More Proof During this Election of the Need for Ontario’s Next Government to Take Strong, Prompt New Action to Tear Down the Many Barriers Impeding Students with Disabilities – and – What Should An Accessible Education system Look Like?

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Twitter: @aodaalliance

More Proof During this Election of the Need for Ontario’s Next Government to Take Strong, Prompt New Action to Tear Down the Many Barriers Impeding Students with Disabilities – and – What Should An Accessible Education system Look Like?

May 31, 2018


A major disability issue that keeps coming up with Ontario election candidates around Ontario has been the pressing need to tear down the many disability barriers that impede students with disabilities  in Ontario’s education system. We asked all the major parties for specific commitments in this area. Below we set out what we asked, and what they committed. This is taken from the AODA Alliance’s issue-by-issue breakdown of the commitments we secured on a wide range of disability accessibility issues.

There have been a series of important recent developments highlighting the need for reform in this area. We bring these to your attention:

* The May 4, 2018 Toronto Star included a powerful article, set out below. It reported on a report that had just been released. It documented serious recurring barriers facing students with intellectual disabilities in Ontario schools. This shows the pressing need for major reforms now!

* A similarly powerful report on the results of an ongoing survey of parents of students with special education needs at TDSB has been made public by the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) of the Toronto District School Board. This report shows similar serious recurring barriers facing many students with all kinds of special education needs. Its contents parallel the Toronto Star’s May 4, 2018 report, which had focused on students with intellectual disabilities.

To read the 28 page report that synthesizes the 1,600 responses to this survey as of earlier this spring, visit: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member and past chair of TDSB’s SEAC. He is one of the SEAC members who oversaw this survey’s design. The report was prepared by two Osgoode Hall Law School students who volunteered for the AODA Alliance as part of their law studies. We thank them for their wonderful effort.

* The work of the Education Standards Development Committee has been continuing since its first meeting in early February 2018.  The Government in fact appointed two Standards Development Committees, one to deal with barriers in schools from kindergarten to Grade 12, and one to deal with post-secondary education (i.e. colleges and universities). AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.

Drawing on feedback we have received from our supporters over the years, David Lepofsky circulated to members of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee a proposal that we set out below for your thoughts and feedback. The Committee is considering what the long term objective should be of the promised Education Accessibility Standard. It is also considering what an accessible education system should look like. These are important first steps towards developing a recommendation for the Education Accessibility Standard’s contents.

Send us your feedback on this. Write us at * After the April 17-18, 2018 meeting of the K-12 Standards Development Committee, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (part of the Ontario Government) sent all committee members a 2-page email on behalf of the committee’s chair, Lynn Ziraldo. The Government wants Standards Development Committee members to share these with their networks. As such, we set this out below. These “key messages” appear to have been written at least in part, if not entirely by the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.

* The Wynne Government decided that there should be a joint sub-committee, including representatives from both the K-12 Standards Development Committee and the Post-Secondary Standards Development Committee. It would work on helping ensure that there is coordination between the work and recommendations of the two Standards Development Committees.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky applied to serve on this joint-sub-committee. He has experience with disability barriers in both the K-12 and post-secondary contexts. From He was recently advised that he was not selected to serve on this sub-committee. We do not know who made the selection, what criteria they used, or why he was not included.

We encourage all our supporters to keep raising accessibility issues with all candidates in the Ontario election. Use this last week of the campaign to get all candidates to make strong commitments on accessibility. No matter who wins this election, the vast majority of MPPs in the Ontario Legislature will not have been in the Legislature back on May 2005, when the AODA was passed. We need to ensure that this new crop of MPPs has a strong commitment to the implementation and enforcement of the AODA.

At the end of this Update are links to key background information on the AODA Alliance, on how to raise disability issues in this election, and on how to sign up for or unsubscribe from these Updates. As always, we are non-partisan. We do not seek to elect or defeat any party or candidate. We strive to get the strongest commitments on accessibility from all candidates.


