On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the AODA Alliance Again Writes Ontario’s Education Minister and TVO’s Vice President to Try to Get the Urgent Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities Met During the COVID-19 Crisis


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the AODA Alliance Again Writes Ontario’s Education Minister and TVO’s Vice President to Try to Get the Urgent Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities Met During the COVID-19 Crisis

May 21, 2020

          SUMMARY

In our continuing campaign to get the Ford Government to address the urgent needs of a third of a million vulnerable students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, the AODA Alliance today wrote two important letters, set out below. These are especially timely, because today is the internationally recognized Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

First, we wrote Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce today to again press him to direct the establishment within his Ministry of a command table of experts on teaching students with disabilities. We need this command table created to lead and oversee the creation and implementation of an emergency plan to address the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We were following up on our April 29, 2020 letter to the minister. In our new letter we point out three striking examples that show why there is a pressing need for the minister to direct his Ministry to immediately take the overdue actions we recommend.

Second, we today wrote the vice president for digital content at TVO, Ontario’s public education TV network. We summarized a recent discussion that the vice president had with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. In that discussion, we gave TVO constructive recommendations for urgent action that TVO needs to take to fix the accessibility problems in its online education content.

Taken together, these letters show a recurring failure of leadership by the Ford Government when it comes to meeting the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. A striking illustration of this is the Education Minister’s May 8, 2020 email to all school boards about distance learning during COVID-19. We also set out that memo below. The minister’s detailed email to all school boards was missing the key directions to school boards on how to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19.

Stay tuned for more AODA Alliance Updates. Keep us posted by sending us your feedback, at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

May 21, 2020 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

[email protected] www.aodalliance.org Twitter: @aodaalliance

May 21, 2020

Via Email

To: The Hon Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education

[email protected]

Dear Minister,

Re: Ensuring that Students with Disabilities Fully Benefit from Education at Home During the COVID-19 Crisis

We write On Global Accessibility Awareness Day to follow up on our April 29, 2020 letter to you about the pressing need for the Ontario Government to create and swiftly implement a comprehensive plan to meet the urgent learning needs of a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Since we wrote you almost a month ago, we appreciate having had the chance to have conversations with your deputy minister, two of your assistant deputy ministers, and some other officials within the ministry. I also welcomed the chance to make a five-minute presentation to you during the May 6, 2020 virtual meeting of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee of which I am a member.

It is good that during Premier Ford’s May 19, 2020 daily COVID-19 briefing, you recognized that more than ever, families of students with disabilities in Ontario need more support for their children to be able to learn at home. It is helpful that you said that the Government has great concern about these children and that the Government wants to ensure that these children get the support they need.

However, almost ten weeks into the school shutdown, and even after announcing that schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year, the Government has still announced no comprehensive plan to remove the troubling and recurring additional barriers facing students with disabilities that you have acknowledged. Your Government still leaves it to each school board to separately figure out what these barriers are and how to systematically overcome them. Your Government has still not set up and put in charge a much-needed command table with expertise in educating students with disabilities to steer and lead the province’s efforts in this area. This is especially wasteful and ineffective when school boards, like your Government, are trying to cope with an unexpected and unprecedented crisis. Front line educators and parents are struggling to do their best. They need more help from the Ontario Government.

Here are three illustrative and deeply disturbing examples of missing provincial leadership. We ask you to intervene with your Ministry officials to get them to act not only on these examples, but on a comprehensive plan of action.

First, with the rapid move to online classes, it is a bedrock necessity that the platform that schools use for online class meetings is accessible to students, teachers, and parents with disabilities. From our exchanges with Ministry staff, it is clear that the Ministry has not shown the required leadership on this issue. It does not appear to have directed school boards to ensure that they use accessible platforms, nor has it compared the options to direct which platform should be preferred.

Your detailed May 8, 2020 email to all school boards and other key players in the education system focuses primarily on the Ministry’s directions to school boards to use “synchronous learning” (i.e. online classes in real time via web-based meeting platforms). That memo is stunningly silent on the need to ensure that the platform school boards use is accessible to students, teachers, and parents with disabilities. That memo gives school boards no directions on which platforms to use. That memo was sent two days after I briefed you and four of your caucus colleagues on this serious issue during the May 6, 2020 meeting of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee in which you commendably participated.

The Ministry has told us that it has left it to each school board to decide for itself which meeting platform to use. That is a failed approach. It abdicates provincial leadership and oversight. Your Ministry is leaving it to each school board to itself decide whether or not it should investigate the relative accessibility of different online meeting platforms. A school board may not even know that this is an issue it needs to investigate.

Under your Ministry’s approach a school board is free to simply overlook this issue altogether. Your Government is burdening each school board to duplicate the same investigation of the comparative accessibility of different online meeting platforms. It is not clear which school boards have any expertise to do this. There is no assurance that any school boards who do this will in fact get it right. Your Ministry is not tracking which online platforms are being used in Ontario schools, or to what extent accessible platforms are being used.

The Ministry told us it has not itself undertaken a comparison of the various virtual meeting platforms available to school boards in order to assess their comparative accessibility. We have called on your Ministry to do so and to direct school boards on the accessible platforms that may be used. Parents, students, and teachers with disabilities should not have to fight against such recurring barriers one class, one school, or one school board at a time.

Your Ministry told us that it leaves it to each school board to decide which synchronous meeting platform to use, based on the school board’s assessment of its local needs. With respect, blindness, dyslexia, or other reading-related disabilities do not change when they occur in Cornwall or Kenora. The reason why the Government is now developing an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is so that people with disabilities will not have to fight the same battles time and again and so that school boards won’t have to each reinvent the same accessibility wheel.

We have received troubling word that at least one school board has forbidden its teachers from using Zoom, which is at least as accessible as or more accessible than the other available online platforms. That flies in the face of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act .

Your Ministry arranged a helpful May 13, 2020 demonstration of the specific online meeting platform that it has chosen to purchase for school boards, called “Bongo.” It is part of the Bright Space learning management system that your Ministry chose to procure from the D2L firm for use by school boards if they wish. During this demonstration, it became apparent that neither your Ministry nor D2L claimed that Bongo is the most accessible meeting platform available. Its accessibility features were helpfully demonstrated and described.

During this demonstration, we learned that your Government has no idea how many school boards, schools or teachers around Ontario are using the Bongo platform. Your Ministry has left them free to use whatever platform they wish. As far as your Ministry would know, there could be few if any teachers using Bongo or who even know about it.

This presentation included a comparison of Bongo’s accessibility features as compared to those of the Zoom platform. It was D2L that was comparing its product to Zoom. Your Ministry did not invite Zoom for a chance to showcase its own product’s accessibility features, leaving it to its competitor D2L to do this.

