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New documentation guidelines for accommodating students with mental health disabilities

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January 6, 2016

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Toronto - Navi Dhanota, represented by ARCH Disability Law Centre; York University and the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) have worked together to develop new documentation guidelines to access academic accommodations. The change in guidelines means that students will no longer have to disclose their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) diagnosis to register for mental health accommodations and supports.

Navi Dhanota is a Ph.D student in Critical Disability Studies at York University. When Ms. Dhanota first attended another Ontario university, she was required to disclose a DSM diagnosis to receive academic accommodation. When she continued her studies at York University, she was again asked to disclose a DSM diagnosis to get accommodation. The issue of disability accommodation is important to Ms. Dhanota both personally and academically and she wanted to help change the process to reflect the evolving understanding of academic accommodation. It was important to Ms. Dhanota that she and other students not be required by the university to disclose their DSM diagnosis. As a result she filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. 

During this time, a provincially funded report by researchers at Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College entitled Recommendations for Documentation Standards and Guidelines for Post-Secondary Students with Mental Health Disabilities (Academic Accommodations Project) was also released. The OHRC intervened in Ms. Dhanota’s case to help bring all universities’ approaches to medical documentation in line with the report and the OHRC’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions.

Ms. Dhanota, ARCH Disability Law Centre, York University and the OHRC worked collaboratively to develop revised Guidelines. The revisions address potential barriers experienced by students with mental health disabilities while still ensuring that the University gets appropriate medical documentation to help determine academic accommodations (

Navi Dhanota: “Removing the requirement to disclose a DSM diagnosis in order to access academic accommodations is an exciting step forward in the university’s commitment to student success and their interpretation of (dis)ability. With this change, students will no longer be required to define their experiences using a psychiatric label. The majority of universities in Ontario have required students to disclose a DSM diagnosis before registering with their accommodation services. The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s intervention in this case and York’s commitment to change have created a landmark precedent which will change the understanding of accessibility and (dis)ability when receiving university accommodations. All students go to school to invest in their future and to succeed, and I believe this change will help them achieve this goal to the best of their ability.”

Dr. Marc Wilchesky, Executive Director of Counselling and Disability Services, York University:  “While some students voluntarily choose to disclose their diagnosis to Disability Services at York University they no longer are required to do so. Instead, the required medical documentation simply confirms that there is a diagnosed mental health disability without providing the specific diagnostic label. The licensed health care provider will confirm the nature of any restrictions and limitations that might require academic accommodation. Whether or not a student chooses to disclose their mental health diagnosis, they will be eligible to receive the full range of appropriate academic accommodations to provide an equal opportunity for academic success and graduation.”

Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane, Ontario Human Rights Commission: “Maintaining control and privacy over one’s confidential medical information is particularly important given the strong social stigma associated with mental health disabilities. I am pleased to see York University taking this important step to ensure its students get the accommodations they need without having to first disclose their mental health diagnosis.”

Ms. Dhanota is pleased to have worked with York University and the OHRC to develop revised guidelines, which are among the first in the province of Ontario that do not require students to disclose a diagnosis in order to access mental health disability services and place York University at the forefront of post-secondary education providers in ensuring accessibility for students with mental health disabilities. This step is in keeping with York’s commitment to promote a healthy, inclusive and supportive learning environment that fosters mental health and well-being among members of its community.

The OHRC urges other post-secondary institutions to follow suit by reviewing and implementing the recommendations of the Academic Accommodations Project report and the Commission’s Policy on preventing discrimination based on mental health disabilities and addictions.

For more information:

Navi Dhanota:

Dianne Wintermute
416-482-8255 ext 226
1-866-482-2724 ext 226

York University:
Joanne Rider
Chief Spokesperson and Director, Media Relations

Ontario Human Rights Commission:
Afroze Edwards
Sr. Communications Officer