ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
A Report by the KPMG Consulting Firm Prepared for the Wynne Government Confirms that There Are Recurring Accessibility Barriers in Ontario's Education System – That Is The Very Reason Why AODA Alliance Calls on the Wynne Government to Develop an Education Accessibility Standard Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
November 9, 2016
Here's yet another reason why the Wynne Government should agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard to tear down the many accessibility barriers that still persist in Ontario's education system.
Last year, the Wynne Government hired the KPMG consulting firm to prepare a report on accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system, and on measures in Ontario and elsewhere for addressing these. The AODA Alliance has obtained a copy of the 323 page KPMG Report from the Government, posted it online, and prepared a detailed Analysis of the Report.
We today make public our detailed 44-page Analysis. In short, here is what we found:
1. The KPMG Report shows that Ontario's education system still has serious accessibility barriers. The existence of these recurring accessibility barriers shows that Ontario needs to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA.
2. Nothing in the Report shows an Education Accessibility Standard is unnecessary in Ontario, and that all accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system will be removed and prevented by 2025 without implementing one.
3. The Report reveals measures in other jurisdictions from which Ontario's education system could benefit. These would fit well in an Ontario Education Accessibility Standard.
4. The Report has serious deficiencies. As a result, it should therefore not be used to limit the range of accessibility barriers that an Education Accessibility Standard should address. It is useful as showing that there are recurring accessibility barriers in Ontario which, as noted above, is why Ontario needs to create an Education Accessibility Standard.
5. The Report's bottom-line conclusion that Ontario is as good as or better than other jurisdictions is substantially wrong and should not be relied on.
6. Even if it had been correct rather than fatally flawed, the Report's conclusion about Ontario compared to other jurisdictions doesn't make an Education Accessibility Standard unnecessary.
If you want to read more, below, we set out a 9-page extract from Chapter 1 of the AODA Alliance's Analysis of the KPMG Report. To download the entire AODA Alliance Analysis of the KPMG Report on Accessibility Barriers in Ontario's Education system, in an accessible MS Word document.
To download the KPMG Report itself in MS Word format.
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Extract from Chapter 1 of the AODA Alliance's Analysis of the KPMG Report on Accessibility Barriers in Ontario's Education System
II. What is the KPMG Report and Why Did the Ontario Government Commission it?
For over half a decade, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance has campaigned to get the Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The AODA Alliance is a non-partisan grassroots disability coalition. It advocates for the AODA's effective implementation and enforcement. For more background on the AODA Alliance, visit www.aodaalliance.org
The AODA requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to all people with disabilities by 2025. It requires the Ontario Government to develop, enact and enforce all accessibility standards needed to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025.
What is an Education Accessibility Standard? It is an enforceable regulation, that the Ontario Government would enact under the AODA. It would set out measures that school boards, colleges, universities and other educational organizations must take to remove and prevent accessibility barriers that impede students with disabilities from fully participating in, being fully included in, and fully benefitting from education programs in Ontario. It would set deadlines for action. An AODA accessibility standard can set longer deadlines for some organizations than others. For example, some organizations may need more time to remove accessibility barriers because the organization is smaller and has fewer resources.
The Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms impose a legal duty on educational organizations like school boards to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship to the organization. An Education Accessibility Standard would help ensure that educational organizations fulfil their duty to accommodate students with disabilities. It should be designed to get rid of recurring accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system without students with disabilities and their families having to sue one barrier at a time, one school board at a time. It would eliminate the need for each educational organization to re-invent the same solutions to recurring accessibility barriers. That would save those obligated organizations' money and time.
In the 2014 Ontario election, Premier Wynne promised in writing that the next accessibility standards that the Government would create under the AODA would address barriers in health care and/or education. Premier Wynne said the Ministries of Health and Education respectively were reviewing accessibility barriers in Ontario's health care system and its education system, two and a half years ago. In her May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out her Government's 2014 election promises on disability accessibility, Premier Wynne wrote:
"In order to develop a new accessibility standard, the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment has been actively working with the Ministries of Education, Training, Colleges and Universities as well as Health and Long-Term Care to examine where changes and new standards are required to make our education and healthcare systems more accessible."
