In October 2003, the OHRC released its consultation report entitled The Opportunity to Succeed: Achieving Barrier-free Education for Students with Disabilities (The Opportunity to Succeed). The report was the product of the OHRC’s research and consultation with a wide array of interested parties during the fall of 2002 on human rights issues affecting students with disabilities.
Feedback received throughout the consultation indicated that, while there is a highly regulated and complex educational framework in place to address the needs of students, and while in many cases education providers are doing much to meet the diverse needs of the student population, a significant number of students with disabilities continue to face obstacles in their attempts to access educational services in Ontario. The Opportunity to Succeed identified key barriers at the primary, secondary and post-secondary levels of education. These barriers include: inadequate funding, physical inaccessibility, cumbersome and time-consuming accommodation processes, negative attitudes and stereotypes, and a lack of understanding of the OHRC policy and the rights and responsibilities of all parties under the Code.
The Report outlined actions required by schools and school boards, post-secondary institutions, government and other responsible parties to promote compliance with human rights law and policy. It defined the responsibilities of students and/or their parent(s) and guardian(s) as participants in the accommodation process. In addition, it set out the OHRC’s own commitments to take steps to ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational services. In this regard, the OHRC has committed to monitoring progress with the recommended actions required by the Report and will follow up with education providers to assess levels of compliance. The OHRC also committed to developing Guidelines on Accessible Education (the Guidelines) to help parties better understand their obligations in the education of students with disabilities.
While the Guidelines are a companion piece to The Opportunity to Succeed, each document serves a distinct purpose. Whereas The Opportunity to Succeed reported the feedback received by the OHRC during its education consultation and recommended specific actions for the parties involved in order to address systemic issues in educational services, the Guidelines take key principles from the OHRC’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate (“Disability Policy”) and apply them to the educational context. They are intended to provide guidance to support education providers and students with disabilities in the fulfilment of their duties and rights under the Code.
The Guidelines provide clarification with respect to the following areas:
- the principles of accommodation
- creating a welcoming environment for all students
- the accommodation process
- the right to confidentiality and the disclosure of information
- appropriate accommodation
- accommodation planning
- the undue hardship standard
- roles and responsibilities of those involved in the accommodation process
It should be noted that the Guidelines are not intended to provide prescriptive solutions for accommodating specific disabilities, as accommodation must always be based on an individualized assessment. Where appropriate, however, examples are provided which apply the principles outlined to situations involving students with specific types of disabilities.
For a full understanding of how the OHRC approaches disability issues, the Guidelines should be read in conjunction with the OHRC’s Disability Policy and The Opportunity to Succeed. Both are available at the OHRC’s Web site: www.ohrc.on.ca.
By clearly setting out the OHRC’s interpretation of the responsibilities of all parties to the accommodation process, and by providing direction to these parties on how to best achieve compliance, it is hoped that the Guidelines will help to prevent discrimination, reduce disputes throughout the process, and where disputes continue to occur, provide strategies to help avoid their escalation.
 Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate (March 2001), available online at the OHRC’s website: www.ohrc.on.ca.
 “Education providers” includes, but is not limited to, school boards, school staff, educators, post-secondary institutions and where appropriate, government.