NEADS 1998 Conference Report
Commitment to Excellence: Building Leaders for the Future
Written and compiled by Laurie Alphonse
Table of Contents
The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) held its 6th conference in Ottawa on the 21st and 22nd of November, 1998. One hundred and fifteen delegates participated, representing over 30 colleges and universities from across Canada, along with service providers, employers and disabled persons organizations. The conference, "Commitment to Excellence: Building Leaders for the Future", addressed the following issues: the development of a national approach to disability services on university and college campuses; accessing funding for post-secondary support; student leadership; and making the transition from school to work.
The conference was designed on a single-track schedule that provided for increased opportunity for small group discussion and networking between participants. This report of the conference proceedings will reflect this format, summarizing presentations followed by recommendations made by participants in each workshop. Included in this report is a copy of the conference program (Appendix A) to assist readers in placing the discussion in context.
The report has been developed using a verbatim transcript of the presentations and small group discussions. The material has been edited to emphasize only the major points of workshop presentations. Recommendations and observations were taken directly from the recorded reports. This has been done in recognition and appreciation of the spirit in which the recommendations were made.
The spirit that guided participation and the resulting recommendations will also serve to steer NEADS into the future. So to those who attended "Commitment to Excellence: Building Leaders for the Future" Thank you for making our national meeting so vibrant with so much we can be proud of.
"I want to be a leader and make some difference, make a change."
2. Opening PlenaryModerators: Brenda Whaley & Jennison Asuncion
The vibrant mood of the opening plenary served as a blueprint for an equally energetic conference. It began with an overview of what participants could expect throughout the weekend. Delegates were also encouraged to become active members of the organization by running for seats on the Board of Directors.
3. National Approach to ServicesPresenters: Emer Killean, Dean Mellway, Joan Wolforth, David Hubka, Toni Connolly.
Moderators: Jennison Asuncion, Kent Hehr.
The workshop was an overview of NEADS' National Approach to Services Project. Human Resource Development Canada and the Trillium Foundation funded the project starting in 1997.
The aim of the project is to develop a model of "best practices" for accessible post-secondary education in Canada that would be available to all stakeholders to assist them in the improvement of the existing support network for students with disabilities.
The project is titled, "Working Towards a Coordinated National Approach to Services, Accommodations and Policies for Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities: Ensuring Access to Higher Education and Career Training."
The first task in this process was to define the term "best practices." Best practices for our purposes could be considered an approach, rather than a hard and fast method. Best practices are focused on the evaluation of what exists, and methods and variations of those practices.
Project researchers David Hubka and Emer Killean began the workshop by explaining the project goals and methodology. There are seven proposed criteria we will use to identify best practices. They are:
To investigate what the term best practices means in application to post- secondary studies and accessibility, a number of factors were examined, using a multiple comparative case study. We collected data from a wide variety of institutions, both service providers and students, in an effort to construct balanced institutional profiles. This approach was taken with the knowledge that each side would have a different basis on which to draw information. Students base their views on educational choices and disabilities, whereas service providers draw information in regard to physical access and administrative resources available to them at the institution overall.
Recognizing those distinct differences, two surveys were created, one directed at students and the other at service providers. The surveys, while distinctly different, had common sections. All participants were asked questions regarding physical accessibility, physical adaptations, service equipment, safety, educational accommodations, policy, and administrative support for disability programming and volunteer services on campus. There were also questions about the accessibility of the surrounding community, on campus housing and on campus transportation. Participants were asked to identify most and least successful practices on their individual campus.
The survey distribution was as follows:
From the initial number of surveys sent out, 70 service providers and 349 students responded. We had a sample group of about 110 institutions. The percentage breakdown by type of institution was as follows:
In the service provider group:
In the student population:
Service providers reported that they were able to serve students with mobility impairments, blind or visually impaired students and students with learning disabilities. Fewer service providers were able to accommodate those with hearing related disabilities; speech related disabilities and those with medical and/or mental health disabilities.
The respondent group was comprised mostly of youths. Most reported being in first or second year. The breakdown of respondents by disability type was consistent with the Health Activity Limitations Survey done by Statistics Canada in 1991.
The research is in the process of being analyzed along disabilities-specific criteria, considering students are more likely to know what is available concerning their own personal needs.
Jennison introduced Joan Wolforth from McGill University, who spoke about the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education (CADSPPE) and their model for best practices.