The D2L presentation made an unfair comparison. It compared the Bongo platform, for which the Ministry was directly or indirectly paying a fee, to the free version of Zoom. I pointed this out and asked how the Bongo platform compared to Zoom’s more robust pay version, as opposed to its free version, which has fewer features. D2L acknowledged that the pay version of Zoom is closer in comparison to Bongo.

During that May 13, 2020 presentation, my questions revealed that Bongo is missing an important accessibility feature that Zoom contains. With Zoom, a student can easily and instantly raise his or her virtual hand for the teacher’s attention, by simply typing a keyboard shortcut. Bongo has no such keyboard shortcut. For a student to reach Bongo’s accessible control for raising his or her hand, it takes more hunting around the program. Its location is not obvious. It is important for a student to be able to quickly raise one’s hand without having to hunt around the program for the relevant control. D2L conceded that their accessibility tester had earlier asked Bongo’s provider to add this to their program. D2L did not include this important fact in its comparison of its product to Zoom.

In the Ministry’s PowerPoint prepared to demonstrate Bongo’s accessibility, a slide was included to suggest that the ARCH Disability Law Centre used Bongo. This was obviously done to convey or imply that it had ARCH’s approval as accessible. The slides stated:

“•        We have several clients who support people with disabilities: CNIB, CHS, Vision Australia, Thomas Pocklington Trust, ARCH Disability Law Centre.

ARCH’s use of Virtual Classroom

  • Educating Canadians on Accessibility Rights using Brightspace and Virtual Classroom
  • ARCH is offering online courses to Community Champions and Disability Rights Lawyers on the Optional Protocol (OP) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) with Simultaneous French interpretation, English and French live captions, ASL, and LSQ.

Press Release – ARCH launches OP Lab: Learning, Sharing, Actioning!”

This was quite misleading. At this May 13, 2020 presentation, I responded that ARCH’s executive director had advised me that while they had procured Bongo for certain upcoming events, they have not yet used it because it has several accessibility problems. ARCH has been trying to get these problems fixed. Neither D2L nor the Government disputed this.

Second, as a key part of its approach during the COVID-19 crisis, your Government has repeatedly pointed to key online learning resources for teachers and parents. We have alerted the Government that these have accessibility problems. This includes both the Government’s own “Learn at Home” web page and the Government-owned TVO’s online learning resources. It became evident from my May 14, 2020 phone call with TVO’s Vice President for Digital Content that TVO is lacking a plan to retrofit its online educational resources to ensure that they become accessible to students, teachers, and parents with disabilities. TVO seemed to be unaware of the severity of this problem until we brought it to their and the public’s attention. I encourage you to read our May 21, 2020 letter to TVO’s Vice President of Digital Content, copied to you. It sets out our constructive advice to TVO – advice which TVO found quite helpful.

We have seen no indication that your Ministry was aware of the problems with its own online resources or those of TVO until we raised these concerns. We have seen no plan from your Ministry to fix these problems.

This TVO situation reflects a double failure. TVO failed to properly ensure its online content’s accessibility. After that, your Ministry failed to ensure the accessibility of TVO’s online content before so heavily relying on it as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning.

Third, struggling with this COVID-19 crisis, it is great that teachers, parents, and others with expertise in the field in Ontario and elsewhere have been coming up with creative ways to help students with different disabilities learn while schools are closed. We have been urging your Government for weeks without success to devote staff to effectively gather from the front lines specific examples of effective strategies. We still need your Government to do so and to effectively share these with educators and parents as quickly as possible in a user-friendly way, not through a blizzard of links.

Let us illustrate how disturbing this situation is. On May 4, 2020, in the absence of effective Government action on this front, the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition joined together to hold a successful virtual town hall. It offered practical tips to parents and teachers for teaching students with disabilities at home during COVID-19. Your Ministry’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Education responsible for special education Jeff Butler commendably took part in our virtual town hall and described its contents as valuable. In just over two weeks, it has been viewed over 1,400 times. We have no budget to publicize it.

We have repeatedly asked your Ministry to publicize this virtual town hall to school boards and frontline educators. So far, it has not agreed to do so. What could be a simpler and lower-cost way to help students with disabilities? We have also urged your Ministry for weeks without success to take over this idea and itself hold such events. We have offered to help with ideas. The Ministry, with its staff and resources, could do this more effectively than did our handful of volunteers who pulled together our successful May 4, 2020 virtual town hall in under a week.

Instead of taking us up on this, the Government has largely re-announced the same initiatives that have been underway for weeks. While helpful to a point, those measures have not effectively addressed the pressing concerns of vulnerable students with disabilities.

On May 19, 2020 you said at the Premier’s daily COVID-19 briefing that you have directed school boards to unlock all their special education and mental health resources during the school shutdown to help students with disabilities. That of course has been their job from the outset. However, for them to succeed, they need far more provincial direction and support than this.

On May 19, 2020, in response to a question from the media at the Premier’s COVID-19 briefing, you announced some sort of two-week summer program aimed at helping orient some students with disabilities, such as those with autism, to a return to school. That announcement gave no specifics, such as where this will be offered or which students or how many students will be eligible for this program. Depending on how this is carried out, it could be helpful.

However, here again, there is a similar pressing need for the Ontario Government to show leadership by setting specific detailed and effective standards and requirements for school re-openings to ensure that the added needs of students with disabilities are effectively met in this process. Your Ministry’s approach to date to students with disabilities during this crisis will not ensure that this is properly handled.

Your May 8, 2020 memo to all school boards is quite illustrative of this entire problem. It commendably makes a few general references to accommodating students with special education needs and to mental health issues. However, it gives no specific directions for meeting the recurring needs of students with disabilities in circumstances where specificity and provincial leadership are required.

We remain eager to help with solutions. We need your active intervention to set things right. Please stay safe.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC: Premier Doug Ford

Via Email: [email protected]

Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education

[email protected]

Jeff Butler, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Support and Field Services Division

[email protected]

Yael Ginsler, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education (Acting) for the Student Achievement Division

[email protected]

Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

[email protected]

Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branch

[email protected]

Demetra Saldaris, Director of the Professionalism, Teaching Policy and Standards Branch

[email protected]

Rashmi, Swarup TVO Vice President Digital Learning

[email protected]

May 21, 2020 Letter from the  AODA Alliance to TVO’s Vice President for Digital Content

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

Email: [email protected]

Visit: www.aodalliance.org

Twitter: @aodaalliance

May 21, 2020

To: Rashmi Swarup

Vice President Digital Learning

Via email: [email protected]

Dear Ms. Swarup,

Re: Accessibility Problems with TVO’s Online Educational Content

Thank you for speaking to me by phone on May 14, 2020 about the accessibility problems on TVO’s website. It is especially timely that I am writing you on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

Here are several key points that I shared with you during our discussion.