The Toronto Star May 4, 2018

Students with disabilities being left behind; Ontario education system fails special-needs pupils, report by advocates says Graphic: Dorlean Lieghfars- Rotolo, with daughter Jessica, who has Down syndrome, says she and her husband had a constant battle to make sure Jessica received appropriate accommodation in school.

They are excluded from classrooms, left out of field trips and they don’t get the tools or extra staff they need to help them learn.

Their parents are asked to keep them home from school, pick them up early and must fight hard to get them the supports they are legally entitled to.

This is the reality for students with intellectual disabilities and their families in Ontario, according to a new report released Friday, which provides a rare look at how this vulnerable group is faring in school. Despite their legal right to inclusive education, these students face “daunting” academic and social barriers that can leave them excluded, vulnerable to bullying and set them up for low expectations for the future, said the report, a joint project by experts in disabilities law and education, and advocacy groups such as Community Living Ontario.

“These results paint a stark picture of how the education system fails to serve students who have intellectual disabilities,” it said, adding that “significant measures need to be taken in order to ensure these obligations are met.”

The findings revealed parents who are overwhelmed, under emotional and financial stress trying to support their children and in constant conflict with schools and boards.

More than half of parents reported their child was not receiving proper academic accommodations, which can range from teaching techniques to a special needs assistant or technology, and had been denied learning opportunities. Almost two-thirds said their child had been excluded from extracurricular activities, and a third said their child didn’t have access to an educational assistant when needed.

Two-thirds reported conflict at the classroom level over their children’s education, three-quarters with school administrators, and 56 per cent had battled with their school board.

Many felt the onus was on them to initiate communication about, or request meetings on, their child’s progress and accommodations.

But the report stressed that, despite “ubiquitous conflict,” many parents cited the positive impact of school principals and teachers when they receive the training and support necessary to help special-needs students access the curriculum and reach their potential.

Those kind of positive relationships can “make or break a school experience” for those students, said report co-author Luke Reid, staff lawyer with Arch Disability Law Centre. He said the research captures a lot of the problems faced across the special-education system.

The findings resonate with Dorlean Lieghfars-Rotolo of Toronto, whose 19-year-old daughter Jessica has Down syndrome and is a Toronto high school student. Jessica was in a regular class, with extra help outside the classroom for English and math, at her Catholic elementary school.

Lieghfars-Rotolo said it was a constant struggle to make sure the right supports were in place and that Jessica would be encouraged to learn, not face low expectations. She went on field trips so that Jessica would be included and was a vigilant presence at the school.

But by the pre-teen years, she noticed her daughter started to be left out and was often alone. Fearing Jessica would not get the social or academic supports she needed in a regular high school, the family enrolled her in Heydon Park Secondary School, an all-girls public school that focuses on special needs, where her daughter is happy and doing well.

“I would love her to be in an integrated classroom if it was with a teacher who could handle that,” said Lieghfars-Rotolo. “This was the best option.

“We saw the failings of the system for our daughter.”

Andrea Gordon Toronto Star

Election Commitments on the Need to Substantially Reform How the Ministry of Education Deals with the Needs of Students with Disabilities

Commitments the AODA Alliance Requested

#29.  To create a new associate Deputy Minister and Division at the Ministry of Education, to be called the Full Participation Inclusion of Students with Disabilities Division. This division should have lead responsibility for ensuring that all planning and programming at the Ministry is designed and operated to ensure that students with disabilities  can fully participate in and be fully included in schools and education services. To avoid this becoming an irrelevant, isolated  silo within the Ministry, this Division should have a mandate to oversee and ensure the work of all other divisions in the Ministry in this regard, so that no new initiatives in education will go forward unless this Division approves it as fully including students with disabilities without barriers.

#30. To amend Ontario’s Education Act and special education regulations, to eliminate the unfairly restrictive definition of “exceptional pupil” and “exceptionality,” and to replace it with a definition of students with disabilities that covers all disabilities covered by the Ontario Human Rights Code. The current out-dated terms “exceptional pupil” and “exceptionality” now leave out mental health conditions that have not become a behaviour issue).