Students, on their own campus, often view service providers as working in isolation. Students are unaware of the very large network across the country and throughout the world that service providers draw from regularly. CADSPPE, a national organization, is a division of the Canadian Association of University and College Student Services. This group is made up of people from a variety of backgrounds including disability service providers. Service providers use the organization as a resource network. The result is the creation of similar programs and services on campuses across the country. The similarities are really quite surprising considering the differences in financial and legislative frameworks in the different provinces across the country. Service providers all work within different parameters given that every province funds services, universities and students differently. Internationally, our colleagues are surprised that service providers here have developed services in such a uniform manner. One of the ways this is accomplished is through the principles set out in Canadian Human Rights legislation. Service providers also work within institutional frameworks and as such are responsible both to students and the institution. Service providers are expected to balance the needs of the students and the requirements of the institution.
However, the National Approach to Services Survey points out that although the same services exist across the country "they're probably not provided equally." CADSPPE is only aware of services provided at schools within its membership. For CADSPPE, the survey describes the areas in which there are gaps in service, facilities and safety. CADSPPE has obtained its own grant from Human Resources Development Canada to study the issues addressed not only by the NEADS study, but others as well.
Dean Mellway explained to delegates that the report CADSPPE is preparing is intended to assist service providers in eliminating disparities in services across the country. Identifying best practices is not an easy task. "It is like an hour glass laying on its side. At one end you've got students with a full range of disabilities and a full range of ways they have adapted and at the other end you have got the world we live in. In the middle are the institutions and all the different variables that affect opportunities for students with disabilities to get an education."
Toni Connolly spoke next about the importance of the concept of best practices for institutions at the college level.
A national approach is about quantifying outcomes and looking for specific positive approaches that draw on creativity and innovativeness. Surveys allow opportunities for students to provide feedback and are also important because they provide a forum for institutions to articulate concerns over funding and service provision issues.
Recommendations and Observations
"It is like an hour glass laying on its side. At one end you've got students with a full range of disabilities and a full range of ways they have adapted and at the other end you have got the world we live in. In the middle are the institutions and all the different variables that affect opportunities for students with disabilities to get an education."
4. Access to FundingModerator: Laurie Alphonse.
Presenters: Lee Windsor, Eva Berringer, Christian Généreux, Lucie Lemieux-Brassard.
"There are a number of people who can't access the funding for disability services because their base income puts them over the income eligibility threshold. This leaves students disadvantaged. No student should be disadvantaged based on income. Access to services should be based solely on the service needs of students."
Access to funding for post-secondary study was the theme of the next workshop. Laurie Alphonse introduced the panel, while encouraging the participants to remain positive in their approach to the discussions. The first speaker was Lee Windsor from the Canada Student Loans Program.
The Canada Student Loans Program (CSLP), established in 1964, provides financial assistance to students to supplement their own and their families' income. Each year the federal government provides 1.2 billion dollars in assistance to 325,000 students, in both full and part time studies. The CSLP covers 60% of the student's assessed need up to $165.00 weekly. In addition, the program provides $146 million in non-repayable Canada Study Grants, formerly Special Opportunities Grants. CSLP also pays interest on loans while students are still in school. Part time students may be eligible for up to $4,000.00.
Now on to the particular features affecting students with disabilities.
The government recognizes the following:
In response, the government has relaxed its full-time study criteria. A disabled student now qualifies for full-time study funding levels with a 40% course load rather than the 60% course load required under normal conditions. In the second instance, the government has introduced a permanent disability benefit, under which students can apply to have their loans forgiven. Furthermore, the government provides funding up to $5,000.00 per year to cover disability expenses related to education.
The government also recognizes the difficulty students have in paying back loans once their education is complete. To address that issue the government has made two adjustments to CSLP. These adjustments extend the period of available interest relief after the completion of schooling from 18 months to 30 months. This relief can be applied for in 6-month blocks. In addition, the income eligibility threshold has been raised from $20,000 per year to $22,000 per year. People with income slightly above $22,000 can apply for partial interest relief. After a student has exhausted the 30-month interest relief period, they may apply for an additional measure of debt reduction whereby 50% of the loan principle will be paid down by the government to a maximum of $10, 000.
NEADS plays an important role in setting the criteria for these programs. NEADS sits on the Human Resources Development Canada National Advisory Group on Student Financial Assistance. This is one of the three stakeholder groups that make up the Canada Student Loans Program.