I explained that TVO’s online learning content requires a major review as soon as possible for accessibility problems. Our preliminary look at them revealed significant and obvious problems. This strongly suggests that accessibility problems are likely more pervasive. The fact that they turned up so quickly suggests to us that TVO has not done effective accessibility user testing.

I explained that to rectify this, TVO needs to immediately put in place several new measures. It needs to now publicly commit to fix its online content’s accessibility problems and to ensure that any new online content created in the future is accessible from the start.

You explained that you have been in your position for about one year as TVO’s Vice President of Digital Content. Previously, you were a superintendent of schools at the York Region District School Board. You didn’t claim to be a subject matter expert on digital content accessibility, though you have taken required basic AODA training – training which we know to be quite introductory.

TVO needs to have a senior official with subject matter expertise in digital accessibility with lead responsibility and authority for ensuring the accessibility of TVO’s digital content and online offerings. It seems clear from the presence of accessibility problems in TVO’s online educational content that it is lacking that expertise in a leadership role.

I outlined for you that a number of major organizations have helpfully established a position of Chief Accessibility Officer to address their accessibility needs and duties. TVO could benefit from doing so. From what you explained, it appears that no one senior official at TVO has full responsibility for and authority over ensuring digital accessibility. Responsibility is spread over several members of the TVO senior management team. That is a far less effective way of addressing this important issue.

TVO needs to bring on board the subject matter expertise to fix this problem. I explained that there are digital accessibility experts TVO can retain to assist in this area.

TVO needs to establish and make public a detailed plan to fix the accessibility problems with its current digital learning content and to ensure that new digital content that TVO creates in the future is barrier-free. I explained that end-user testing is an important aspect of this. Automated checking tools cannot replace proper user testing by human beings. From our preliminary inspection of some of TVO’s online educational content, it seemed that no proper user testing would have earlier occurred.

You said you appreciated our raising these concerns and the recommendations that I shared. Our raising these concerns had escalated TVO’s attention. We appreciate your agreeing to write us to let us know what new action TVO will take to address these concerns.

We hope the Ontario Government will support TVO’s taking swift action to correct these problems. We had raised our concerns about TVO at senior levels within the Ministry of Education. The Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has repeatedly said that the Government has partnered with TVO to help deliver online education to students during the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, I emphasized that as a public broadcast, TVO should be a leader in this area. In contrast to TVO’s accessibility deficiencies, WGBH, a US PBS station, is a key hub and, I believe, the birthplace for the important accessibility innovation of audio description for video content.

We look forward to hearing from you about the reforms TVO will adopt. It is important for corrective action to be taken quickly, given that schools remain closed for the rest of this school year due to the COVID-19 crisis and may have to close again should there be a second surge of COVID-19.

Please stay safe.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC

Premier Doug Ford

[email protected]

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education,

[email protected]

Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education

[email protected]

Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branch

[email protected]

Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

[email protected]

Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission

[email protected]

May 8, 2020 Email from Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce to Ontario School Boards

May 8 2020 Email from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce to Ontario School Boards

From: Ministry of Education (EDU) <

[email protected]>

Sent: May 8, 2020 5:36 PM

To: Ministry of Education (EDU) <

[email protected]>

Subject: Updates on Continuity of Learning for the Extended School Closure Period | Mises à jour sur la continuité de l’apprentissage pendant la période

de fermeture prolongée des écoles

table with 2 columns and 2 rows

Memorandum To:

Chairs of District School Boards

Directors of Education

School Authorities

From:

Stephen Lecce

Minister of Education

Nancy Naylor

Deputy Minister

table end

Thank you for your continued commitment to supporting students during the school closure period. We have heard so many inspiring stories from across the province of students, parents, and educators doing extraordinary work to continue learning and build and maintain relationships at this time.

During this time, the mental health and well-being of students and the people working in the education system remains a priority. The government and school boards have moved rapidly to mobilize critical mental health resources and supports for students during these uncertain times.

As you know, the school closure period has been extended to at least May 31, 2020. To that end, we are writing to provide guidance on provincial standards for continuity of learning for the remainder of the closure period, as well as to provide updates on progress to date.

GUIDANCE FOR CONTINUITY OF LEARNING

As we entered the school closure period, our transition to Learn at Home was aided by existing tools that were in place to support virtual learning.  The ministry provides Ontario’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) at no cost to educators in school boards and First Nation/federally operated schools to use for delivering online programming. As a learning management system, the VLE provides tools for both synchronous and asynchronous learning delivery.  Boards may already have access to other synchronous learning management systems and tools, such as Google Classroom or Edsby.

While the expectation of the ministry was that educators would embrace the use of synchronous learning during the school closure period, there has been an inconsistent uptake of this mode of learning. As such, this memo is providing clarity on the ministry position.

Recognizing there are a wide range of modalities that are used in the continuum of learning between educators and their students, the ministry’s expectation is that synchronous learning be used as part of whole class instruction, in smaller groups of students, and/or in a one-on-one context.

We know that parents and students are looking for ways to interact with their teachers – which can be addressed through multiple modalities – and that online synchronous learning experience with teachers and education workers is an effective and supportive method that will position students to succeed during the school closure period. Similarly, parents expect their child’s educators to strive toward as normal a learning environment as possible during this period, of which synchronous learning is a key component.

Boards should take steps to ensure that privacy considerations are addressed and that students are aware of best practices, including not giving out passwords, ensuring that teachers are the last person to leave a synchronous meeting, and respecting other board policies on student conduct.

We recognize that there may be exceptional situations where synchronous online delivery may not be possible for all students. Exceptions could include, for example, where a parent has excused their child from instruction or this form of instruction, in which case a parent’s wishes should be respected.

If a student cannot participate due to a lack of devices or internet connectivity, or where students require accommodations for special education needs, alternate arrangements must be made, including personal outreach through phone calls. With that in mind, it is insufficient for educators to communicate with their students in one interaction per week, for example. We recognize that school boards have made extraordinary efforts to ensure that students have devices and connectivity wherever possible, and we once again reiterate our expectation that boards provide necessary technology to students as soon as possible, and appropriate accommodations for students with special education needs, where necessary.  The ministry will continue to support school boards in these efforts.

If a teacher or education worker does not feel they can currently deliver education to their students in this manner, schools and boards are encouraged to provide support and professional development.  However, in situations where teachers or education workers are not delivering synchronous learning, schools and boards are expected to immediately move to a team assignment approach to ensure that students are offered synchronous delivery of teacher led learning.

School boards should continue to follow the guidance provided on March 31, 2020 regarding the hours per student, per week, and the suggested areas of curriculum focus by grade groupings.

