Nova Scotia report argues for changes to uphold the rights of students with disabilities
(December 4, 2014 - For Immediate Release - Halifax)
Students Nova Scotia released a report today identifying numerous barriers that limit the ability of persons with disabilities to attend and succeed in post-secondary education. Disable the Label: Improving Post-Secondary Policy, Practice and Academic Culture for Students with Disabilities recommends policy changes to protect the students’ human rights, address increasing service demands, and meet students’ financial needs. Students Nova Scotia also launched an online petition linked to the report, calling for the Province to up-front funding for assessments required by students with learning disabilities.
One-in-five Nova Scotians has a disability, the highest disability incidence rate in Canada, but persons with disabilities are among the most undereducated and underemployed groups, largely due to systemic barriers. In 2006 only 62% of adults with a disability were employed, as compared to 88% of those without a disability. Youth with disabilities are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, under-educated, and living in poverty than those without disabilities. Accordingly, national level research has shown that persons with disabilities are significantly less likely to graduate from college, university, or graduate school, while fully 16% of Canadian youth ages 15-24 leave their studies because of their impairment.
“We cannot afford to miss out on the talents of those who have disabilities, and supporting post-secondary participation is a crucial element in helping more Nova Scotians fully realize their potential,” said StudentsNS President James Patriquin. “There is a moral, economic and social imperative for our government and post-secondary institutions to better support persons with disabilities.”
Students report that having a disability is heavily stigmatized and they feel isolated and discriminated against, which in turn undermines both their educational experience and ability to learn. The report argues that institutions must better uphold students with disabilities’ rights to accommodations and non-discriminatory environments, which are protected under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act and the “Duty to Accommodate” under the Canadian Human Rights Act. This means that accommodations must be employed equally across all faculties, and employees cannot choose whether to provide them, they are required to by law.
“Too often accessibility measures are seen as services ‘auxiliary’ or ‘burdensome’ to the institution or to individual faculty members,” said report author and StudentsNS Equity Officer, Kayti Baur. “This attitude needs to change if we expect to make lasting improvements for students with disabilities.”
The StudentsNS report also shows that funding to disability services offices at Nova Scotia public post-secondary institutions has remained static. Yet, the number of university students registered with disability services has more than doubled in the past 10 years, causing universities’ discretionary disability services funding-per-student to fall from $382.17 in 2007-08 to $220.89 in 2012-13. Similar trends have occurred at the NSCC. In light of these financial constraints, programming is being compromised, including notably supports for successful transitions into the workforce, and stigma reduction and outreach programs.
“Disability services are in place to uphold students’ human rights, increase access to education, and help persons with disabilities become better represented in the workforce,” said Baur. “The fact that they are not equipped to fulfill their mandates is a very serious problem. Disabilities are not temporary problems and we must stop giving them temporary solutions – if students are leaving school unprepared for employment, for example, they are not getting the full benefit of their education.”
Finally, the Report demonstrates shortfalls in financial aid to students with disabilities, who often take longer to complete their studies, have additional costs and accumulate higher debts. For example, students with learning disabilities require pyscho-educational assessments, but these cost $1,500 on average with no up-front financial support from the Province. The Province has also introduced a debt-cap program that forgives the provincial loans undergraduates incur in their first four years of study, but does not accommodate for the fact that students with disabilities typically take longer to graduate.
“Provincial government financial aid programs are failing to fully accommodate for the circumstances of students with disabilities,” said Scott Byrne, StudentsNS VP College Affairs. “Programs must help these students finance the up-front costs of services and stop systematically encumbering them with additional debt.”
The report was authored by Kayti Baur, with support from Jonathan Williams (StudentsNS Executive Director), Bob Parker (StudentsNS Director of Research) and Emily Duffett (Nova Scotia Director, National Educational Association of Disabled Students). The full version, summaries and a factsheet are available at www.studentsns.ca/disable-the-label.
Students Nova Scotia is a not-for-profit and non-partisan advocacy group that represents 37,794 Nova Scotia post-secondary students, including 86% of the university population. Our members study at Acadia, Cape Breton, Dalhousie, Saint Mary’s and St. Francis Xavier Universities, the Kingstec Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College, and the Atlantic School of Theology.
For more information or questions, please contact:
Jonathan Williams, Executive Director
Kayti Baur, Equity Officer
James Patriquin, President