Working Towards a Coordinated National Approach To Services, Accommodations And Policies For Post-Secondary Students With Disabilities

Executive Summary

Service Providers

The 70 service providers who responded to the survey, represented institutions of varying size and type. These institutions were distributed throughout nine of the provinces,' and were roughly equally divided between universities, colleges and CCgeps. A small number of respondents (4) identified their institution as a university-college and one as a tradesvocational institute. Universities represented within the respondent group tended on the whole to serve larger populations of students with and without disabilities, while colleges and Cegeps tended to serve smaller populations. Most Cegeps had populations of less that 2,500 full-time students, while most universities had populations in excess of 10,000 full-time students.

A little more than half of all respondents worked within an office that only served students with disabilities, and such service offices were somewhat more likely to be located at larger institutions. Roughly one quarter of survey respondents worked within an office that served both the general student population and students with disabilities. The remainder provided services on a case-by-case basis at institutions that had total full-time student populations of less than 2,500 and estimated that they served less than 10 students with disabilities. Another four institutions indicated that they did not provide any services for students with disabilities. Service providers indicated that the model of service delivery at their institution was either centralized or partially centralized, with very few indicating a decentralized or "other" model of delivery. Thus, services and information for students with disabilities at the respondent institutions is generally centred in one office on a campus, or one office that may refer students to others for additional services such as counselling, adaptive equipment, financial aid, etc. The services provided within either a centralized or partially centralized model vary considerably depending on the resources available. A little more than half of survey respondents indicated that they received an operating budget from their institution. Roughly one quarter of survey respondents indicated that their budget came from the provincial government. The larger the institution, the more likely it was to have some funding budgeted by the institution for its operations.

Most institutions, regardless of size or type, reported that they provided some services (e.g. interpreter services) that were funded by an outside source, and this was typically a federal or provincial program. Vocational Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons (now replaced by Employment Assistance for Persons with Disabilities) was most frequently mentioned as a source of funds for services extended to the students who were registered with this program. Specific provincial programs, some of which are cost-shared with the federal government, were also frequently mentioned. None of the respondent institutions in Newfoundland or New Brunswick reported this type of funding arrangement.

Most respondents indicated that students in all seven of the disability type categories identified2 could be accommodated at their institution. Significant differences existed across type of institution and province, with smaller institutions and Cegeps in Quebec reporting less frequently that they accommodated students who were deafhard of hearing, had mental health, speech or medical disabilities.

Students were required to provide documentation in some cases in order to receive services at almost all of the institutions represented in the respondent group. Respondents from institutions that served less than 100 estimated full-time students with disabilities were somewhat less likely to require documentation, while schools serving populations larger than this all required documentation in some cases. In detailing instances where documentation was required, many service providers noted that documentation was always required, while others indicated that access to certain types of service (e.g. academic accommodations, disabilityrelated funding assistance) was dependent on documentation. In terms of the types of documentation required, certification from a relevant health professional external to the institution was most commonly mentioned.

A little less than one quarter of the service providers indicated that there was an independent students group organized by students with disabilities at their institution. Universities were most likely to have such a group, and Cegeps somewhat more likely than colleges: only one of the colleges represented among respondents indicated awareness of such a group. Institutions where the estimated population of full-time students with disabilities was between 100 and 199 were more likely to have independent groups than were institutions with populations over 200. Accessibility committees were more common (40% of respondents indicating their presence) and most included student representation. A smaller percentage of service providers (1 5.7%) indicated that the main students' organization included representation of students with disabilities.

Respondents indicated that their institutions were planning modifications to physical accessibility more frequently than modifications to programs or policies. Universities were more likely than colleges, and colleges more likely than Cegeps to be planning modifications in all three areas. Institutions that had a separate unit for services for students with disabilities were more likely than institutions that did not have a separate unit to be planning modifications to programs and policies.

Not all institutions provided written materials to students with disabilities concerning services available to them (58.6% of service providers indicating that they did). Most respondents from universities and colleges indicated that they provided materials, but only 20% of those from Cegeps did so. All respondents from institutions with estimated full-time general enrollment in excess of 10,000 and all those that estimated they served populations of 100 or more students with disabilities indicated that they provided such materials.


Student respondents to the survey numbered 349 and were registered at 102 different institutions. The majority of respondents were less than 30 years old, were unmarried and had no children. Almost 60% were women, possibly reflecting recent general trends in enrollment among men and women, and the greater likelihood among women with disabilities than men with disabilities in the 15-34 age range to have some post-secondary education.