#31. To independently review the Ministry’s programming and funding formula for special education, to be renamed funding for students with disabilities, in order to ensure it is sufficient to meet their needs, and to ensure that funding is based on the actual number of students with disabilities in a school board, not some mathematical formula of how many students with disabilities there hypothetically should be at that school board.

NDP Commitments

* We understand that the Ministry of Education has been a major barrier to effectively meeting the needs of students with disabilities, and that the responses and supports that students and families receive have varied wildly across the province. We are committed to ensuring that students with disabilities are no longer treated as an afterthought. We will review the funding formula for special education, and will restructure the way that the Ministry of Education approaches accessibility. We are proud of the advocacy we have done to push the government to establish an Education Standards Committee.

Liberal Party Commitments

* The Ontario Liberal Party believes that every student must have access to the support they need to reach their full potential. We will ensure that we have the appropriate structures in place to continue to make progress in removing barriers and supporting full inclusion for students with disabilities. This includes working with all of the divisions of the Ministry of Education in developing a new Education Accessibility standard to remove accessibility barriers for students. The advice of the Education Standards Development Committees will be key in charting our next steps on improving accessibility in schools and post-secondary institutions, and we look forward to receiving that advice before committing to significant reforms in the sector.

The Ministry of Education recently undertook an organizational realignment that placed an increased focus on supporting student success. The Student Support and Field Services Division is responsible for supporting the achievement of students with disabilities and working across divisions and ministries to support children and youth with special needs, while the Education Equity Secretariat supports all of the ministry in building capacity for equity and human rights. This happened in 2017, and we expect improved results as a result of this realignment.

We care deeply about student mental health and well-being, because we know how many of our young people are facing mental health challenges and needs support both in their schools and broader communities. Up to 70 per cent of mental health and addictions challenges begin in childhood or adolescence. That’s why we recently announced we are supporting quicker access to better care for mental health and addiction services for people of all ages through a historic $2.1 billion investment over the next four years. This is the largest provincial investment in Canadian history in mental health and addictions care.  On top of the Mental Health Leads that we created in every school board, this investment means an additional 400 mental health workers to support every high school across the province dedicated to supporting continued and expanded mental health awareness and education, earlier identification and assessment, and improved timely referrals to community mental health services. This investment will also support enhanced mental health literacy for our educators and school staff, and social emotional learning skills embedded in the curriculum.

This is all in addition to our government’s investment of $49 million over the next three years to promote and support the well-being of Ontario’s students, which includes doubling funding to school boards for locally-determined priorities including mental health.

All students with disabilities must be supported by our public education system based on individual assessments of strengths and needs. Specific needs are addressed through students’ Individual Education Plans. The categories of exceptionalities in the Education Act were designed to address the range of conditions that may affect a student’s ability to learn, rather than by condition or diagnosis. Our government will continue to work with our partners to address barriers to helping students reach their full potential.

After inheriting an education system that was severely underfunded and in complete disrepair, Liberal governments have made historic investments in our public education system. This has enabled hiring more than 40,000 additional teachers and education workers into the system to support student success during a period of declining enrolment. It has also contributed to caps on K-3 class size, reduced average class size for grades 4 to 8 from 26 to 24 and the complete roll-out of full-day kindergarten for every four and five-year-old in Ontario.

These investments are contributing to the high school graduation rate reaching an all-time high of 86.5 per cent, up more than 18 percentage points compared to the rate when we took office. Today, Ontario’s students consistently rank at or near the top in national and international student achievement results in reading, math and science, and we are the only jurisdiction in the world to achieve this feat in a diverse context. Gaps in achievement for students with special needs are closing, and we are confident that our new investments will further this success.

We also know that there is more to do. Our 2018 Budget announced another $300 million over the next three years to support students with disabilities, bringing total funding for special education to $3 billion next year. This funding will eliminate the waitlists for professional assessments of student needs and means 600 additional staff forming multidisciplinary teams of social workers, psychologists, behavioural specialists and speech-language pathologists to build board capacity and help teachers, education assistants and other staff better understand and adapt to the unique needs of their students. Our Budget also includes an additional $30 million per year for 500 more Education Assistants who will support our highest needs students. All of these investments are critical to our plan and are at risk in this election.

