The accommodations given to students with disabilities are sometimes questioned by faculty who are concerned that these are not fair. Some will go as far as challenge students about their disability and their need to tape record lectures or writing in the testing centre, for example. I believe this does our students a disservice and that faculty should fully support accommodations as approved through our student service departments.
Maya Venters (2017), in her OUSA blog, said it well:
The purpose of accommodation is not to give them an edge over other students, but to bring them forward to the starting line with everyone else.
Canadians with disabilities continue to face discrimination. Is this an urgent issue? I believe so given that over 50% of human right complaints in Canada, including those investigated by provincial commissions, are disability related according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC, 2015). Consider that 13% of all Canadians have a disability that impacts their daily life and 20% of Canadians will have a challenge with mental illness this year (CHRC, n.d.). We can expect students in our classrooms who are experiencing disability and mental illness and it is our responsibility as educators to create an environment where they can learn to their full potential.
In Canadian schools, 25% of students with disabilities faced bullying and 35% reported exclusion; 37% of students with disabilities took fewer courses and 11% left their studies early because of their disability (CHRC, 2012). It is vital that we be a part of the solution for students with disabilities. Education is the way to opportunities for a better life through employment as well as development of citizens that improve our society. We need to recognize the educational barriers that exist for our students with disabilities in Canada and do our part to advocate for access for all.
The CHRC (2017) identified four significant barriers for students with disabilities in our education system:
- lack of disability accommodation and support;
- lack of services and funding;
- ineffective dispute resolution;
- lack of special education and disability supports on First Nations reserves.
The first issue, lack of disability accommodation and support is something we as educators can improve. Here are few suggestions on what educators can do this school year:
- Learn more about human rights. Did you know there are 30? And the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to earn them, we were born with them. You can check out the illustrated guide from the United Nations (2015).
- Learn more about the Canadian Code of Human Rights, which along with the applicable provincial Human Rights Codes, governs the accommodation services provided to post secondary students. The CHRC’s (2010) guide is an excellent place to start.
- Learn more about the accommodation processes at your institution by meeting with disability service providers, attending workshops by your student services departments and reviewing your institution’s policies.
- Accept your students’ accommodation plans graciously and express your support for their use of the accommodations. Protect their confidentiality by meeting privately with them to discuss any questions you may have. Trust your accommodations protocol and if you have concerns, address them to the disability service providers first, rather than your student.
The accommodations often represent additional work for educators, but I hope you will see this as equity work, human rights advocacy work. The extra time you are spending is time you invest to support a student reaching their full potential and it is worth it!
Canadian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Disability rights. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/persons-disabilities
Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2017). Left out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/left-out-challenges-faced-persons-disabilities-canadas-schools
Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Report on equality rights of people with disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/rerpd_rdepad-eng.pdf
Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2015). The rights of persons with disabilities to equality and non-discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/rights-persons-disabilities-equality-and-non-discrimination
Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2010). Your guide to understanding Human Rights. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/chra_guide_lcdp-eng.pdf
United Nations. (2015). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf
Venters, M. (2017, August 30). Equality Is not equity: The argument for academic accommodations. Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Blog. Retrieved from https://www.ousa.ca/blog_equality_is_not_equity