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Access to Academic Materials for Post-Secondary Students with Print Disabilities

DISABILITY SERVICE ORGANIZATIONS’ SUBMISSIONS

College Committee on Disability Issues - Ontario (November 2004)

The College Committee on Disability Issues (CCDI) reports and acts as an advisory body and resource to the Co-ordinating Committee on Student Services (CCSS), which in turn, reports through the College of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) Co-ordinating Committee to the Committee of Presidents (COP) of the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario (ACAATO). CCDI’s role includes recommending policies and procedures for the implementation of services to students with disabilities in Ontario.

CCDI supports the recommendations and actions proposed in the CADSPPE submission paper on “Access to Academic Materials for Students with Print Disabilities” as it voices the concerns of disability services providers nationally.

Disability Services Providers of Ontario Colleges and Institutes of Technology and Advanced Learning promote a philosophy to “equalize access and opportunities that shape the educational experiences of students with disabilities to learn and demonstrate their competence” (Orientation for Success, May 2000, p.13). Many students with print disabilities do not start off with a level playing field as they are unable to access all of their materials in alternative format for semester start-up. The frustration for disability services providers is that there is no national central clearinghouse or database that can be accessed to determine the availability of materials. The capacity of institutions to produce materials internally is limited by demands on staff, lack of qualified staff, and lack of appropriate equipment. CCDI’s response to the Disability-Related Support Review (Feb. 2004) conducted by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) indicates that for the province of Ontario, the current funding mechanism for print alternate materials is highly problematic. There is low student satisfaction given that significant delays in receiving materials can seriously impact student progress. CCDI suggests to MTCU that it:

  • Undertake a review of this fund in view of the benefit of providing all services in-house at each institution.
  • Provide institutions with the resources to provide books, handouts and other print materials electronically (e.g. high-speed scanners, scanning program, staff costs to edit text).
  • Actively lobby publishers to provide materials electronically.
  • Encourage government to enact legislation or regulations similar to that in the US regarding E-text.

Should consideration be given to in-house facilities at each post secondary institution, adequate funds would have to be provided as the CADSPPE document states for the training of qualified staff, for equipment for the institution as well as equipment that would be readily available and accessible to students. Many students are not eligible for funding through the Canada Students Loan Program and/or provincial student loan programs as they don’t meet the criteria and therefore are unable to purchase their own equipment. In Ontario, for example, to access the Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD), students must qualify for the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). Disability services providers confirm that a student is in financial need and is in need of disability related services and accommodations, but because a student is ineligible for OSAP the services and accommodations cannot be purchased. The cost to access books from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB&D) can be prohibitive for some students and Canadian institutions are ineligible for institutional memberships because of US copyright laws. CCDI proposes that the bursary be granted on the basis of the educational requirements of the effects of the disability and on the financial need of the student. CCDI proposes that disability services providers at each institution liaise with financial aid offices to develop an appropriate financial needs test that could be correlated with a disability needs test and applied at each institution equitably. Students with print disabilities would be able to purchase their own equipment to facilitate speedy access to materials.

As suggested in the CADSPPE document, it is essential that publishers provide electronic copies of all publications in a standardized, accessible, text format and develop and adopt agreed upon standards to make non-text items such as diagrams, charts and graphs accessible electronically. With electronic formats being made available at the same time as printed materials, the biggest barrier that students with print disabilities encounter as they begin their programs will be eliminated, and they will be provided with an equal opportunity to succeed along with their peers.

Provincial education ministries and disability services providers need to continue to lobby for federal legislation that makes it mandatory for publishers to produce all publications in E-text, and for their holdings to be housed on a central database so that required materials can be readily accessed by anyone. In addition, a database for internally, institutionally produced alternative materials co-ordinated by a national organization such as the National Library Service is essential to avoid duplication of efforts and to reduce costs.

CCDI looks forward to participating in discussions and supporting the efforts of national organizations such as CADSPPE, NEADS and CACUSS as resolution is sought to the longstanding issues faced by persons with print disabilities. Improving access to education for this group will improve access to education, whether it is formal or informal, for all Canadians.

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