Enhancing Accessibility in Post-Secondary Education Institutions
Content for PSE Institutional Disability Policies
While there are many important topics to include, the following topics have been highlighted by various PSE institutions as being vital components of disability policies. Though it is not an exhaustive list, each issue below should be considered during the policy development.
- It is important to take into consideration relevant legislation as well as other PSE institutional policies when drafting and implementing specific disability policies. This includes provincial human rights acts, privacy acts, and disability standards; institutional policies on privacy, access to information or student rights; federal acts such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and international conventions such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
- To whom should disability policies apply? Policies and procedures should apply equally to everyone at a PSE institution; however, accessibility for faculty and staff with disabilities is often treated as a separate policy from accessibility for students with disabilities.
- Policies and procedures should clearly identify the target population such as undergraduate students or graduate students (some institutions have a separate disability policy for graduate students).
- Policies and procedures must clearly indicate how they apply to part-time and full-time students and provide clear definitions of part-time and full-time status. This is important as many students with disabilities are able to take a reduced course load while maintaining full-time status.
- Policies and procedures may extend to students who have been accepted to the PSE institution as prospective students and, in some cases, students who have applied to the institution.
- Policies and procedures may also cover students enrolled in distance education and on-line courses.
Definition of Disability
- Avoid defining disability in rigid terms and avoid limiting policies to people with permanent disabilities as some disabilities Ė like chronic conditions and mental illnesses -- are episodic in nature. While disabilities may not be present at all times, they may require accommodations.
- Extend the definition of disability to people with temporary disabilities such as those who temporarily require crutches, a wheelchair, or other mobility device.
- Definitions from organizations such as the World Health Organization, Human Rights Code, or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities can provide a good foundation for PSE institutions in the development of their own definitions.
- It may be useful too, for the definition, to also discuss how a disability may limit or interfere with a personís academic pursuits and how these limitations could be due to environmental, attitudinal, systemic, or procedural barriers.
Definition of Accommodation
- Clearly define the objective of disability accommodation and how it will be achieved. The definition could also include wording that references the provision of reasonable accommodations and modifications to ensure equal access to education.
- Reference the fact that accommodations are meant to eliminate barriers for students with disabilities and are not to provide an unfair academic advantage over students without disabilities. Maintaining academic standards and the integrity of programs is a priority.
- Broad, open-ended definitions of accommodations should reflect that it is not a ďone size fits allĒ process and should not be constrained by rigid definitions.
- Expand the definition to include non-academic accommodation such as activities and services that are not specific to academic success but enable full participation in campus life.
Defining Roles and Responsibilities
- Formalize the specific roles and responsibilities of the various administrative and academic units within the PSE institution as it may strengthens the idea that accessibility is a collaborative effort between staff, students, faculty and administration.
- Requesting and approving accommodations is a large part of PSE accessibility, so it is important to clearly state each personís responsibilities in this process. Identify who is responsible for submitting requests, approving requests, administering accommodations, handling appeals, etc.
- While it may seem beneficial to leave roles broad and general, it is important to delineate the roles clearly so there is no confusion as to the breadth of each personís responsibility. For example, a faculty memberís primary role is to assist with the process of implementing accommodations. While they may refuse to provide an accommodation,it would be important to state that this judgment must be based on retaining academic integrity and not on a personal judgment of the personís abilities.
- There will undoubtedly be roles and responsibilities that are not easily designated to one person or department. Responsibilities which are shared jointly should be stated as such. In particular, it might be worthwhile to note that the creation of a supportive and accessible on campus environment is a collaborative effort and the responsibility of the entire PSE institution.
- Commit to accommodate people with disabilities during the application process and to not deny admission on the basis of a disability.
- Clearly indicate that students with disabilities are expected to satisfy the same admission requirements as other applicants and, like all other applicants, they can appeal any admission decision.
- Encourage students to voluntarily self identify during the application process in order to expedite the accommodation process. However, clearly state that this decision is ultimately that of the student.
- Include a statement in the policy and procedures which ensure Admissions staff refer people who identify during the admission process to the Disability Office.
- Provide examples of potential accommodations such as adaptations to evaluation and testing methods, use of alternate formats or assistive technology, etc. As accommodations will undoubtedly vary depending on the situation, keep statements general and broad with a focus on individual needs.
- Establish a timeline for registering and submitting accommodation requests and establish service benchmarks for responding to accommodation requests.
- While it is important to have specific dates and deadlines for accommodation requests, allow for some flexibility to account for extenuating circumstances, especially when the service centre is dealing with recently registered students with disabilities.
- If an accommodation cannot be made, commit to provide a clear, written explanation to the student and outline the reasons for the decision.
- State the process for appealing accommodation decisions or refer to a separate policy that addresses this issue.
- Discuss the provision of non-academic accommodations for students with disabilities, including in the social, recreational and living environments.
- Include a statement on the institutionís dedication to ensuring fully accessible facilities for students with physical disabilities. This should include class rooms, buildings, social environments, residences, parking, etc.
- Include ideals of universal design and accessible teaching practices and encourage instructors to be aware of course components that could discriminate against students with disabilities.
Assessments and Documentation
- As documentation of a disability is paramount to receiving accommodations, it is important to provide clear instructions on what exactly is required. It is also important to provide clear instructions on when documentation needs to be submitted.
- While it is important to have concrete and standardized requirements for documentation, provide students who experience extenuating circumstances the opportunity to consult with appropriate representatives and discuss alternatives.
- Provide details on how students should handle complaints about on-campus accessibility and disagreements regarding accommodations. Usually students are encouraged to exhaust all informal channels, including discussion and mediation, before making a formal appeal.
- Clearly state the procedure for making a formal appeal and include information on eligibility to make an appeal, the process for making an appeal, how an appeal is decided and by whom, how the results will be delivered, and any recourse the student may have through external agencies, such as an appropriate Human Rights Commission.
- Where appropriate, reference a separate policy or document which contains the official appeal process.
- Affirm the institutionís commitment to respecting the privacy of students and their right to self disclose a disability but clarify that certain information about a disability is needed in order to provide accommodations.
- Matters of privacy, confidentiality and the handling of personal information should be handled in accordance with relevant legislation and institutional policies. Clearly outline or provide references to these procedures.
- Identify the procedures for maintaining and handling confidential information, including the length of time information is held and the disposal mechanisms.
- Identify who is authorized to access confidential information and describe how students may authorize other parties to access or share their information.
- Explain all situations where studentsí information may be disclosed without their consent.
- It is common to establish fee structures for specific disability related services, particularly services that need to be contracted out or require technology that is not already available to the school. In many cases, funding through grants and bursaries is available. State where these fees apply and that assistance is available for students with applications for funding.
- If a student is unsuccessful in obtaining funding for support services, consider committing to providing these services, within reason, to students in need.
- Mention any financial considerations that are specific to students with disabilities such as exemption from certain minimum course load requirements for certain scholarships and bursaries as well as tuition reductions to students who are taking a reduced course load as an accommodation.
- Commit to provide training and consultation services to faculty, staff and students regarding disability policy and related disability issues.
- Ensure that the policy is readily available and widely distributed to staff, faculty and students.
- State that all faculty, staff and students must comply with the policy and state any actions that may be taken as a result of non-compliance.
- Designate an independent individual, committee or office that is directly responsible for ensuring that the policies of the institution are enforced and that accessibility standards are met. They could coordinate awareness, advocacy, and expertise on social, physical, legal and policy matters across the campus.