In terms of disability types, the largest group of students indicated that they had a learning disability (36.1%), while a somewhat smaller percentage indicated that they had a mobility impairment. Mental health (5.2%) and speech disabilities (2.6%) were least frequently mentioned. The percentage of students indicating learning disabilities was greater by 10% than that recorded two years previously in a study of similar size conducted by NEADS.

Student respondents from Ontario comprised the largest group; the smallest numbers of respondents came from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. As with service providers, no respondents came from Prince Edward Island, the Yukon or Northwest Territories. The proportion of students reporting learning disabilities in Quebec was much lower than the overall average for the survey group, while the proportion reporting mobility impairments in Alberta was also lower than the overall average.

Roughly two thirds of all students reported that they required extended test time and a little more than half required academic accommodations to accommodate their disability. A large number of students also reported the use of adaptive technology, and a similarly large group drugs and medical supplies. Students who were deafhard of hearing and those with speech impairments were less likely to require extended test time. Those with speech impairments were most likely to require academic accommodations, along with those who were blind/visually impaired and those who had learning disabilities. Roughly two-thirds of all students who were blind/visually impaired required adaptive technology, while a similar proportion of those with medical or mental health disabilities required drugs or medical supplies. Among those with mobility impairments, roughly two-thirds required modified building features or adaptive transport to attend school.

Among student respondents who indicated that there were aids or services that they would use to which they did not have access, the largest numbers indicated adaptive technology and/or academic accommodations. Among students who were blindvisually impaired, 20% had problems of access to adaptive technology, and a similar proportion of those who were deafhard of hearing required hearing aids. Students were more likely to have problems of access to certain aids or services depending on the number of disabilities they reported. Most frequently students who reported problems of access indicated that the item required was too costly for personal purchase.

Most student respondents received financial support from one of three sources identified: benefitlpensionlgrant~ programs (both public and private); federallprovincial student loan programs; andlor scholarships and academic awards. Roughly one quarter of all respondents received no financial aid from any of the sources identified. Students from the smaller provinces3 and those 'from British Columbia were somewhat more likely to be receiving aid from a benefitlpensionlgrant program than from a student loan program. Students from Alberta, on the other hand, were less likely to be receiving aid from a benefitlpensionlgrant program than those in other provinces.

Among the benefitlpensionlgrant programs from which students were receiving financial support, the most frequently indicated were publicly funded programs such as Social Assistance, CPPIQPP disability pensions, and provincial grants for students with disabilities. Among those receiving provincial grants for students with disabilities, most came from Quebec. Among all students from Ontario and Alberta the proportion who were in receipt of such grants was fairly low.

Roughly half of all students responding were registered at a university, 36% at a community college and 7% at a Cegep. Most indicated that they had chosen the institution that they attended on the basis of academic programs offered. Accessibility appeared to be an important factor in the decision to attend a particular institution but not as important as the academic factors. Most students were pursuing a bachelor's degree or a certificateldiploma with less than 10% indicating that they were pursuing either a Master's degree or a PhD

In terms of field of study, the highest proportion of respondents were registered in a Social ScienceISocial Service program (29% of all respondents); the second highest proportion was composed of students registered in Business1Commerce programs (19%). A greater percentage of those enrolled in Social ScienceISocial Service programs were studying at the university level. Among those enrolled in Business1Commerce programs, a greater percentage were studying at the college level. The great majority of students at all levels were registered fulltime, although among those studying part-time a large percentage (40%) required modified building features or special transportation services in order to attend school. Less than 20% of those studying full-time required such features.

Most student respondents attended an institution that had a campus office that coordinated services for students with disabilities. Most frequently they indicated that they had become aware of the disability services offered at their institution through their admissions package. The admission's counsellor, and the course calendar were also cited somewhat more frequently than other sources. It seems likely that most students had become aware of the range of services offered at their institution after they had made a decision to attend that institution. Some respondents did indicate that they had become aware of the services at their institution through contact with sources at other educational or community-based organizations: high school advisors were cited by roughly 20% of respondents, and others indicated that they had received information from a health practitioner, or a rehabilitation, career or social services counsellor.

