cannot apply, the school and the third party should work together to establish a new process. This dispute resolution process should apply to any form of dispute between the school and the third party, including accommodation disputes. As a result, disability experts should participate in creating these processes. In addition, people who lead dispute resolutions should have training in trauma-informed and restorative practices.