Premier Wynne's May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out your Government's 2014 accessibility election pledges, is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06132014.asp
About one year later, on March 16, 2015, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, part of the Ontario Government hired the KPMG consulting firm. It asked KPMG to prepare a report on accessibility barriers that face students with disabilities in Ontario's education system, and on strategies to address these barriers in different jurisdictions in Canada and elsewhere. On August 12, 2015, KPMG produced a final report, entitled "Accessibility in Education Final Report." In 2015, in its many formal and informal discussions with the Ontario Government at all levels over the next year, the Ontario Government did not tell the AODA Alliance that it had retained KPMG to conduct this report, or that the Government received the KPMG Report in August 2015.
Almost one year after the Government received the KPMG Report on education accessibility barriers in Ontario, the AODA Alliance inadvertently learned about its existence from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. The AODA Alliance asked the Ontario Government for an accessible copy of it. The Government disclosed it. The AODA Alliance has posted the KPMG Report online for the public to see. We are not aware of the Ontario Government broadly circulating the KPMG Report for public use or input. The KPMG Report is available on the AODA Alliance's website for download in an accessible MS Word format at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/KPMG-ADO-Final-Report-Education-Sep-8-vF.docx
III. Summary of the AODA Alliance's Analysis of the KPMG Report
This Analysis of the KPMG Report shows that the Report's contents and findings amply support the AODA Alliance's call for the Ontario Government to create an AODA Education Accessibility Standard, for the following reasons.
1. The Report shows that Ontario's education system still has serious accessibility barriers.
The KPMG Report's contents show that Ontario's education system still has significant accessibility barriers. These impede students with disabilities from being able to fully participate in and be fully included in Ontario's education system on a footing of equality. Examples of accessibility barriers that the Report identified were the following:
a) Long delays in getting needed individual accommodations and needed professional assessments.
b) Bureaucratic barriers that impede access to needed educational supports and accommodations.
c) Recurring poor transition planning for students with disabilities.
d) Insufficiently including students with disabilities and their families in educational planning to meet the student's accommodation needs.
e) The lack of a formal appeal process for students with disabilities or their families to question the educational organization's plans and actions to meet the accommodation needs of the student.
f) Specific barriers to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) curriculum, e.g. for students with vision loss.
g) Barriers to the accessibility of online learning resources such as those on the internet.
h) Insufficient Government monitoring of the implementation of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities in school, college or university.
It is because of persistent accessibility barriers like these that the AODA Alliance urges the Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard.
2. Nothing in the Report shows an Education Accessibility Standard is unnecessary.
The Report did not conclude that Ontario's education system is now on track to become fully accessible by 2025. Nothing in the KPMG Report shows or suggests that all the recurring disability accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system will be eliminated and that new ones will be prevented by the AODA's 2025 deadline for reaching full accessibility. As such, the Report does not conclude or show that there is no need in Ontario for an AODA Education Accessibility Standard.
To the contrary, the Report shows that Ontario's main vehicle for addressing these barriers is by students with disabilities or their families each having to separately seek individual one-off accommodations for them. the Report shows that students with disabilities and their families can run into serious difficulties when trying to do this. Moreover, the AODA Alliance emphasizes that such one-off accommodations fall far short of implementing provincial accessibility standards to systematically remove and prevent recurring accessibility barriers. An Education Accessibility Standard would reduce the need for one-off individual accommodations for each student with a disability.
The Report identifies no comprehensive accessibility standard in force now in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada or around the world, that does what an Education Accessibility Standard would do, namely implementing a comprehensive, enforceable regime of requirements to remove and prevent recurring accessibility barriers in the education system.
The KPMG Report identifies no comprehensive and effective strategy ever undertaken in Ontario to remove and prevent all recurring barriers in Ontario's education system. Had there been such a strategy, the Ontario Government would have told KPMG about it. Ontario has certainly adopted no such strategy or initiative since the Ontario Human Rights Commission's ground-breaking 2003 report, The opportunity to succeed: Achieving barrier-free education for students with disabilities. That report identified serious recurring accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system.
3. The Report reveals measures in other jurisdictions from which Ontario's education system could benefit.
The KPMG Report also describes a number of other helpful laws, policies or other initiatives in place in other jurisdictions, that the Report shows or the AODA Alliance knows are not in place in Ontario. These could help promote the accessibility of Ontario's education system.