A little less than one third of all respondents indicated that they were aware of an independent students group organized by students with disabilities at their institution. University students more frequently than college or Cegep students indicated awareness of such a group. Only 10% of respondents indicated that they participated directly in the activities of the group and most of these students were at the university level. Students were more frequently aware of an accessibility committee at their institution. Among the 39% of all respondents who indicated that there was such a committee at their institution, most were again at the university level. Among respondents who indicated that an accessibility committee was in place at their institution, 70% indicated that the committee included representation of students. This too was more frequently the case among respondents at the university level.

Service Provider Assessments

In assessing the features and facilities of the buildings on their campus, service provider responses were very mixed reflecting the wide variation that exists in terms of campuses and the way they are arranged. Open-ended comments centred often on specific features listed and why these were sometimes unnecessary given campus size or layout. The majority of service providers, however, tended to rate accessible washrooms as either Good or Excellent. On the other hand, some building accessibility features were more frequently rated less favourably, or were identified as Not Available. For example, coloured strips, wing door handles, and accessible elevator features were often not available. Certain buildings were less likely to be rated highly, such as that housing the Book Store. A common comment in the open-ended sections of the building accessibility features rating questions centred on the contrast between new buildings that tended to have better accessibility features, and older buildings that have been renovated or require renovations.

Overall, service providers rated special equipment and labs favourably. Access to computers or Internet capabilities were rated very highly with few service providers indicating that this service was Not Available. Accessible computer labs and screen enlarging software were rated as either Excellent or Good by most respondents. Acoustically treated rooms and specialized technology in physical science labs, however, were more frequently Not Available and very few service providers rated this as Excellent or Good.

With respect to Safety and Emergency procedures, service providers tended to rate their campuses highly. Over half of the service providers rated Safety Policies, Emergency Procedures, and Emergency Assistance as either Excellent or Good. However, the most common open-ended comments centred on plans to improve safety and emergency services. Some services are not universally available. For instance, a good proportion of service providers work on campuses that do not provide on-campus housing, and thus could not rate such facilities. Those that did rate the facilities, tend, however, to rate them favourably. As well, many service providers did not rate on-campus transportation services, however, those that did rate them, tended to rate them favourably. Similarly athletic programs were not commonly available but where these programs were rated, they tended to be rated highly. Descriptions of these programs in the open-ended responses also tended to be favourable. Some aspects of preparation and orientation were also rated very highly by service providers. Over 90% of service providers rated registration assistance as either Excellent or G~od. Tours, orientation workshops and classroom relocation were all rated as either Excellent or Good by more than two-thirds of respondents. On the other hand, most indicated that TTYITDD registration was Not Available.

The ratings of programs related to educational accessibility and academic accommodation varies considerably across features. Extended exam time, library assistance, counselling were all rated very highly. A number of features listed were Not Available according to a sizeable proportion of service providers. This was especially true of page turners, braille texts, and oncampus large-print texts.

Instructor support features were generally rated poorly. Most service providers rated in-service training of instructors as either Fair or Poor, or Not Available. In open-ended responses service providers noted both their own difficulties in providing such training and the indifference of instructors as problems to be overcome. Administrative support and policies were rated more highly, although required budget for service was rated as either Fair or Poor by half of all respondents. Policy on specific disabilities and in-service training for all employees was marked as Not Available by a large portion of the respondents. Service providers tended to rate liaison with other post-secondary institutions and service providers and agencies highly. Liaison with service providers and agencies, with governmental agencies, and with other post-secondary institution was also generally rated as either Excellent or Good. Less than half of the service providers tended to rate accessibility to public transit and the cost of public transit as either Excellent or Good. Interestingly, however, some service providers did not know the cost of accessible public transit in their communities.

Student Assessments

In the open-ended portions of the building physical accessibility questions, some students provided comments similar to those of service providers, indicating variations in buildings on and across campuses. Interestingly, students tended to provide more detailed comments, noting specific successes, or, that, while facilities or services were in place, they had experienced a specific shortcoming or problem. For example, most students rated identified parking as either Good or Excellent at the Main Student Services Building. In the case of most of the other buildings (Library, Food Services and Book Store) less than a third rated the provision as Good or Excellent. Most building accessibility features were less frequently rated as Good or Excellent, and in many instances students indicated they were Not Available (i.e. coloured strips, low pressure doors, and accessible service counters). Accessible service counters were more frequently rated as Poor in main campus buildings than all other features. In open-ended comments students identified specific gaps in or problems with a given facility or service. These comments were often directed at wheelchair accessibility:

Many students rated Internet access and accessible computer labs as either Good or Excellent. However, in the open-ended comments students indicated a need for more information about certain features. Students also specifically identified the importance of including instruction and/or training with specialized equipment. In several cases, students provided open-ended comments that suggest an awareness of the importance of physical accessibility of special, adaptive equipment and labs, as well as some suggestions for generalized solutions.

