The province will develop an education accessibility standard to remove barriers that students with disabilities face in classrooms, curriculum and on school premises, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday.
She made the commitment hours after receiving an open letter from 22 community groups who called for its creation, arguing that too many special needs students aren’t getting the education they’re entitled to because of obstacles, both in physical environments and teaching.
“We recognize that there’s more to be done, and there will be an education standard developed,” Wynne told the legislature, in response to an opposition question citing a Star story about the groups’ proposal.
In the five-page letter sent Monday, advocates said barriers make it difficult for disabled students to succeed. The result is unemployment that has reached crisis levels among adults with disabilities.
Sometimes those barriers are physical, faced by students in wheelchairs who can’t play on playground equipment or open hallway doors. They can include lack of supports, such as a shortage of special needs assistants, which prevents children with autism or other conditions from participating in the classroom. Or it can be classroom technology that kids with learning disabilities or vision impairment are unable to use. Currently, one in six Ontario students receives special education services.
Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the province is committed to becoming accessible to all citizens by 2025 and has focused on key areas such as public transportation and health care.
In their letter to Wynne, the community organizations said an education standard must also be a priority, to create a consistent benchmark across the province when it comes to providing supports for students with disabilities.
The groups include the CNIB, the Canadian Mental Health Association and advocates representing students with autism, intellectual disabilities and a range of developmental or communications disorders.
Rana Nasrazadani of Toronto, who faced challenges in high school as a student with cerebral palsy, said Wynne’s move Monday amounts to “steps in the right direction” and hopes it will lead to changes for disabled students who have faced hurdles for so long.