The KPMG Report recommended further action in Ontario in these areas, which it identified as priorities:
a) New inclusive strategies for education, beyond incorporating students into mainstream classes. These would aim to ensure students with disabilities have an inclusive experience in the entire school community.
b) Letting some students with disabilities graduate later if they need more time to complete their studies.
c) Anti-bullying legislation aiming at schools, that protects students with disabilities.
d) Improved data collection on serving and accommodating students with disabilities.
e) To improve the accommodation of individual students with disabilities the Report emphasized trends emerging elsewhere, focusing on putting the individual first, targeting financial supports for students with disabilities, more effectively defining and implementing reasonable accommodations of individual students with disabilities, better ensuring accessibility of websites associated with learning and teaching, more effectively providing students with disabilities with needed adaptive technology used in the education system, and more effective planning for transition within the education system and from the education system to the post-education phase of life for students with disabilities, and policies to facilitate conflict resolution between parents and schools.
The AODA Alliance adds that these could all be worthwhile ingredients in an AODA Education Accessibility Standard. Yet the foregoing measures that the KPMG report identified as priorities are far too narrow. They are not the only ones that should be considered for inclusion in an AODA Education Accessibility Standard, or that should be treated as priorities.
Although not explicitly included in KPMG's list of priority areas for future action, the KPMG Report's pages also refer to other measures in other jurisdictions, which the AODA Alliance knows are not in place in Ontario. These would also help achieve accessibility in Ontario's education system. These too are worthy of inclusion in an Education Accessibility Standard. These include:
a) The Report refers to rights of appeal from decisions by educational organizations such as schools, on what they will do to accommodate a student with a disability, in other jurisdictions, such as Alberta and British Columbia. It also details far more extensive due process rights in the U.S. under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act IDEA. The Report talks about ways to resolve conflicts with families and students with disabilities. The AODA Alliance notes that a new formal appeal process in Ontario could be part of this.
b) The KPMG Report does not explain why it did not identify the removal and prevention of accessibility barriers in the built environment in educational facilities in Ontario as an important area to address in the future. Yet the Report gave examples of action in other jurisdictions which could be helpful, including those in Alberta, New York City, and, in more general terms, Saskatchewan.
c) The Report identified measures aimed at ensuring the accessibility of instructional materials, referring to the U.S., including Arizona.
d) To effectively include students with disabilities in the mainstream classroom, it is important to ensure that there are no attitudinal barriers to their inclusion, among students without disabilities. The Report referred to concerted efforts in California and New York to include disability issues in the mainstream school curriculum. This can help support barrier-free inclusive education. This goes far beyond anti-bullying laws. The Report does not note that The Ontario Government promised such action in the 2007 Ontario election, but has told the AODA Alliance of no action to fulfil that promise.
e) The Report identified efforts in certain other jurisdictions to more effectively train mainstream classroom teachers on meeting the needs of students with disabilities in their classes. The AODA Alliance contends that Ontario needs this to help counteract the long term design of Ontario's education system. Mainstream teachers were traditionally trained in Ontario to only teach students without disabilities. The KPMG Report described measures in Singapore and California.
Beyond the foregoing, there are even more good ideas worthy of consideration for inclusion in an Education Accessibility Standard, which the KPMG Report never mentioned. That is why it is important for a Standards Development Committee to be appointed and to conduct a broad public consultation. If the Ontario Government agrees to develop an AODA Education Accessibility Standard, it should not pre-decide, at the start of the process, what that accessibility standard will include, nor should it limit the range of accessibility barriers that the Standards Development Committee can explore. The Government should leave a Standards Development Committee free to consult the public and to bring good ideas to the Government for its consideration.
4. The Report has serious deficiencies and should not be used to limit the range of accessibility barriers that an Education Accessibility Standard should address
There are significant problems with the KPMG Report. The Report should be treated as significantly incomplete. Despite its flaws, the KPMG Report is a useful source for some of the recurring accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system. The accessibility barriers that it identifies are serious problems for students with disabilities. They need to be systematically addressed.
However, the KPMG Report should not be treated as the only source, or the best source of accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system. The Ontario Government should not restrict efforts towards an Education Accessibility Standard or other efforts on reform in this area, to the priorities that KPMG listed.