UPDATES ON PROGRESS TO DATE

Working Together

Between April 15 and 29, the ministry conducted a series of meetings beginning with Parent Involvement Committee Chairs and extending to include meetings with the following key roles responsible for supporting vulnerable students: Student Success and Student Effectiveness Leads, Indigenous Graduation Coaches, and Black Student Graduation Coaches. These meetings provided a venue for board leads to share successful practices and ongoing challenges to supporting vulnerable students and identify additional ways to offer support.

During these meetings, partners in school boards shared information on the many ways they are addressing the needs of vulnerable students, their wellbeing, and academic success. The ministry will continue to work with partners to determine ways to support student well-being, engagement in learning, and inclusive approaches to learning within a remote learning environment, as well as when students return to school.

Access to Technology

Access to internet connectivity and learning devices has been identified by school boards and other stakeholders as an urgent need during the school closure period. In response to this need, the ministry launched an education-related call for proposals on the Ontario Together web portal, focused on supporting

equity of access to remote learning.

Through this initiative, the ministry will identify proposals that school boards may wish to consider to support student and educator access to internet connectivity and devices such as computers, tablets, and portable wi-fi hotspots. As well, school boards may also wish to consider consulting other partners and sources, such as OECM, to consider comparable services and goods.

As we prepare for the eventual return to the classroom, broadband modernization activities in schools continue.  All Ontario students and educators in publicly funded schools will have access to reliable, fast, secure and affordable internet services at school, in all regions of the province including rural and northern communities.  This work will be complete in secondary schools by September 2020 and in elementary schools by September 2021.

As of March 31, 2020, broadband modernization was complete at 1,983 schools (including 403 in northern communities and 686 in rural communities) and in progress at 2,953 schools (including 99 in northern communities and 408 in rural communities).

Ensuring protection of privacy and security of digital learning resources is of the utmost importance for the ministry to support a safe, inclusive and accepting learning environment for synchronous learning.  While school boards remain independently accountable for establishing clear policies and approving appropriate use of collaboration tools to support students’ learning online, we will continue to work with boards and our government partners to provide guidance on cyber security and privacy best practices for sharing with educators in your schools.

School Construction

Schools are an essential part of supporting student achievement, as well as providing safe and healthy learning and work environments for students and staff. As we head into the spring and summer months, when school boards undertake critical capital construction and renewal projects, the province has revised the list of essential workplaces to support school infrastructure.  Construction projects and services (e.g. new construction, maintenance and repair) that support the essential operation of, and provide new capacity in, schools and child care centres can proceed, provided that there is strict adherence to health and safety requirements.

As school boards are best situated to understand their own particular circumstances, the ministry is asking that school boards consider whether their construction projects are able to reopen in light of these changes. This may mean that boards will need to consult with their own legal counsel, as appropriate.

Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison

Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison

was launched on March 20, 2020. This website provides supplemental resources for parents and students to support independent learning at home while schools are closed.

Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison  includes learning resources on a variety of subjects including math, science, technology, Indigenous history and ways of knowing, art, physical education,  social sciences, and mental health. Supports for students with learning disabilities and special education needs, including autism, have also been included.

Resources continue to be added to address a range of learning needs.

Over the past month, there have been over four million visits to  Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison.

We encourage you to continue to share this website and promote the new resources available with parents and students in your board.

If there are additional high-quality online learning resources that you think would be particularly beneficial to students and parents at this time, we encourage you to share them with us by emailing  [email protected]

School Mental Health Ontario

School Mental Health Ontario – a provincial implementation support team that works alongside the ministry, school boards, and provincial education and health organizations to develop a systematic and comprehensive approach to school mental health – has several resources available to support families during the school closure period (

https://smho-smso.ca/blog/how-to-support-student-mental-health-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/).

Professional development

Through webinars, the ministry is providing professional development to support educators in the use of the VLE and pedagogy for remote, synchronous and asynchronous learning. In addition, the ministry is providing professional learning webinars for educators on specialised topics such as supporting students with special education needs, kindergarten/primary education and meaningful assessments and evaluations.

To date, more than 23,000 teachers have participated in, or registered for future webinars, on 34 different topics.  Completed webinars have been recorded and posted for teachers who were unable to attend the live session.

In addition to the webinar series, the ministry has created the Supports for Virtual Learning eCommunity.  Over 9,000 educational staff have accessed this professional learning community, including resources for self-serve learning that are updated regularly.

First Nation and Indigenous partners

The ministry continues to support First Nation education partners during the school closure period. This has included providing access to online education resources, connecting First Nation partners to the supply chain to purchase Chromebooks and iPads, as well as encouraging local school boards to work closely with local First Nations and Indigenous partners, where possible.

In addition to supporting educators through teleconferences in areas/communities where bandwidth is limited or unavailable, the ministry has responded

to outreach from First Nation partners and has established a series of ongoing virtual meetings with First Nations Education Task Teams. The Task Teams were established to work collaboratively with First Nation education leadership, to identify gaps in services and develop options to address emerging priorities for First Nation students.

We are also ensuring that First Nation educators have access to Ontario’s VLE and training for teachers provided by the ministry.

There is no cost to the First Nation schools to access and use the VLE.

Summer learning

The ministry is working with boards and organizations to support an expanded offering of summer learning opportunities. This plan will focus on programs that support student learning through the summer such as summer school, course upgrading, and gap-closing programs for vulnerable students, students with special education needs, and Indigenous students.  This plan will be flexible to accommodate both remote and face-to-face learning, pending emergency measures through the summer. While summer learning opportunities are voluntary for students, we hope that many students will take advantage of the opportunity to continue their learning throughout the summer.

The goal with these measures is to mitigate the impacts of the school closure period and the learning loss that may typically occur during the summer.

Further details will be provided in the coming weeks.

Communication with parents and families

We recognize that many boards are creating opportunities for parents to provide feedback on the current learning experience through surveys and other platforms, as well as continuing to seek the advice of their Parent Involvement Committee (PIC). Through a virtual meeting with PIC chairs at the end of April, the ministry heard that parents appreciate the efforts their boards are making to address a variety of diverse family challenges due to the pandemic.  We encourage boards to continue to be open to feedback and to recognize where delivery of education under current circumstances can be challenging, and can be adjusted to better serve students and families.

Thank you once again for your flexibility and willingness to work together to support Ontario’s students.