With respect to Safety and Emergency features, a large proportion (greater than 50% in all but one case) of students indicated that they either Did Not Know about the feature, or did not state a rating. The open-ended questions tend to suggest a lack of information about safety and emergency procedures in general and a consequent strong concern. As with service providers many students are unable to rate on-campus housing and on-campus transportation because these are not available. On the other hand, where these features are rated, students tend to rate them favourably. In open-ended responses, students identified many of difficulties related to a lack of on-campus housing facilities for students with certain accessibility needs. Many respondents also did know whether accessible public transit was provided, although most rated it as Good or Excellent. The cost of accessible public transit, on the other hand, was rated as Fair or Poor more frequently than Good or Excellent.

Students were on more familiar ground with academic support services where the majority rated note takers, computer access, library assistance and peer tutoring services as Good or Excellent. In the open-ended responses, some students again indicated a lack of awareness, as well as a strong need for assistance with lecture notes, assignments and research papers, and other services. Others provided a range of assessments regarding the quality of assistance with lecture notes, assignments and research papers. Most students were also able to assess the provision of extended exam time, with more than three quarters of all respondents rating it as Good or Excellent. Yet despite the fact that students made good use of this service, at least one third were unaware of whether there was a formula in place to calculate extended time. Almost half of all students indicated that they did not know whether course/program modifications were available. A fairly high proportion (over 10%) rated this as Fair or Poor while less than 20% rated this feature as Good or Excellent.

Best Practices

Among the programs, services and features that service providers and students felt were most successful in establishing or ensuring campus accessibility, aspects of service delivery, and particularly the centres through which services were accessed, were mentioned most frequently. Other areas where respondents frequently identified successful programs, services or features were: academic accommodations/modifications (including extended exam time); adaptive technology; and academic support services (note takers, tutors, etc.) Service providers also frequently identified services to students with learning disabilities. Features of physical accessibility were also frequently singled out as an area of success. But features of physical accessibility were also frequently cited by both students and service providers as an area of least success.

Disability service offices do not exist on all campuses and students reported that the lack an office or staff person that focused on disability service issues was one of the least successful features of access at their particular institution. The opportunity for personal contact with an individual who is knowledgeable, can understand and assess needs, and assist in the resolution of problems is also a successful feature of service provision commonly identified by both students and service providers. At smaller institutions, where students with disabilities are less numerous, the ability to provide individual attention is recorded as a plus by many service providers. An important part of what disability service providers do is provide links to other departments and offices on campus, providing students with points of contact and fostering a broader awareness of access issues, and students are less than satisfied when this function is not being performed.

Assessing students needs and providing counselling on types of accommodation and assistance are critical facets of disability service provision. Service providers and students frequently included this as a successful feature of access at their institution. Yet another facet of service provision is the notification to faculty of special needs. This service is frequently provided and one that most students routinely record as a successful feature of service provision.

Disability service offices also commonly take responsibility for .classroom relocation; the arrangement of rooms and times for examinations when a student needs accommodation; the arrangement of interpreter services; and/or assistance with grants for special devices and equipment. Some also include the provision of adaptive technology and equipment; administration of learninglacademic support services (e.g. note-taking); and/or provision of talking books and alternative format material among the many services they administer. Students and service providers both mention these as aspects of successful service provision.

Students also frequently mentioned other campus service providers (librarians, counsellors, computer technicians, etc.) as providing services that constituted the most successful features of accessibility. While students prefer to have access to services that are responsive to their disability-related needs, they do not always need to receive services through the auspices of a disability service office. The placement of certain services seems less important than their availability and the assurance that such services will be "disability-sensitive" even if they are provided as part of a service that includes students with and without disabilities.

The ability to write examinations within an extended time was an area of critical importance for student respondents. Many viewed access to this form of accommodation as a successful feature of accessibility. Formulas for calculating extended time appear to vary and this does constitute a problem area for some students. Other service providers indicated that extensions to exam time calculated on an individual basis, taking the student's specific disability into account were a successful feature of accessibility.