Eva Berringer from the Office of Disability Issues spoke next on Employability Assistance for Persons with Disabilities (EAPD).
The Employability Assistance Program for Persons with Disabilities, formerly the Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons Program (VRDP) has existed since 1962. The new program, EAPD, attempts to address some of the fundamental changes required to better serve people with disabilities today. EAPD does not cover the costs related to alcohol and drug detoxification, or sheltered workshops that don't lead to gainful employment. Reforms to VRDP were undertaken within the larger context of the social policy renewal. The social policy renewal is a process whereby the federal and provincial governments review Canadian social programs.
In 1996, the federal government undertook consultations with the disability community around reforms to VRDP. As a result, new directions were articulated with the creation of the Multilateral Framework on Employability Assistance for Persons with Disabilities. The framework sets out the principles and objectives of EAPD. The new objective of the program is to assist people with disabilities to prepare for, find and keep jobs, addressing the removal of barriers to work.
EAPD, like VRDP, is a 50 percent cost-sharing arrangement between the federal and provincial governments. Provincial programs and services are eligible for 50 percent of their costs to be matched by the federal government up to a maximum amount set for each province. In total, the federal government provides 190 million dollars annually.
What is eligible under EAPD? EAPD is intended to cover a broad range of interventions. Interventions can range in length. They may include:
Under the terms of EAPD the provinces have the flexibility to design their own programs. In most cases, the provincial EAPD agreements make mention of post-secondary education specifically, but it is not universal. EAPD delivers greater measures of public accountability and key indicators for determining success of programs and services and the formation of a federal/provincial planning process. There is also a three-year transition period, allowing provinces to phase in changes to the old VRDP programming over time.
Separate from EAPD, there are two other initiatives the government is involved in. They are the Millennium Scholarship Fund and the RSP Education Benefit. The Millennium Scholarship fund is being set up as a separate entity. The government will contribute 2.5 billion dollars to the fund over ten years. The criteria and administration are in the process of being established. The RSP initiative will allow Canadians to withdraw 10,000 dollars from their RSPs for the purpose of continuing their education.
Christian Généreux, President of the Quebec Association of Post Secondary Disabled Students (AQEHPS) spoke regarding the specifics of the student financial aid system in Quebec.
In Quebec, there is one financial aid program that applies to everyone. However, within the program there are allowances for persons with disabilities. Under the program students with disabilities must be recognized as having a major functional impairment to access the allowances available. To be recognized in this category a student must have a severe visual, hearing, mobility or organic impairment.
A student with a major functional impairment can qualify for financial aid in general even if he/she is studying part time. In addition, the loan portion of the financial aid is transferred to a bursary. Furthermore, every student with a disability under this category can qualify for a special needs allocation. The special needs allocation gives the student access to support services and equipment needed to assist them in their studies. This support is distributed two ways: at the college level, the money is distributed to the institution; students in university receive the money directly.
Assistive devices are distributed through rehabilitation centres. This is sometimes problematic because the province is delayed in giving the rehabilitation centres their directives. Another area of concern is with regard to students with learning disabilities. These students are recognized for assistance on a case-by-case basis only, since the province of Quebec does not officially recognize learning disabilities as disabilities.
Lucie Lemieux-Brassard spoke about the weak-nesses of the Quebec financial aid program.
There are aspects of the program in need of improvement. First, the province of Quebec must recognize the needs of people with learning and mental health disabilities. Secondly, the government has cut back on what is available to students who are considered to have major functional impairments, leaving some students with less resources than they were entitled to previously. Students receiving assistive devices assistance from rehabilitation centres report that the quality of the equipment they receive is poor and the availability of equipment can vary from one geographic area to another. It can take up to 18 months for students to obtain access to devices.
Another problem area is what the government refers to as human resources. In some cases, universities process students' note-takers and tutors through their human resources department, which means a 15% reduction on each pay cheque plus a six- percent administration fee. This means a discrepancy in the way services are provided, the discrepancy also leaves the organization concerned with the quality of service being provided to students. The financial aid program does not recognize additional costs of living associated with disability. Furthermore, the government has introduced stricter criteria for what it considers to be a major functional impairment. This means that students who would have previously been considered for loan-to-bursary transfers will no longer be eligible. As a result, students with disabilities are now incurring debt and, unlike with the federal program, there is no provision for loan forgiveness in Quebec.