Sincerely,

Stephen Lecce                        Nancy Naylor

Minister of Education            Deputy Minister

c:    President, Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’ontario (ACÉPO)

Executive Director, Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’ontario (ACÉPO)

President, Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)

Executive Director, Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)

President, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

Executive Director, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

President, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA)

Executive Director, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA)

Executive Director, Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE)

President, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

Executive Director and Secretary-Treasurer, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

President, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)

General Secretary, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)

President, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)

General Secretary, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)

President, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)

General Secretary, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)

Chair, Ontario Council of Educational Workers (OCEW)

Chair, Education Workers’ Alliance of Ontario (EWAO)

President of OSBCU, Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario (CUPE-ON)

Co-ordinator, Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario (CUPE-ON)



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Ford Government Acknowledges Ontario Students with Disabilities Face Added Hardships Trying to learn at Home During COVID-19 But Announces No Comprehensive Plan to Remove the Added Disability Barriers that Online Learning Creates for Them


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Ford Government Acknowledges Ontario Students with Disabilities Face Added Hardships Trying to learn at Home During COVID-19 But Announces No Comprehensive Plan to Remove the Added Disability Barriers that Online Learning Creates for Them

May 19, 2020, Toronto: Today, as the first media question at Premier Doug Ford’s Queen’s Park COVID-19 briefing, the Toronto Star told the premier that parents of special needs children have told the Star that they are particularly struggling at this time and that the Government needs to take a leading role in making sure that their children are being served during the school shutdown. Since schools are now closed until the end of the school year, the Star asked what the Government is doing to help these families and to ensure that school boards are meeting these students’ needs. The AODA Alliance commends the Star for raising this issue. We have been pressing the Ford Government on this issue for weeks.

Premier Ford referred the question to Education Minister Stephen Lecce. The Minister commendably stated on behalf of the Government that he “absolutely agrees with the premise, … that these families are going to need more support now more than ever to support their children enable them to learn while they’re at home.” He said on behalf of the Government that “we have great concern about these children…” He pledged that the Government wants to “make sure that all kids with exceptionalities are able to get ahead…get the support they need.”

It is good, but certainly not news, that the Government has told all school boards to deploy all their special education resources during the shutdown, and that the Government earlier consulted with two provincial advisory committees on this issue. It is not yet possible for us to comment on the Government’s amorphous announcement of some sort of two-week summer program aimed at helping orient some students with disabilities, such as those with autism, to a return to school. Today’s announcement gave no specifics (such as where this will be offered, or which students or how many students will be eligible for this program.)

However, today’s Minister’s statement falls far short of the urgent action one-third of a million Ontario students with disabilities immediately need. It is good that the Government now publicly acknowledges that students with disabilities and their families suffer additional burdens with the move to online learning as schools are shut down and that the Government should show leadership. However, The Government has not announced any specific comprehensive plan to remove the added barriers that students with disabilities are facing due to the move to online learning.

It is wrong for the Ford Government to continue to leave it to over 70 school boards to each have to wastefully re-invent the wheel as they struggle with the same recurring disability barriers. It is wrong for the Ford Government to leave over-burdened parents of students with disabilities to have to fight the same battles against these disability barriers, one school board at a time, while isolated at home during the COVID-19crisis.

For example, the Ford Government is not even ensuring that the online platforms that each school board and each school uses to hold virtual classes are fully accessible to students, teachers and parents with disabilities, or even to track which of these platforms are being used. The Government has not announced any plan to fix the significant accessibility barriers in the online learning resources that the Government itself provides to teachers, parents and school boards on its “Learn at Home” website, such as the TVO online resources that have a series of accessibility problems. It was the AODA Alliance that earlier exposed these accessibility problems.

To help frontline teachers and parents of students with disabilities, the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held a helpful May 4 online virtual town hall to share teaching strategies from experts in teaching students with disabilities, now viewed over 1,300 times. Yet despite our repeatedly asking, we’ve seen no indication that The Government has taken the simple step of sharing this resource with school boards and encouraging them to watch it, much less has the Government organized similar events to share the creative solutions that frontline teachers and parents are inventing all around Ontario.

The AODA alliance remains ready to assist the government on any and all of these issues.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Background Resources

The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

The May 4, 2020 virtual town hall on teaching students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition.

The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

The earlier widely-watched April 7, 2020 virtual public forum by the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition on the overall impact of the COVID-19 crisis on 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities.



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Premier Ford Pledged to Protect the Most Vulnerable During the COVID-19 Crisis — Watch Online and Widely Circulate the May 8, 2020 Interview on TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Showing How Premier Ford is Repeatedly Failing to Protect Vulnerable Ontarians with Disabilities


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Premier Ford Pledged to Protect the Most Vulnerable During the COVID-19 Crisis — Watch Online and Widely Circulate the May 8, 2020 Interview on TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Showing How Premier Ford is Repeatedly Failing to Protect Vulnerable Ontarians with Disabilities

May 11, 2020

          SUMMARY

You can now watch the 20-minute interview on the May 8, 2020 episode of TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” any time on YouTube. In just over a day after it aired, it had already gotten over 1,000 views and lots of positive feedback.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford pledged that his Government would protect the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. During this interview, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and the executive director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT) Wendy Porch explain in vivid detail how the Ford Government has repeatedly failed to protect the most vulnerable, namely the 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities.

This video is now an important tool in our advocacy efforts for people with disabilities. You can quickly and easily use this interview to help us try to improve this situation. The public link to the interview is https://youtu.be/KmMlTrNbud8

Please take one or more of these steps today and get others to do so too!

* Share this link with your family and friends. Urge them to watch the interview and to share it with others they know.

* Post this interview link on your social media, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Encourage your social media friends and followers to watch the interview and to share the link with their social media friends and followers. If you have done this already, do it again! Each social media reminder and blitz helps!

* If you are connected with a disability organization or group, or any religious or other community group, get them to post this link on their website and social media pages. Urge them to press the Ford Government to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities in its emergency COVID-19 planning.

* Email your Member of the Ontario Legislature. Send them this link. Demand that the Government address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during its emergency COVID-19 planning.

* Call the Premier’s office at 416-325-1941. Tell whoever answers your call that the Premier must address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities in the Government’s emergency COVID-19 planning.

* Let your local media know about specific barriers and hardships that you know any people with disabilities are facing during the COVID-19crisis. During the interview on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, David Lepofsky and Wendy Porch only had time to talk about some of those serious hardships.

The media responds most readily to specific incidents that you bring to them. These can be shown to be part of a much bigger picture of recurring provincial failures to address our urgent needs. You can send your local media the link to the interview on The Agenda with Steve Paikin to show how much of a recurring issue this is for Ontarians with disabilities, and indeed, for people with disabilities across the country during COVID-19. Let the media know that they can contact us for more general background and comment. We are always standing by at [email protected]

Below we set out just one illustration of this. A family brought to the media the wrenching story of an Ontario hospital refusing to allow a patient with serious communication disabilities to use a vital communication aid for more than one hour a day, and the failure of the Ford Government to fix this barrier. We alerted you to that report in the May 6, 2020 AODA Alliance Update. We also reached out to the reporter to provide more background for a follow-up story that that reporter had decided to write. Below you can find the May 9, 2020 follow-up story in the May 9, 2020 Toronto Sun.