Here are the KPMG Report's key deficiencies:
a) The KPMG Report, including its list of priorities for future action on accessibility barriers, significantly understates the range of recurring accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system. The Report missed important recurring accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system. As noted above, some of these recurring accessibility barriers are mentioned or adverted to elsewhere in the Report, without these being designated part of its ultimate conclusions.
For example, as noted above, the Report does not identify accessibility barriers in the built environment of Ontario's education system as a major priority for action. The Report did not recognize that as of the start of 2016, only 85 of the 550 schools in the Toronto District School Board were physically accessible, according to whatever measure of accessibility TDSB uses. The Report also did not note the problem of accessibility barriers in new buildings in Ontario post-secondary educational organizations, such as Ryerson's new Student Learning Centre, or the renovated Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. Both buildings' accessibility problems recently garnered media attention. The Report does describe U.S. requirements, which are not paralleled in Ontario, and which require educational organizations receiving federal funds to take certain steps to retrofit the built environment in order to promote accessibility for students with disabilities.
There are several other priority areas of recurring accessibility barriers which the Report missed in reaching this conclusion, such as accessibility barriers in software and hardware deployed in learning settings, in curriculum design, in experiential learning, and in gym and playground equipment, just to name a few.
b) KPMG in significant part treated the issue of accessibility barriers in the education system as a matter to be primarily addressed by providing individual adjustments or accommodations to individual students with disabilities. This is far too narrow a focus.
The KPMG Report emphasized the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process. Of course, this process will always have a part to play when providing education to students with disabilities in Ontario's education system. However, the core of an "accessibility" approach is to venture beyond the traditional view that we first create an entire education system for students without disabilities, and then try to figure out after the fact, how to make one-off accommodations for individual students with disabilities. That approach requires educational institutions to repeatedly try to squeeze students with disabilities into buildings and programs that were designed as if they were not meant to take part in them on a basis of equality and full inclusion.
An AODA-based accessibility approach also looks to how to systematically find, eliminate and prevent recurring accessibility barriers against students with disabilities, so that it is easier for them to be included in the mainstream education system on a footing of equality. This would reduce the cost and number of individual accommodations that students with disabilities need.
c) The KPMG Report lacks vital informed input from many of those who know the most about the accessibility barriers that face students with special education needs. KPMG did not reach out to a wide spectrum of community organizations that work with or speak for students with disabilities and their families. As a glaring example, KPMG did not seek input from the AODA Alliance. The AODA Alliance is the broad-based community coalition that has led the campaign for over a half decade to convince the Ontario Government to develop an Education Accessibility Standard. Similarly, KPMG did not say that it reached out to the Special Education Advisory Committee. These committees operate at each publicly-funded school board across Ontario, to advocate about barriers facing students with disabilities in schools.
As such, the KPMG Report is no replacement for the important consultative work of a Standards Development Committee, appointed under the AODA to develop an Education Accessibility Standard.
d) The KPMG Report appears to have merely collected information which governments and other organizations have posted on line. KPMG did not say it made any effort to verify that information. To the contrary, the Report's disclaimer makes it clear that the public should not rely on its contents as authoritative.
The Report focused primarily (though not exclusively) on what governments and educational organizations say they provide for students with disabilities. Too little of the Report views the education system from the perspective of students with disabilities.
It is essential to document the actual degree of accessibility to and full inclusion in education that Ontario students with disabilities experience. The AODA's aim is to achieve actual accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities, not just good-sounding accessibility policies or proclamations. This shows why it is far better to talk to students with disabilities and their families about the accessibility barriers they face in the education system than to merely surf the internet.
e) KPMG's general review of laws in different jurisdictions seems superficial. It does not appear to explore and compare in detail the content of education regulations.
5. The Report's bottom-line conclusion that Ontario is as good as or better than other jurisdictions is wrong, and should not be relied on.