Recommendations and Observations
5. Making the Transition from School to WorkModerators: Stephanie Pollock, Yvette Fiola.
Presenters: Hetty O'Donnell, Ray McIsaac, Isabelle Fiola.
Making the transition from school to work was the theme in the next workshop. The session, moderated by Stephanie Pollock and Yvette Fiola, dealt with strategies for finding and keeping jobs after completing a post-secondary education. The panelists for this workshop were Hetty O'Donnell from the Bank of Montreal, Ray McIsaac from the Canadian Labour Force Development Board and Isabelle Fiola, an employment counsellor.
Hetty O'Donnell is a human resources manager at the Bank of Montreal. The Bank of Montreal was Canada's first bank, founded in 1817. The bank employs over 25,000 people; its operations are diversified in a number of different areas, both nationally and internationally. Diversification means a lot of jobs for people. The bank celebrates its successes in the advancement of women, people with disabilities, aboriginal peoples and visible minorities.
O'Donnell's presentation outlined how people can prepare themselves for the work environment. The first task is to get experience, either through summer jobs or working while in school. If that is not possible there are other strategies available to assist people in gaining experience. There are programs available to assist people in this regard, such as Career Edge. Career Edge is a nationwide internship program for youth committed to placing graduates with host organizations as interns. There are also other initiatives. The bank has its own program in place. Working as a volunteer is an excellent way to gain experience. Your overall goal is to gain as much experience as you can.
One of the key factors is to research the company. Be knowledgeable; understand the company's business and its culture. In addition, be knowledgeable about the interview process. Preparation for an interview is crucial. There are different types of interviews that an applicant may encounter. A person might be asked to respond to questions that test reactions and behaviours to situations that they have or may have to deal with in the future. Another possibility a person might encounter is a panel interview.
In addition to the questions asked of the applicant, there are questions a person should ask a potential employer during the course of an interview. A person should investigate the employer's expectations and have the opportunity to ask in more detail what the job entails. After receiving this information the applicant will be able to make an informed choice about whether or not the position meets his or her own expectations, needs, and abilities.
Finding work is only one element of transition. When an employee starts working, it is important for that person to familiarize himself with the company, its authorities and practices as quickly and possible. Here are some strategies that might help a person accomplish this:
People with disabilities must disclose their needs at the earliest possible point in the process - at the interview, if possible - so that accommodations can be made to assist the individual on the job. People with disabilities have the responsibility to articulate their own needs at the interview and on the job. Most companies have an accommodation policy. It's important to know the details of such a policy.
Ray McIsaac spoke next regarding the representation of people with disabilities on the Canadian Labour Force Development Board (CLFDB) and the participation of people with disabilities in the labour force.
The Canadian Labour Force Development Board (CLFDB) is comprised of approximately 22 members, representing education, business, labour and the four equity groups. People with disabilities have an important role in increasing sensitivity for equity issues through the CLFDB. The board deals with a broad range of issues at both the national and provincial levels of government. The CLFDB cannot presume to represent all groups and maintain sensitivity to all issues without input. Its input comes from the work of constituency reference groups.
There are 26 community organizations that belong to the Reference Group on Disability. The reference group is a vehicle for communication between the disability community and government on a wide range of labour market issues. CLFDB ensures the federal government remains active in labour market issues. CLFDB has been active in the subject of transition. The board has been able to provide support to the disability community on issues such as the Employability Assistance Program for Persons with Disabilities (EAPD) and the Opportunities Fund. The work of the CLFDB adds to the notion of national standards, including training and service delivery. With respect to people with disabilities, discussions have focused around service portability and access to disability related supports in general.
The discussion of labour market issues is made increasingly difficult because these issues are under provincial jurisdiction. In addition, the system is full of conflict, between the need for income support and the overall impression of peoples' participation in the labour force. So the question remains, how does Canada create a system that acknowledges that people will move in and out of the labour force, gives incentives to employment and does not further conflict with access to services and policy across the spectrum?
EAPD, the replacement to VRDP, shows the beginning processes undertaken by the federal and provincial governments to recognize issues related to labour force transition for people with disabilities.
Perhaps the best approach would be for NEADS as an organization to develop a strategic plan toward fostering relationships with sector councils and creating stronger ties with employers and Human Resources Development Canada. Also, labour market issues are a provincial matter, so it is important to get involved at the provincial level. Furthermore, it is important to educate on issues of economic development and explore options such as self-employment.