If a reporter wants more background, urge them to check out:

* The May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held to share practical tips for teachers and parents on how to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities  during the COVID-19crisis. In just one week since we held that event, it has gotten over 1,000 views.

* The earlier April 7, 2020 virtual Town Hall, also organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, which more broadly address the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

* The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

* The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Believe it or not, there have been 466 days since the Ford Government got the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 47 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

Toronto Sun May 9, 2020

Originally posted at https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/levy-people-who-cant-communicate-treated-terribly-during-covid-19?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1589067224

LEVY: People who can’t communicate treated terribly during COVID-19

Sue-Ann Levy

Tommy Jutcovich, a 69-year-old former educator with multiple systems atrophy, has been told by Toronto Grace Health Centre officials he can’t use his tablet — his sole means of communication — consistently throughout the day for fear it will act as a “surveillance” tool.

In British Columbia, a 40-year-old woman with cerebral palsy, Ariis Knight, died alone April 18 in a Vancouver hospital because her family was not permitted inside and she could not communicate without a family member or a caregiver. She didn’t have COVID-19.

Closer to home, my father-in law, who passed away a week ago (not from the novel coronavirus), was forced to enter hospital completely alone during the pandemic restrictions.

He was there for days without his caregiver, who would have ensured the less-than-compassionate doctors and nurses who saw him understood his medication and food needs. Despite several pleas from his daughters that the caregiver could be tested for COVID-19 and properly protected, the hospital adamantly refused to relent.

These are some of the heartbreaking stories of COVID-19, which have shone a light on the lack of proper practices by hospitals, long-term care and group homes to deal with people who are either unable to, or have trouble speaking for themselves, says a disabilities advocate.

Barbara Collier, executive director of Communications Disabilities Access Canada, says there have been very few policies for years and years to accommodate people with communications disabilities in the health-care system.

Without “explicit” guidelines, hospitals are taking it upon themselves to make decisions — often draconian and inflexible ones, I say.

“It’s the vulnerable groups that are completely marginalized and disempowered again because of this,” Collier said Saturday.

Tommy Jutcovich, 69, is bedridden in Toronto Grace hospital but staff are no longer allowing him unlimited use of his iPad — his lifeline to the outside world during the COVID-19 pandemic — because it is considered a “surveillance tool.” SUPPLIED PHOTO/FAMILY Supplied photo / Family

“This is happening in every hospital across Canada for years and years and we didn’t have good policies in place to ensure people could effectively communicate.”

There are at least 500,000 people with speech and language disabilities in Canada — including those on the autism spectrum or suffering from cerebral palsy, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, early dementia, MS, Lou Gehrig’s disease and people such as Tommy Jutcovich, who has multiple systems atrophy, Collier said.

She said most people have a “fair idea” of the duty to accommodate those with disabilities when it means getting into a building or opening a door, or with those who are deaf or have visual impairments.

The “missing piece” is how accommodation is handled (or mishandled) for those who have a speech and language disability — those with little or no speech, or who have difficultly comprehending information before providing informed consent.

Collier says the hospital “no visitor policy” is denying patients access to support people who can assist them with communication.

“There are many people who haven’t fared well in a health-care setting if they don’t have somebody who can interpret their speech or provide access to their visual display or iPad,” she said.

“The support people are not visitors, they’re essential.”

She said caregivers or support people could easily be “gowned-up” to protect their safety against this vicious virus.

She says those with disabilities should have the right to a range of communication aids available to them in hospital or in long-term care homes.

Collier adds that speech language pathologists should also be stationed around the hospital to help those with communication issues so they understand their treatment and are truly able to give informed consent.

She said the Toronto-based ARCH Disability Law Centre just released a COVID-19 tool kit that helps those with disabilities advocate to have their support person or communications assistant with them while in hospital — in other words to have an exemption from the hospital ban.

[email protected]



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Watch TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Tonight at 8 or 11 PM for an Interview on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and More News on the COVID-19 and Disability Front


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Watch TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Tonight at 8 or 11 PM for an Interview on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and More News on the COVID-19 and Disability Front

May 8, 2020

          SUMMARY

 1. TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Again Focuses Attention on Disability Issues Tonight

We invite you to watch TVO’s flagship current affairs program “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” tonight at 8 or 11 pm Eastern time for a 20-minute interview on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people with disabilities. The guests are AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and Wendy Porch, the Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT). Ms. Porch was one of the 10 excellent experts who spoke at the first virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and people with disabilities that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held on April 7, 2020.

This program will air on good old-fashioned TV (for those who use it). It will also stream tonight at 8 pm on the Twitter feed and Facebook page of The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

We thank The Agenda with Steve Paikin for again focusing attention on our accessibility campaign. Topics addressed in this interview include such things as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, the additional barriers and hardships facing people with disabilities during this crisis in our health care and education systems, the troubling March 28, 2020 provincial medical triage protocol that the Ford Government has failed to categorically rescind and replace, and the pressing need for the Ford Government to quickly create a comprehensive plan to address the urgent needs of people with disabilities as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning. We wish to especially commend The Agenda and Steve Paikin for its and his unremitting journalistic integrity, exemplified by affording us a fair and open opportunity in this interview to speak to accessibility concerns with TVO’s online educational resources.

We encourage you to:

* Spread the word to your friends and family and encourage them to watch this interview.

* Spread the word far and wide about this interview on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. You might wish to retweet the tweets that we will be circulating on this topic. Follow us on Twitter: @aodaalliance. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/AODAAlliance/

* Urge your member of the Ontario Legislature to watch this interview.

Typically, within a day or two after TVO airs this program, it gets posted on Youtube. Good captioning usually gets added then or a short time thereafter. When this gets posted on Youtube, we will share that link in an AODA Alliance Update and on social media for you to use and share with others.

* Urge your local media to cover this issue too. Bring them stories about specific additional hardships that people with disabilities are shouldering during the COVID-19 crisis. Invite them to reach out to us at the AODA Alliance for a comment on the need for the Ford Government to effectively plan to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning.

 2. Two Glimmers of Some Preliminary Progress on the Education Front

If you have not already watched it, join the hundreds of others who have already watched our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis while schools are closed and learning has moved online. We have asked the Ford Government to post a link to that event on its “Learn at Home” website, and to circulate it to all school boards. We await word on what the Government has done or will do to share this important resource with frontline teachers and parents who are trying to cope with the additional disability barriers that students with disabilities face due to the move to online schooling.