No one should rely on the KPMG Report's bottom-line conclusion that Ontario is as good as or better than other jurisdictions it examined, on promoting its education system's accessibility. That conclusion is incorrect. It is contradicted by the Report's contents. It is ultimately irrelevant. This is so because:
a) KPMG expressed its bottom-line conclusion in contradictory ways. At some points, it said Ontario is at least as good as, if not better than, all other jurisdictions it examined. At other points, it said Ontario is as good as or better than most other jurisdictions studied.
b) The Report's bottom-line conclusion about Ontario, compared to other jurisdictions, failed to take into account, and is contradicted by, important areas where Ontario lags behind other jurisdictions. The Report acknowledged that other jurisdictions have in place measures that Ontario should consider adopting. Examples of this are listed above. To repeat, compelling examples where Ontario lags behind include:
i) Due process for students with disabilities and their families when seeking individual accommodations. In the very area on which KPMG placed so much emphasis, the creation of one-off individual accommodations for students with disabilities via Individual Education Plans, Ontario's legal regime has lagged far behind the US for over four decades. In Ontario, a school board need simply consult a family on the IEP, according to vague and weak special education regulations. An unhappy family must undergo the ordeal of fighting a human rights complaint against a school board. In contrast, in the U.S. there are robust due process protections for students with disabilities and their families under the Individual Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
KPMG's bottom-line conclusion similarly did not account for the fact that Ontario lacks a mandatory appeal process regarding individual education accommodation, unlike some other jurisdictions. Moreover, the Report acknowledged the need for future improvement in Ontario in addressing disputes between families and schools over accommodation needs. That makes the Report's bottom-line finding fatally flawed.
ii) The Report did not try to compare Ontario's deficient laws or practices regarding the accessibility of the built environment in schools, colleges and universities, or try to compare these to more impressive regimes which the Report identifies in other jurisdictions.
iii) The Report's contents demonstrate to the AODA Alliance that the U.S. is ahead of Ontario in trying to develop a concerted strategy for ensuring that post-secondary students with disabilities have access to reading materials in an accessible format.
iv) The Report recited information from New Brunswick which, if true, would contradict the Report's claim that Ontario is at least as strong as any other jurisdiction in education accessibility. KPMG describes New Brunswick as claiming to lead Canada on providing inclusive education for students with disabilities.
v) The Report explored pre-school programming and supports for students with disabilities in some jurisdictions. However, the Report did not recognize that Ontario lags far behind the Maritime provinces in the provision of pre-school literacy supports for children who are blind or low vision.
vi) The Report did not compare Ontario to other jurisdictions on adopting measures to ensure students without disabilities are educated about the inclusion of students with disabilities in the education system's mainstream.
c) As noted earlier, the Report's bottom-line conclusion is largely based on focusing on Ontario's approach to individually accommodating students with disabilities, not on comparing comprehensive measures to systematically eliminate all recurring accessibility barriers in an education system. With the exception of recurring accessibility barriers in web accessibility, the Report does not appear to address accessibility standards aimed at systematically ensuring a barrier-free education system in which students with disabilities can fully participate. Further weakening its bottom-line conclusion, the KPMG Report acknowledged that Ontario's regime for accommodating individual students in its education system is not consistently an effective solution.
d) The Report only specified one area where it specifically says Ontario is ahead of the other jurisdictions studied, namely loans or grants to college and university students with disabilities, yet the Report made no detailed side-by-side comparison of Ontario's loan/grants programs with those in all the other jurisdictions studied. While such loans and grants are of course helpful to students with disabilities, these alone are not capable of ensuring that Ontario's education system becomes fully accessible by 2025.
e) It is not clear why KPMG reached so obviously incorrect a bottom-line conclusion. Either KPMG did a very poor job in investigating and analyzing this issue, or the Ontario Government had KPMG include this conclusion in the Report. We don't know which is the case. Neither KPMG nor the Ontario Government has substantively answered our inquiry on what role the Ontario Government played in having that conclusion included in the KPMG Report.
6. The Report's conclusion about Ontario compared to other jurisdictions doesn't make an Education Accessibility Standard unnecessary.
Even if the Report's bottom-line conclusion had been accurate and reliable, that conclusion does not contradict or weaken the pressing need for the Ontario Government to develop and implement an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Under the AODA, it is not sufficient for the Ontario Government to put in place accessibility measures that are merely as strong as or stronger than those in place in other jurisdictions. The AODA requires the Government to lead Ontario, including its education system, to become fully disability-accessible by 2025. If the measures now in place will not assure that Ontario will reach that goal, the Government must enact and effectively enforce all the accessibility standards needed to ensure that Ontario reaches that goal on time.