All public colleges and universities reported back to the OHRC.
Overall, the responses received from post-secondary institutions showed a willingness to amend policies and practices to ensure compliance with the Code and a shared commitment to eliminating barriers for students with mental health disabilities. While some institutions have indicated that they have not yet fully implemented the six measures or require governing body approvals to do so, as of the date of this report, all public colleges and universities have committed to implementing the six measures outlined by the OHRC.
Institutions in the college sector responded positively to the OHRC’s initial letter, agreeing to amend policies and procedures where necessary to comply with the OHRC’s outlined measures.
Most universities that are member institutions of the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) opted to respond to the OHRC’s initial letter collectively through the COU. The response from this umbrella organization, which did not provide the requested information and commitment, did not meet the OHRC’s stated expectations. The OHRC then sent a second letter, drawing attention to each institution’s individual obligations under the Code and requesting a response setting out the institution’s distinct commitment and plan for meeting the six previously outlined measures (Appendix 2). Following the second letter to the universities that had responded through the COU, each institution reported back to the OHRC.
It is worth mentioning that the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCADU), which is a COU member, showed leadership in the university sector by responding to the OHRC’s initial correspondence and showing a robust commitment to removing barriers for students with mental health disabilities. Hearst University, which is not a member of the COU, also responded positively to the OHRC’s initial letter.
Based on self-reported modification of policies, guidelines and procedures, post-secondary institutions have made substantial progress in addressing the barriers experienced by students with mental health disabilities in accessing academic accommodations.
All of Ontario’s colleges and universities have said they will stop requiring a DSM diagnosis to permit students to register for academic accommodations and supports. While most have also implemented this commitment, a few universities have not yet fully done so and indicated that implementation is ongoing or that amendments are pending approval. All post-secondary institutions have committed to providing interim accommodations while waiting for final medical documentation and meaningfully considering all requests for accommodation, including retroactive accommodations. All post-secondary institutions reported that they already have improved, or will improve, measures to ensure privacy and confidentiality for students. They have also all committed to improving communication about relevant policies and procedures, and improving training for staff.
Some institutions described innovative ways to implement the six measures. These included using software to arrange and communicate accommodations directly with instructors using the student’s ID number as an identifier, and setting out clear and practical guidelines on source of information used to determine interim accommodations. These sources included student self-reports, history of formally identified disability, third-party reports, personal observations by the disability service professionals, screening tools, history of academic accommodations, relevant documentation from previous educational institutions and proof of disability from non-medical sources.
Some institutions also said they would look at going beyond the six measures to implement other recommendations in the Academic Accommodations Report (for example, by exploring the use of student satisfaction surveys for students who are registered with the Office for Students with Disabilities).
Many institutions highlighted their proactive initiatives to maximize accessibility and remove barriers for students with mental health disabilities. Examples are:
- Anxiety management support groups
- Student mental health and well-being strategies that include early intervention for students in distress
- A partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association to develop a student training program to support mental health on campus
- Developing an innovative, award-winning Mental Health Hub service delivery model that has sufficiently improved students’ access to supports on and off campus
- Mandatory training initiatives for faculty and staff such as suicide prevention/awareness, Mental Health First Aid, Assisting Students
The long-term impact of the operationalization of these various commitments to enhancing access to education remains to be seen. Post-secondary institutions should continually monitor their policies and practices to make sure students with mental health disabilities have the opportunity to fully take part in their services.