NEADS Conference 2004 - Right On!


Krystine Donato

Krystine Donato Photo


Krystine Donato graduated from the honours program in Child and Youth Studies at Brock University in 2002 and is currently a graduate student in the same department. Her areas of focus include: students with disabilities in post-secondary institutions, training for faculty members on issues surrounding teaching students with disabilities and human rights training for individuals with disabilities.




The focus of this presentation is to examine human rights as they apply to students with disabilities in accessing academic materials for their studies. This will include a brief summary of what research has been conducted to this point on the right to educational accommodation, and a review of legislation affecting the education of persons with disabilities.

One of the most important aspects of obtaining academic accommodations is the realization by educators that provisions are needed in order for a student with a disability to succeed. Gaining the proper accommodations is not only the responsibility of students and service providers, but faculty members must also be willing to implement the accommodations.

In recent years, several political movements and human rights legislation in both Canada and the United States, have made education possible for many students with disabilities. Article 26 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states, 1) “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” 2) “Education shall be directed to the full development of human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human right and fundamental freedoms.”

The United States has implemented the Americans with Disabilities Act, which focuses on a number of systemic reforms such as transportation. Ontario passed its Education Act in 1982, guaranteeing that every child would receive an “appropriate education” (Ontario Provincial Government, 1989).

Most recently, the Ontario Provincial Government has introduced the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) in an effort to make life for people with disabilities more mainstreamed (Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001). As part of the ODA, Universities and Colleges play a crucial role, insuring that students with disabilities can access education if they so desire and gain the opportunities that higher education can provide (COU Working group, 2002).

This session will examine the need for continued research that gives voice to the first person experiences of post secondary students who have disabilities.


Krystine Donato, Graduate, Honours Program, Child and Youth Studies, Brock University, said that, historically, students with disabilities have been excluded from post-secondary education. Usually they had two choices: a specialized educational setting, or the job market.

A study done in the mid 1970s showed that people with disabilities were applying to post-secondary institutions, but that most had physical disabilities. There was a big gap: students with learning disabilities or mental health issues were not attending.

After the 1990s, a greater proportion of students with disabilities had a learning disability, a health-related disability, or a mental health issue. Not only has higher education witnessed an increase in the number of students with disabilities, the range of the disabilities has also expanded. Legislation and social policy support the right of students with disabilities to pursue education and recognize the students’ need for empowerment and self-determination.

Movements in Canada and the United States have made education more accessible for students with disabilities. Canada’s disability movement has been clearly defined by the inclusion in the Canadian constitution of equality guarantees for people with disabilities.

Donato reviewed disability legislation in North America, including Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Ontario’s Bill 181, an education act passed in the 1980s. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 focused on more accountability in the United States. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act of 2001 was introduced in an effort to “mainstream” life for people with disabilities. That act gave post-secondary institutions a crucial role and tried to increase quality of life for people with disabilities.

Discussing her research in the area of human rights and education for people with disabilities, Donato said that most of the existing literature tends to point fingers, focusing on areas of concern rather than on what works. Students, faculty, and service providers point at each other and talk about what the other party should do. Donato explained that her proposed research will explore perceptions of barriers and experiences with accommodations among students with disabilities and faculty members at one Ontario university.

When looking at the barriers students with disabilities face in post-secondary institutions, issues range from physical access to institutional policy. Donato said that her thesis would shed light on some of the issues. The goals for the research are to provide a description of the experiences and the anticipated needs of a group of post-secondary students with disabilities and to provide a description of the experiences and challenges of faculty members who are attempting to accommodate students with disabilities.

These are the anticipated outcomes of the research:

  • To help academic administrators develop policies that support accommodations for students with disabilities.
  • To inform faculty about the needs of students with disabilities so that the faculty become more effective in their instructional accommodations.
  • To inform students about the challenges faced by faculty so that the students can more effectively self-advocate.