Eight weeks into this COVID-19 crisis, here are glimmers of some preliminary progress: First, in yesterday’s May 7, 2020 AODA Alliance Update, we reported to you on our efforts to get TVO to fix the accessibility problems with its online educational content for K-12 students. This is especially important, since the Ford Government points to TVO as its partner in delivering online education during the COVID-19 crisis.

Within hours of writing TVO again about this yesterday, we received a response from TVO’s vice president of digital content, inviting a conversation with us. We are taking TVO up on this offer and will keep you posted.

Second, we are pleased to let you know that the Ford Government has resumed the work of at least some Standards Development Committees. On May 5 and 6, 2020, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee held productive online virtual meetings. As part of this, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho, as well as three of the relevant Parliamentary Assistants, took part in a one-hour portion of the May 6, 2020 meeting of that AODA Standards Development Committee.

Committee members were given time to share information on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on students with disabilities and to recommend needed actions. Given the time available, a five-minute time limit was understandably set for each speaker.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, as a member of that committee, had five minutes to speak. He emphasized that the Ministry of Education has left it to each school board to reinvent the wheel, figuring out how to serve their students with disabilities. That is extremely inefficient and wasteful. He emphasized the need instead for a provincial plan to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities. He urged the Government to organize more virtual town halls like we and the Ontario Autism Coalition did on May 4, 2020, to gather good ideas from the frontline teachers and parents, and to share them across all school boards. He reiterated our repeated offers to help the Government. He asked Education Minister Lecce for a chance for the two to speak. Minister Lecce said he was open to a dialogue with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.

We commend the Government for arranging that Standards Development Committee meeting. We have been pressing for it since as far back as March 25, 2020, when we wrote the Premier.

Third, we are encouraged by the fact that the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee has now set up a sub-committee to address the issue of COVID-19 and the education system. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky will be a member of that sub-committee. We wish that this had happened much sooner, given that it was fully eight weeks ago that the Ford Government announced school closures.

Finally, in the wake of these events, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has had some exchanges with the Deputy Minister of Education and will be following up on this to press our concerns. For more background, check out:

* The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

* The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

 3. Two More Important Media Reports on COVID-19 and People with Disabilities

We set out below two recent news media reports that address the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, namely:

* A May 6, 2020 report on the Global News website by reporter Emerald Bensadoun on a range of hardships falling on people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. In this article, the Ministry of Education is quoted as giving this response to our concerns about the lack of an effective provincial plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis:

“When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.

‘The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,’ they said.”

We respond as follows: A cursory review of the online resources that the Ford Government has shared for learning at home reveals a range of accessibility problems. We question how carefully the Government ever checked these for accessibility. The Government’s obligation is not only to obey the weaker AODA accessibility standards but the stronger accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is good that the Minister of Education earlier Consulted his Minister’s Advisory Committee on Special Education, but that committee has had a substantial number of vacancies. There is no indication what advice the Government received from that committee or to what extent, if any, the Government acted on that advice.

* A May 7, 2020 Canadian Press article by reporter Michelle McQuigge, appearing on the CityTV News website. In the face of reported serious problems for patients in hospital with communication disabilities, the article reported in part as follows, as a response from the Ford Government:

“The Ontario Ministry of Health confirmed it can only issue guidance to hospitals, which are described as corporations with autonomy to set their own policies.

Current directives from provincial public health officials urge health-care providers to limit visitors to just four narrow categories, none of which address the communication needs of disabled patients.

But a spokeswoman said the ministry will be ‘reviewing the current directives and guidance that have been issued to the health system’ as the province continues to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak.”

We comment that the provincial government has lead responsibility here. The Health Ministry suggests its hands are somewhat tied in what it can direct Ontario hospitals to do. This disregards the reality of what is going on during the COVID-19 crisis. The Ontario Government has ample capacity to direct hospitals and is doing this right now with other facets of the COVID-19 crisis. It is wrong for the Ford Government’s Health Ministry to selectively duck its responsibility when it comes to the vital needs of highly vulnerable hospital patients with communication disabilities.

 4. The Ford Government’s Foot-Dragging Continues

There have now been a disturbing 463 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 44 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

 Global News Online May 6, 2020

Originally posted at https://globalnews.ca/news/6906216/coronavirus-canadians-disabilities/

‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities – National

BY EMERALD BENSADOUN- GLOBAL NEWS

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home. Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and can’t see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.” Disability advocates say B.C.’s woman’s death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said she’s been less physically active than usual.

“It’s been really making me tight, really making me feel like I’m fighting with my body,” she said. “I can’t just get up and walk. I need help.”

But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact. “The biggest thing for me is support,” she said.

“I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, it’s great but it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face.”

One in four Canadians — about 25 per cent of the population — has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.

David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.

A person who is deaf wouldn’t hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who can’t see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive. Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to

COVID-19 measures that offer little support the country’s disabled.

“It’s because of their disability and it’s because no one planned for them in the emergency,” he said.

Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well. He said comparable problems arise in Ontario’s virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isn’t user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky. Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind.

When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.

“The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,” they said.

March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19 that people with disabilities were facing “significant” challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.

“Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they need to be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time,” he said.

Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others. But since the pandemic started, he said they’ve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.

Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.

The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on “real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities.” Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken.

But some advocates don’t think that’s enough.

Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage

of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services. This is due to a lot of factors, she said — because there’s a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because it’s too dangerous. For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means they’re often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.

“A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that,” she said.

Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because they’re unable to work.

The money “doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said. When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities — many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line — end up barely scraping by. “We’re not all equal under COVID-19,” she said. “We need to be looking at… who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that they’re supported in what they’re doing both financially but also mentally, because it’s really hard work to support people who were left alone.”

 City TV News Online May 7, 2020

Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/05/07/pandemic-highlights-existing-barriers-for-those-with-communication-disabilities/

Pandemic highlights existing barriers for those with communication disabilities

BY MICHELLE MCQUIGGE, THE CANADIAN PRESS

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-standing barriers preventing Canadians with communication disabilities from fully accessing the health-care system, according to advocates across the country who are calling for governments to address the issue.

Organizations and individuals point to recent cases in which disabled patients were denied access to crucial communication supports while in hospital, leaving them unable to interact with loved ones or medical professionals.

They say the two incidents — one of which involved the death of a 40-year-old woman — highlight the inconsistent approach to such issues in hospitals across Canada and should prompt governments to set uniform standards to protect disabled patients.

Heidi Janz, an Edmonton-based professor at the University of Alberta who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said the precautions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 have exacerbated the struggles people relying on alternative means of communication face on a daily basis.

“It terrifies me — on an advocacy level, but also on a personal level,” Janz said in an interview conducted with the support of an aide who echoed her words. “I have experience with the kind of inability to communicate with a medical team and the fear that comes with that.”