Isabelle Fiola spoke about the importance of self-esteem in finding employment.
What is self-esteem? People can do all sorts of research and approach it in all sorts of different ways. However, self-esteem is something no one can give you, as a gift or otherwise. It comes from within; it is built from the inside out. Self-esteem is the foundation for strong self-confidence. Self-esteem is the key to confidence and confidence holds the keys to success. How is it achieved? Here are some strategies:
One should examine interviews for personal improvements, and use them as a tool for mental preparation for future rejection. In addition, it is important to realize that rejection is not a reflection on you as a person because other people have their own agendas. Furthermore, it is important above all for people to have the ability to present their strengths and credit their successes in an interview. To accomplish this a person must be able to have insight into his or her own character. There are several ways a person may go about exploring this facet of their personality:
Recommendations and Observations
Celebrate your successes:
6. Student LeadershipModerators: Brenda Whaley, Jennifer Evans.
Panelists: Steve Estey, Chris Green, Raymond Berger, Phillip Strong.
Brenda Whaley and Jennifer Evans moderated the workshop on Student Leadership. The panelists were Steve Estey, Chris Green and Philip Strong.
Steve Estey explained that this session was part of a larger initiative that NEADS was undertaking with other student organizations across the country. Currently, the association is holding community leadership forums, hosted by NEADS board members. This initiative is aimed at forging better linkages between the national and campus based organizations. The workshop was a forum to share ideas of what works and what hasn't. Furthermore, the workshop provided a forum to develop strategies of support for student organizations.
Chris Green of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) spoke on the importance of leadership for students with disabilities and the initiatives of CFS. He is chairperson of the Federation's Students with Disabilities Constituency Group.
The Canadian Federation of Students represents over 400,000 students nationally. Of that number, approximately 11,000 are students with disabilities. CFS' mandate is to protect and enhance student rights across the nation. In addition, CFS is also mandated to become coalition builders. A strong coalition between NEADS and CFS would be beneficial. The Federation works to ensure that issues of access for disabled students are dealt with in its national campaigns.
Students with disabilities need to increase their involvement in positions of leadership. A lot of us have a high degree of excellent outputs and a lot of talent and we're trying to bring that forward, so that we can start breaking the paradigm of the differences between "normal" and "not normal" people. We're all normal people, and that's it.
Raymond Berger is the Vice-President of Internal Affairs of the Quebec Association of Post-Secondary Disabled Students (AQEHPS).
AQEHPS was incorporated in 1991 and has about 80 student members, not counting the associate and institutional memberships. While the membership increases by word of mouth, the association does not have access to lists of all students with disabilities in the province of Quebec. There are approximately 1400 college, university and CEGEP students with disabilities in Quebec.
AQEHPS' funding comes from the Quebec Bureau of Persons with Disabilities. The bureau allotted $20,000 a year for three years plus $1,000 for special expenses. AQEHPS uses that money to maintain an office and has set up bursaries for students. There are also other funding sources that the organization draws from. The current funding levels, from all sources, allow the organization to maintain four staff.
AQEHPS has also undertaken research studies that are sold back to the institutions and the public for a nominal fee. This is a method of fundraising. Members can get copies free of charge.
The Board of Directors consists of nine seats; two are to be filled by people outside of Montreal or Quebec City. This ensures representation from other areas of the province. In addition, there are special provisions in the by-laws that do allow for the appointment of people for their expertise in certain subjects.
Lastly, the association puts together training workshops for the Board of Directors. These workshops help participants better understand their roles and responsibilities as members of the AQEHPS Board.
Phillip Strong is president of the Memorial University of Newfoundland's Disability Information Support Centre (MUNDISC).
The Memorial University organization began its work in 1982, as M.O.D. II, with participation from students with disabilities and those without. The organization's mandate involves peer support and information dissemination on and off campus. The key to MUNDISC's success over time has been the ability to involve people in the running of the organization and to maintain a consistent formula of students helping students.
Recommendations and Observations
NEADS would like to thank the members of the 1998 conference planning committee, the participants and the exhibitors for providing the time and energy that made this conference such a success.
In addition, NEADS would like to thank the Delta Ottawa for an enjoyable and pleasant atmosphere during our stay. Furthermore, we'd like to thank Golden Planners for their excellent support of conference registration and services. Lastly, NEADS wishes to thank Human Resources Development Canada for providing the organizational funding support to make it all possible.
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