We have changed about 90% of the education funding formula since 2013 and are committed to continuing to review the formula to advance student achievement, well-being and equity. We made changes several years ago to the way that special education funding is allocated to be more responsive to the needs of students. The prior model that the PCs developed was inequitable and rewarded school boards that could fill out paperwork rather than meeting students’ needs. We are committed to engaging with our education partners to continue reviewing the funding model for special education to ensure it is responsive to the needs of students, families, school boards, and educators. The formula is just one part of the story – and the Ontario Liberal Party is the only party proposing to increase investment to support students with disabilities.

Green Party Commitments

* The Green Party is committed to changing outdated and restrictive terminology related to students with disabilities in the province’s Education Act so as to be inclusive of the full range of disabilities covered by the Ontario Human Rights Code. In addition, funding for students with disabilities should be determined based on the actual number of students within a particular school board.

Conservative Party Commitments

* The Ontario PC Party believes our education system must minimize barriers for students with disabilities, providing the skills, opportunities and connections with the business community that are necessary to enter the workforce.

Excerpt from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s April 16, 2018 Proposals to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee

1. Long-term Objectives of the Education Accessibility Standard

I propose the following:

The purpose of the Education Accessibility Standard should be to ensure that Ontario’s education system becomes fully accessible to all students with disabilities by 2025, the AODA’s deadline, by requiring the removal and prevention of recurring accessibility barriers that impede students with disabilities. It should aim to ensure that students with disabilities can fully participate in and be fully included in Ontario’s education system on a footing of equality and inclusion, in the least restrictive environment consistent with a student’s and their parents’ wishes, . It should provide a prompt, accessible, fair, effective and user-friendly process to learn about and seek individual placements, programs, services, supports and accommodations tailored to the individual needs of each student with a disability. It should aim to eliminate the need for students with disabilities and their families to have to fight against education accessibility barriers, one at a time, and the need for educational organizations to have to re-invent the accessibility wheel, one educational program at a time.

2. What Would an Accessible Student-Centered Education System Look Like ?

An accessible student-centered education system at the K-12 level would include the following:

* It would be designed and operated from top to bottom for all of its students, including students with all kinds of disabilities, as protected by the Ontario Human Rights Code and/or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It would not in any way restrict its programs, services, supports or accommodation to students whose disability falls within the outdated and restrictive definition of “exceptionality” in Ontario’s education legislation. The education system would no longer be designed and operated from the starting point of serving the fictional “average” student. It would not treat or label students with disabilities as “exceptions” or “exceptional”. It would not call their needs “special”, nor would it call the provision of education to them “special education”. Their services, supports and needs would not be conflated with the services and needs of gifted students who have no disability.

* The built environment in the education system, such as schools, yard, playgrounds etc., and the equipment on those premises (such as gym and playground equipment)  would all be fully accessible to people with disabilities, and would be designed based on the principle of universal design.

* Courses taught, including the curriculum and lesson plans, as well as informal learning activities, would fully incorporate principles of Universal Design in Learning, to be fully inclusive for students with disabilities.

* Instructional materials used in Ontario’s education system would be available in formats that are fully accessible to students with disabilities who need to use them, and are available when needed.

* All digital technology used in Ontario’s education system, such as hardware, software and online learning, used in class or from home, will be fully accessible and willfully embody the principle of universal design. As well, education staff working with students with disabilities will be properly trained to use the accessibility features of that hardware, software and online learning technology, and to assist students with disabilities to access them.

* Full inclusion and Universal Design in Learning will extend beyond classroom learning to other activities connected with education, such as the playground at recess, social and recreational activities, field trips, extra-curricular activities, and experiential learning opportunities.

* Students with disabilities will be able to bring to school the accessibility supports from which they benefit. For example, they will have the right to bring a qualified service animal to school with them.

* Teachers and other direct educational staff, will be fully trained to serve all students, and not just students who have no disabilities. They will be fully trained in such things as Universal Design in Learning. “Special education” teachers should not serve as a human resources silo for students with disabilities .

* students with disabilities  will have timely access to current adaptive technology and to effective training on how to use it, to enable them to best take part in and benefit from education programming.

* Options for placement and programming are sufficiently diverse and flexible to accommodate a wide spectrum of learning needs and styles, rather than tending to be one-size-fits all.

* Tests and other forms of evaluation will be designed based on principles of universal design and Universal Design in Learning,, to be barrier-free for students with disabilities .

* Classroom teachers will be provided sufficient staff support, and, where needed, additional specialized training, to enable them to serve students with disabilities  in their classes.

* Students with disabilities will be assured the opportunity to be educated in the least restrictive environment, consistent with the student’s/parents’ wishes.

* Students with disabilities  will encounter a welcoming environment at school and in class to facilitate their full participation. Students without disabilities, teaching staff and other school staff, as well as other parents in the school context, will be welcoming and inclusive towards students with disabilities . To achieve this, among other things, all students will receive positive curriculum content on the importance of inclusion and accessibility for students with disabilities . Bullying, teasing, stereotyping, patronization and the soft bigotry of low expectations will all be absent from the school environment.

* Admission criteria and tests or other screening for any education programming and offering will be barrier-free for students with disabilities .

* students with disabilities  and their parents will have prompt, effective and easy access to user-friendly information in multiple languages on the educational options, programs, services, supports and accommodations available for their disability, and on the process for seeking these. Students with disabilities  and their parents will be afforded a timely opportunity to observe options for placement, programming and other educational services and supports, when considering which would be most suitable for that student.

* The student and their family will be kept regularly and frequently posted on the effectiveness of the placement, program, services, supports and accommodations that the student is to receive.

* The process for deciding on a student’s placement, programming, services, supports and accommodations will be a fair, open and transparent one in which the student and their family can fully participate. For example, before an Individual Education Plan is written, the student and parents will be able to take part in an Individual Education Plan meeting with school officials, at which the Individual Education Plan can be jointly written. At each stage of the process, the student and parents will be given clear user-friendly “rights advice” on how the process works, and on their rights in the process.

* Where a student or their family believe that the school is not effectively meeting the student’s disability-related needs, (e.g. by not including a desired item in the Individual Education Plan), or if the student or family believe that the school is not providing an educational program, service, support or accommodation to which it had agreed, the student and parents should have access to a prompt, fair, open and arms-length  appeal process, including an offer of a voluntary  Alternative Resolution Process, conducted by someone who was not involved in the original decision or activity, and who does not oversee the work of those involved in the student’s direct education.

* A decision about a student’s placement would not be made until assessments and decisions are reached about the needs and most appropriate program, services, supports and accommodation for that student with a disability.

* Qualifications and required training for specialized support educators (such as teachers of the visually impaired) will be modernized and sufficient to ensure that they are qualified and competent.

* There will be no bureaucratic, procedural or policy barriers that can impede the effective accommodation of individual students with disabilities at all levels of Ontario’s education system.

* Major new Government strategies in Ontario’s education system will be proactively designed to fully include the needs of students with disabilities. For example, when the Ontario Government announces a new math strategy for Ontario’s schools, it will, among other things, include an effective strategy to address disability barriers that students with disabilities face in math education.

* Those responsible at the provincial and local levels for overseeing and operating Ontario’s education system will have strong and specific requirements to address disability accessibility and inclusion in their mandates, and will be accountable for their work in that connection. This will not be relegated to special education silos.

* Schools will not systemically or disproportionately exclude students with disabilities from school for either all or part of the school day e.g. because a special needs assistant is away from school.

* Once a student has an established Individual Education Plan at one school, that plan should be portable, and carry forward should that student move to another school at the same or a different. School board

* The education system would provide disability-related funding to a school board based on the actual number of students with disabilities at that board, and not on a formula that estimates how many should be at that school board.

Key Messages from the K-12 Standards Development Committee from Its April 17-18, 2018 Meeting

The following is the text of a message that the K-12 Standards Development Committee received from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario on behalf of the Committee’s chair, Lynn Ziraldo.

K-12 Education Standards Development Committee Key Messages

April 17-18, 2018

  • “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” (Phil Jackson)
  • As part of the April meeting, the K-12 Committee affirmed their shared consensus on the following group norms:
  1. Find choices that are win/win
  2. Mutual Respect for all members
  3. Openness and Flexibility
  4. Evidence-Based Approach to Committee work
  5. Shared Ownership of Process and Results
  • The Committee appreciated hearing from the Minister of Education, the Honourable Indira Naidoo-Harris, who emphasized the importance of creating an inclusive and equitable education system for all students to have a chance to learn and reach their full potential.
  • The Committee also appreciated the opportunity to incorporate the voices of youth and the We Have Something to Say Report shared by the Office of the Ontario Child Advocate, and to better understand the role of a disability justice approach and framing barriers to accessibility in terms of rights.
  • The Committee continues to identify barriers facing students with disabilities, and agreed that there are a range of barriers still to be explored and discussed.
  • The Committee collaborated on developing a shared vision for an accessible-student centred education system which would include a seamless model for transition planning.
  • Key themes for the meeting were a focus on equity and inclusion, centering student voices, and considering the intersectionality of disability. Every student matters.
  • The Committee recognized that students don’t learn in isolation, but in relation to a broad community. Lived experience of educators, staff, and a broad range of student support services must be considered throughout.
  • The Committee acknowledged that barriers to accessibility can be exacerbated by capacity and resource challenges, particularly for northern and rural boards as well as Francophone boards who face challenges providing French-language services.
  • The Committee appreciates the Ministry of Education sharing information and insights about K-12 education in Ontario. The Committee acknowledges the role of current accessibility standards and current Education framework, as well as challenges and implementation issues.
  • Looking ahead, the Committee is committed to:
  1. Working towards accessibility in a way that includes all students with disabilities
  2. Focusing on evidence and research-based approaches
  3. Referring back to Committee guiding principles throughout their work
  • “Unity is strength. When there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” (Mattie Stepanek)

 More Information About the AODA Alliance and Accessibility Issues in the 2018 Ontario Election

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For the AODA Alliance tips to all voters with disabilities on how to try to avoid facing any disability barriers when trying to vote in the 2018 election, visit: To watch the new AODA Alliance video on serious accessibility problems at new and recently renovated Toronto area public transit stations, visit:

16-minute version: 30-minute version:

To read the AODA Alliance’s May 16, 2018 news release that unveiled the commitments on disability accessibility from the major Ontario parties, visit:

To read the new AODA Alliance 2018 Election Action Kit, in order to get ideas on how to raise disability accessibility issues in the June 7, 2018 Ontario election campaign, visit:

For a riding-by-riding list of all the candidates’ contact info we could find, visit

For a list of all the all-candidates’ debates we could find around Ontario, visit:

To read the AODA Alliance’s analysis of each party’s commitments on accessibility, visit

To read the AODA Alliance’s issue-by-issue breakdown of the commitments of each party on accessibility, visit

To read the AODA Alliance’s April 2, 2018 letter to the party leaders, listing the disability accessibility commitments we seek, visit:

To read the Ontario Green Party’s May 4, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:

To read the Ontario NDP’s May 5, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:

To read the Ontario Liberal Party’s May 14, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:

To read the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out its election pledges on accessibility, visit:

For more background on the AODA Alliance’s non-partisan campaign for accessibility in this election, visit

To learn more about the AODA Alliance’s efforts to ensure that the voting process is fully accessible to voters with disabilities, visit:

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at Have you taken part in our “Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our “Picture Our Barriers” campaign by visiting

We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

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Check out our new and expanded collection of online videos about the history, strategies and accomplishments of Ontario’s non-partisan grassroots accessibility campaign, available at:

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