Sandy Hines discussed funding issues for post-secondary students with disabilities within the context of the Canada Student Loans Program. The loans program began in 1964, its basic purpose to enhance accessibility to post-secondary education for as many qualified persons as possible. Later, it was recognized that some disadvantaged groups needed greater assistance and since 1995, the program has included non-repayable grant funding to supplement loans to these groups.
The term "permanent disability" evolved out of measures to increase the program's accessibility for disabled students. A permanent disability is defined by the Canada Student Loans Program as "a functional limitation caused by a physical or mental impairment that restricts the ability of a person to perform the daily activities necessary to participate in studies at a post-secondary school level or in the labour force and is expected to remain with the person for the person's expected life."
Loan assistance with relaxed eligibility criteria is available to encourage students with permanent disabilities to participate in post-secondary education, taking into consideration their needs for specialized services and equipment, the extra challenges they face in attending post-secondary school, and the reality that it may take them longer to finish school. In order to qualify for a full-time loan, students with permanent disabilities must take at minimum 40% of a full course load, as opposed to 60% for other students. To qualify for a part-time loan, the minimum is 20% as opposed to 40%. Students with permanent disabilities have up to 520 weeks, well beyond 10 years, to complete their studies, compared to 340 weeks for other students.
In addition, two non-repayable Canada Study Grants are available, which specifically assist students with permanent disabilities, Hines said. To be eligible for the Canada Study Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities, one must qualify for the Canada Student Loans Program and have a permanent disability according to definition. A learning assessment may be required, usually carried out at the institutional level, along with an identification of equipment and other needs. When introduced in 1995, the maximum amount of the grant was $5,000 per year. In 2000, learning disabilities were brought in, with the program paying up to 75% for a diagnostic assessment, up to a maximum of $1,200. In 2000/2001, study grants helped 4,600 students with permanent disabilities across Canada; $11.2 million was paid out. This year, the $5,000 grant was increased to $8,000 for specialized equipment and services. As well, a new Canada Study Grant for High-Need Students with Permanent Disabilities is now available, that will contribute an extra $2,000 maximum per year to help meet education and living costs.
Hines concluded by saying that more barriers need to be removed from the program and that she hopes more students will become aware and make use of the study grants.