This section of the toolkit is intended to provide the campus community with succinct information on accommodations, to have a better understanding of the process for students and to be better able to refer and guide them through it.

Principles of accommodation

Accommodations are means of removing or reducing barriers that prevent students with disabilities from participating fully in campus life. Once they have identified a student’s disability-related need, post-secondary institutions have a duty to accommodate the needs of students to the point of undue hardship. This duty is not a moral duty but rather a legal one. In Ontario it is based on the Ontario Human Rights Code, which post-secondary institutions are required to follow.

Accommodation involves three key principles:

[ 1 ] Respect for dignity

Students with disabilities have the right to receive services in a manner that respects their dignity. Human dignity is a complex concept, involving self-worth, as well as physical and psychological integrity and empowerment. Accommodations that do not respect students’ dignity would include those which marginalise, stigmatise, or devalue the student. This principle should include considerations as to how the accommodation is provided and the student’s participation in that process. For example, an accommodation in which a student is provided more time to complete the exam, but the room where the student is writing the exam is a janitor’s closet, would not be acceptable.

[ 2 ] Individualisation

Students with disabilities are unique individuals, with differing needs and situations. Therefore, accommodations should be considered individually for each student as their needs are identified. This also means that blanket approaches to accommodation that use the student’s category of disability or generalisations about disability would not be appropriate or acceptable. For example, providing all visually-impaired students with braille copies of the class reading would be unacceptable, as some visually-impaired students don’t read braille and require a larger font instead.

[ 3 ] Integration and full participation

Whenever possible, it is ideal for accommodations to allow disabled students to receive services or engage in the learning environment in the same way as their non-disabled peers, promoting their full participation. This is to say that accommodations should not separate the students who use them from those who do not. For example, it would not be acceptable to have an accessible entrance at the back of a building which forces wheelchair-using students to go through the kitchen while non-disabled students can enter through the lobby.

Accommodations are not all-or-nothing propositions. Rather they can be imagined as a continuum. At the far end of this continuum would lie the most appropriate accommodation, which meets the student’s need, respects their dignity, is individualised to them, and encourages their full participation. Alternative accommodations that are less ideal would be found next on the continuum and may even be implemented as stop-gap solutions until the most appropriate accommodation can be implemented. The Ontario Human Rights Commission states that the furthest end of the accommodations continuum, short of undue hardship, must be reached.

Case example

Nabil, a dyslexic2 student who frequents your writing centre, requires as an accommodation that the writing centre resources be provided with a different font and with more visual cues. In the meantime, while those resources are being prepared, your writing centre offers Nabil the support of a dedicated staff member who can help him write his essay by presenting the information to him verbally in a 1-on-1 meeting.

Procedural component

The procedural duty to accommodate involves conducting an individualised assessment of the student’s need. In a post-secondary environment, this means the institution is required to obtain all relevant information about the student’s accommodation request. All Ontario post-secondary institutions have a centralised office that facilitates these requests. Assessments are achieved through dialogue between the student and the staff of the accommodation offices, and may also include collecting and assessing supporting medical documentation. In most cases, the procedural duty to accommodate is triggered by an individual’s express request for accommodation. A failure of the post-secondary institution to give thought or consideration to the issue of accommodation, including what steps, if any, could be taken, would be a failure to satisfy the procedural duty to accommodate.

Substantive component

The substantive duty to accommodate involves determining the appropriateness or reasonableness of the offered accommodation as well as the reasons for not providing an accommodation, including proof of undue hardship. In the post-secondary environment, the institution bestows authority to the accommodation office to uphold the substantive duty to accommodate. Therefore, it is the accommodation office that designs the accommodation plan.

Guide: PDF Version