Students were far less likely to indicate that other forms of academic accommodation (apart from extended exam time) constituted successful features of accessibility, and were more likely to record that failure to obtain desired course or program modifications (e.g. changes to course requirements, extensions of program completion time) constituted a less successful feature of accessibility: Many service providers regarded developed policy and procedures on accommodations as among the most successful features of accessibility at their institutions, although whether such policies cover course and program content as well as evaluation accommodations is not clear. In some institutions the transformation of attitudes on the issue of academic accommodation is not complete and ingrained attitudes about the necessity of preserving uniformity in evaluation and program requirements remain unchanged. Students also noted a variety of problems with the way academic accommodations were administered and how faculty tended to respond to these.

A large proportion of student respondents to the survey reported a learning disability. The ability to obtain advice on learning problems through a general learning support unit or a disability resource centre were recorded by both students and service providers as a successful feature of accessibility. Some students reported success with specific forms of software (although financing the purchase of software appears to be a problem for many students). Confusion about what software would assist students with learning disabilities is expressed by many students and at least one service provider. More difficult perhaps is the design of appropriate classroom instruction strategies and the communication of these to the people who could use them. Some disciplinary areas appear to be more resistant than others to the inclusion of students with learning disabilities. Some service providers also admitted that providing services in this instance was a least successful feature of accessibility because resources and awareness are not firmly established.

Centralized access to a range of adaptive technology was often cited as a successful feature of access by both students and service providers. Students, however, also want the possibility of accessing adaptive technology and other services in general-use computer labs. Concomitantly, lack of access to general computer service is seen as a limitation. Provision of training on adaptive equipment and software, and other forms of assistance are also critical features of success. Problems with accessing provincial/federal funds for the purchase of adaptive technology and computer equipment in general are frequently mentioned as less successful features of accessibility: Service providers evince a commitment to aiding students in sorting through the range of programs for which they may be eligible in terms of financing the purchase of equipment for individual use, and students are appreciative of these efforts.

Problems in accessing alternative format material were frequently cited. The production or acquisition of text books on tape is slow and very few schools appear to be able to assist students in a timely manner. The need for access to software for the (limited) production of alternative format material is growing, and, where available, it is recorded as a successful feature of accessibility. Centralized provision of alternative format material in an area that also provides access to adaptive technology was also recorded as a successful feature of accessibility.

Specific programs of learning or academic support are frequently mentioned by students as successful facets of accessibility, and somewhat less often by service providers. Student comments concentrate on note taking services, the most common form of academic assistance. Many students reported that this was a successful and essential feature of accessibility at their institutions. Some students had problems accessing the service when it was provided through a central office and recorded this as a less successful aspect of accessibility. Several students indicated that they recruited their own note takers in class or borrowed notes from others for photocopying, but most did not appear to be entirely satisfied with this arrangement. Students who were dissatisfied sometimes indicated that volunteerlstudent note takers were not always helpful and that the system of recruiting volunteers for the task resulted in uneven quality. Tutoring and peer tutoring was somewhat more frequently mentioned by service providers as a successful feature of accessibility, and students also occasionally ranked this as a successful service. Note takers and peer tutors (paid or volunteer) are regarded most frequently as providing a service that constitutes a successful feature of accessibility. Whether more systematic recruitment, training or assessment would result in a more successful "better" service is not apparent from the comments.

Features of physical access were frequently cited by students and service providers as most and least successful aspects of campus accessibility. Physical access covers a host of features and here no strong themes emerge. Large institutions with older buildings often have very severe access problems. At smaller institutions where barriers to movement may constitute less of a problem, other problems of access are likely to be present, such as lack of access to TDD/TTY devices.

Service providers and students with disabilities work within a system that many students assume is largely indifferent to issues of accessibility. As many students observe, problems of access reflect a lack of funds and a lack of commitment and these are the real failures of campus accessibility. Students should be able to find a voice for some of their concerns within the general students organizations on campus, but respondents to this survey saw very little that was of value in the general students organizations on campus, and those who commented on them generally grouped them as least successful facets of campus accessibility. At those institutions where students have established disability student groups, some note that the provision of a forum for exchanging information and the possibility of speaking to faculty and administration as a group voice is a successful feature of accessibility.