An open letter to The Honourable Merrilee Fullerton
April 23, 2019 -
The Honourable Merrilee Fullerton
Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
Mowat Block, 3rd Floor, 900 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario, M7A 1L2
Dear Minister Fullerton,
We are writing to you regarding the status of important disability services and programs funded by students at campuses across Ontario. In an open letter dated March 29, 2019, you stated that the Student Choice Initiative will have “no impact on accessibility and disability services for students on campus” and went on to say that institutions are expected to cover these services from their own budgets.
As organizations representing students and youth with disabilities, we are seeking assurance that crucial centres and programs run by and for students with disabilities at colleges and universities in Ontario are protected. While your letter states that institutions are expected to fund accessibility services, a number of these centres are currently covered by student levy either directly, or by virtue of the fact that they’re a service provided by a students’ union.
Some examples of these centres which provide essential services for disabled students include:
- Maccess at McMaster University
- Carleton Disability Awareness Centre at Carleton University
- Students for Barrier Free Access at the University of Toronto
- RyeACCESS at Ryerson University
- York Federation of Students Access Centre at York University
- Active Minds at Trent University
- Centre for Students with Disabilities at the University of Ottawa
- Mental Health Awareness Committee at Queen's University
Once the Student Choice Initiative takes effect, these services will be left without a stable source of funding and may have to dramatically scale back their programming, or close entirely. Centres such as the ones listed play a crucial role in making our campuses more inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities. They run workshops and campaigns to raise awareness about accessibility, offer peer support, wheelchair rentals, and dedicated space for students with disabilities.
In addition, these centres often collaborate with other campus groups representing students who are racialized, LGBTQ, Indigenous or women. The Student Choice Initiative pits vulnerable students against each other, and undermines important initiatives making our campuses more equitable. It will also seriously impact students with mental health conditions in Ontario’s colleges and universities. Disabled students’ centres, supported by Students Associations, offer critical front-line mental health services at a time when we have a mental health crisis on our campuses. University and college administration run health services and counselling services are not sufficiently resourced to meet increasing student needs and cannot adequately support students in crisis without the support of peer-run student centres.
Everyone has the right to access an education. Student-run disability centres play crucial roles in making colleges and universities more accessible, and their work must be allowed to continue. Please confirm that your Ministry will act to protect these centres, and outline the steps you will take to do so.
Thank you very much for considering our concerns. We look forward to your timely response.
Organizer, Disability Justice Network of Ontario
Roxana Jahani Avail
Chair, Ontario Director, National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS)
c.c. The Honourable Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility