Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF and Ten Disability Organizations Have Already Endorsed the AODA Alliance’s 19 Recommendations on What the Ontario Government Must Now Do to Meet the Needs of A Third of A Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools
June 26, 2020
Last week, the AODA Alliance made public a detailed brief showing the Ontario Government what it must now do to address the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools during the transition to schools eventually re-opening, hopefully this fall. This brief draws on grassroots feedback we have received from many sources both before and during the COVID-19 crisis.
We are delighted that in just over one week since we submitted it to the Ontario Government, the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on what should be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis has already won important endorsements. As an important step forward, our brief’s 19 recommendations, set out below, were just endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of secondary school teachers who work at the front lines in Ontario’s public schools. OSSTF’s June 26, 2020 public statement, sent to the AODA Alliance, says:
“Supporting students with disabilities – A statement from OSSTF/FEESO
June 26, 2020 – Over the past four months, educators have done their best to work with students in this unprecedented environment of emergency remote learning. The start of the new school year in September will come quickly, and it is critical that the Ontario government prepare a plan for reopening schools that meets the learning needs of all students.
It is essential for the government to ensure that they meet the learning needs of the thousands of students with disabilities in our school system now, and during the transition to school reopening.
OSSTF/FEESO supports the 19 recommendations of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance as outlined in its June 18, 2020 brief on this topic. These recommendations effectively speak to the needs of students with disabilities, their families, and those of us committed to providing those students and all students with an excellent education.”
Seven years ago, when we were in the midst of our multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tackle the many barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system, We were fortified and helped in our efforts when the OSSTF wrote the Ontario Government to support our call for an Education Accessibility Standard. Several other teachers unions supported our efforts back then.
As well, we have been notified that ten key organizations in the disability community have endorsed our brief’s recommendations, including March of Dimes of Canada, Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, Community Living Ontario, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University, Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy, Balance for Blind Adults, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford Network), and Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired).
We commend all those who have already supported our brief. We urge other organizations and individuals, whether within the disability community or not, to email the Ontario Government at EDU.email@example.com to support our June 18, 2019 brief. Both individuals and organizations can write the Ontario Government to voice this support. Please help us get more individuals and organizations to do so.
There have been 512 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
There have been 93 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.
Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please stay safe!
List of Recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 Brief to the Ontario Government
#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.
#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.
#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:
- a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.
- b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the family’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
- c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.
#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:
- a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;
- b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.
#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.
#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.
#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.
#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.
#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.
#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.
#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.
#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.
#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:
- a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.
- b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.
#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.
#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.
#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.
#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.
#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:
- a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
- b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.