NEADS Conference 2004 - Right On!
Terri Hulett has worked in the field of disability issues for over 8 years and has a BA in psychology and a Masters degree from the School of Women's Studies, where she specialized in disability issues. In April of 2004, she started her own company called Inclusive Solutions Corp., as a disability consultant in the area of higher education and employment.
Terri has participated in a number of committees addressing disability issues. She served a 3-year appointment on the City of Toronto's Task Force on Access and Equity Issues Committee advocating on issues such as access to higher education for people with cross-disabilities. Since 1999, Terri has supported the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee (ODAC) through letter writing campaigns and has encouraged members of the community to support a strong and effective ODA. Previous committee involvement includes being the Chair of ABLE-YORK a student run organization, a DAWN Ontario board member, a CNIB Advocacy Committee member and a post secondary advocate on accessibility issues.
Terri is a former Ontario graduate student with a vision disability who used transcription services during the years of 1996-2003, and continues to struggle and promote greater awareness and access to transcription services (alternate formats) on campuses for print disabled students. She is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality working toward raising awareness and increasing accessibility issues for people who have low vision and for people who are blind.
Academic reading material presents a barrier to higher education for print disabled students
Requesting alternate format versions for academic reading material presents a barrier to higher education for print disabled students. Students are required to take the lead role in coordinating transcription services by obtaining course reading material from all professors and providing it to the library for transcription. Many post-secondary institutions do not have an enforced policy or a guideline which holds the institution accountable for coordinating such services. Access to materials in a format of choice ensures equal access to post-secondary education as a human right.
Post-secondary institutions' roles and responsibilities should not be negated or neglected by the encouragement of self-advocacy actions of students with disabilities to coordinate transcription services. The encouragement of self-advocacy actions and the post secondary institutions duty to accommodate are two completely separate things that must be addressed for print disabled students. Straight forward policies which outline the roles and responsibilities of all parties involved - students, professors, library and Office for Persons with Disabilities - would reduce student's coordination time for vital transcription services. If professors do not comply with initial requests for course reading material in advance, accountability measures should be followed up by post-secondary institutions.
Post secondary policies regarding annual library membership fees, which allow print disabled students access to transcription services (alternate format), need to consider the institution's responsibility to provide academic accommodations short of undue hardship. Are students being encouraged to purchase inaccessible books, only to have them transcribed and then the accessible version sent back to the library leaving them with the printed copy? Are students paying an annual library membership fee? Aren't transcription services an academic accommodation? Are post-secondary institutions required to provide academic accommodations to the point of undue hardship? How do we address the financial burden of added tuition fees when degree and program requirements are extended because of difficulty obtaining course reading material in advance for transcription?
NEADS, students, student unions, librarians, service providers, cross-disability organizations, publishers, governments, and Library and Archives Canada have an instrumental role in improving access to printed material. This conference is the first step. Now an "action plan" with key stakeholders is needed to get the ball rolling.
Terri Hulett, Consultant, Inclusive Solutions Corporation, established her business to provide disability consultation in the area of higher education and employment. Hulett is also a member of the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality.
Hulett began her presentation by looking at the issue of accommodation and human rights. She said that individuals have a right to education and a right to be accommodated. She questioned where a student’s role as self-advocate stops and where the role of post-secondary institutions begins. Hulett specifically mentioned the need for post-secondary students to be focused on their studies, rather than having to spend significant time scanning materials. A duty to accommodate exists.
Hulett made three recommendations to students working with disability services offices:
Hulett gave examples of legal cases of attitudinal barriers and discrimination, and of “need to accommodate” that went to the Supreme Court of Canada. She reminded participants that post-secondary institutions, the student body, and society in general are all responsible for education rights. She proposed that it is better to educate students about their human rights and to involve unions, NEADS, and on-campus groups, than to try to define or outline accommodations.
Hulett supplied statistics that demonstrate why public knowledge about human rights complaints is so lacking, and why the voices of people with disabilities are not being heard. For example, of 2000 human rights complaints in 2001, only 500 went to resolution or the investigative stage. Only 4% of the 2000 went to a board of inquiry (where the complaint becomes public knowledge).
Hulett noted the importance of educating individuals about how to create, at home, files that track and log experiences, providing proof for a complaint. She said that, as part of the solution, student unions and clubs should take on leadership roles, move accommodations away from the idea of social assistance, and give students with disabilities the tools that they need to be advocates.