The two recent cases, which Janz said hint at “a disaster waiting to happen,” played out in different parts of the country and involved patients who were hospitalized for reasons not related to COVID-19.

The family members of both patients either could not be reached or did not respond to request for comment, but advocacy groups familiar with the cases note the similarities.

In one instance, a 40-year-old woman in British Columbia with cerebral palsy died alone in hospital last month. Pandemic-protection policies at the facility barred support workers who usually assisted her in communicating from entering the premises.

In another case, a Toronto man who used an iPad to stay in touch with his relatives saw his use of the device unexpectedly limited to one hour a day. Multiple local media reports cited hospital officials alleging the iPad could be used as a surveillance tool.

Janz and other Canadians with communication disabilities said these cases are horrifying but not surprising.

Janz said she refuses to go to an emergency room without someone there to help her convey her wishes to medical staff, noting health-care workers often make assumptions about her capacity to weigh in on her own care based on her disability.

Anne Borden, co-founder of the autism self-advocacy organization Autistics for Autistics, said people who rely on communication devices face similar barriers.

Medical staff are not always aware of the need to recognize augmentative and alternative communication — tools that supplement or take the place of speech. She said non-verbal patients frequently have their need for assistive technology questioned or ignored, or watch in frustration as medical staff address remarks to a support person rather than directly to the patient.

The issues are compounded, she said, for those living in poverty and without access to technology and other supports.

Both Janz and Borden feel Canadian governments should emulate the state of California, which recently broadened its restricted list of visitors allowed inside during the pandemic to include support people for patients with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Communication is a human right,” Borden said. “What we want is an acknowledgment that that is also true for disabled people, and it should be across the board.”

Advocates said there are currently no uniform standards to follow in Canada, leaving hospitals free to develop their own policies.

Barbara Collier, executive director of Communication Disabilities Access Canada, said that has to change. She said health-care facilities across the country should be given direction on everything from establishing a patient’s communication needs during intake to policies around support workers, adding these long-standing gaps take on additional urgency as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.

“This should have been in place years ago,” she said.

The federal ministry responsible for disability inclusion did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The Public Health Agency of Canada released a document on Thursday addressing various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and their impact on disabled Canadians. It said health-care providers should be “ensuring that restrictions account for people with disabilities’ needs and allow essential support staff, sighted guides, interpreters and/or family members to be with them.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health confirmed it can only issue guidance to hospitals, which are described as corporations with autonomy to set their own policies.

Current directives from provincial public health officials urge health-care providers to limit visitors to just four narrow categories, none of which address the communication needs of disabled patients.

But a spokeswoman said the ministry will be “reviewing the current directives and guidance that have been issued to the health system” as the province continues to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak.





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The AODA Alliance Calls on TVO to Take Prompt Action to Fix its Educational Web Content’s Accessibility Problems – and Other COVID Disability News


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

The AODA Alliance Calls on TVO to Take Prompt Action to Fix its Educational Web Content’s Accessibility Problems – and Other COVID Disability News

May 7, 2020

          SUMMARY

As part of its emergency plans for supporting K-12 students while schools are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Ford Government announced that it has partnered with TVO, the Government-owned educational TV network. However, the AODA Alliance has revealed that there are accessibility problems with some of TVO’s educational web content. These hurt students, teachers and parents with disabilities who need accessible web content. We have called on TVO to fix this and to let us know about its plans for this.

On April 27, 2020, the AODA Alliance sent an email to TVO asking some basic questions about its efforts to ensure the accessibility of its educational web content. We set out that email below.

TVO answered us on May 5, 2020, after we had raised concerns about this issue in our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall event, in media interviews, and on social media. Below we set out the May 5, 2020 email we received from TVO’s digital content vice president.

We have serious concerns with TVO’s response. We described our concerns in our May 7, 2020 email to TVO’s digital content vice president, which we also set out below. We therefore ask TVO for clear answers to several specific and important questions and urge TVO to dig into this issue and get it fixed.

We also set out below an excellent news article about our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall. It appeared in the May 5, 2020 edition of QP Briefing. QP Briefing is an influential publication about key issues and events at Queen’s Park.

Please encourage teachers, parents, school board staff and anyone else you can to watch the archived video of the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition organized. It shares practical tips on how to meet the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Post the link on your Facebook page, on Twitter and on any other social media you use! It is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phdtibf5DbM

We are delighted that in under three days, our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall has already gotten over 800 views! We have asked the Ministry of Education to circulate this link to school boards and to post it on the Government’s Learn at Home website that shares useful resources for teachers and parents while students must learn at home due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Send us your feedback. Write us at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

 April 27, 2020 Email from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to TVO

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

Email:

[email protected] Visit:

www.aodalliance.org Twitter: @aodaalliance

April 27, 2020

To: TVO Ontario

Via email: [email protected]

The Ontario Government has announced that it has partnered with TVO to provide resources to parents and teachers of school-age children who have to undertake distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Resources for parents and teachers is available at https://openhouse.ilc.org/

It is vital that this educational content is fully accessible to all students with disabilities. This is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis, when students must rely on remote learning.

TVO is an emanation of the Ontario Government. The Ontario Government has said that it is leading by example on accessibility for people with disabilities and is taking an “all of government” approach to accessibility. Over one third of a million students in Ontario are students with special education needs and the vast majority of them have disabilities. As many as one of every six students in Ontario-funded schools have disabilities.

We would like to know if TVO considers all its online courses to be fully accessible to students with disabilities ? This does not simply mean that they comply with accessibility standards enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . Those standards in a number of ways fall short of what is required by the Ontario Human Rights Code, which guarantees equality without discrimination based on disability in areas like education. For example, the 2011 AODA Information and Communication Accessibility Standard does not effectively address accessibility based on technological developments in the past decade.

What has TVO done to ensure that these online courses are all fully accessible to students, parents and teachers with disabilities? Could you please let us know which of these courses and other online learning resources have captioning for parents, teachers or students with hearing loss, and which have audio description of their visual content for parents, teachers or students with vision loss. For parents, teachers and students with vision loss, reading a program’s transcript (even with description of visual features) is not the same as or as good as watching a program with audio description.

During the COVID-19 crisis, teachers, students and parents are now struggling to find online teaching resources that are accessible to students with disabilities. Can you let us know where on your website a parent, teacher or student can go to quickly ascertain which TVO website content (such as these online courses) is available with captioning and/or audio description, and/or with other accessibility features? For example, we cannot find a link enabling a teacher, parent or student easily search to ascertain which of the TVO online courses have full accessibility, and which, for example, include full captioning and audio description.

Does TVO make available over-the-phone or online help from someone with knowledge about accessibility, for teachers, parents or students with disabilities who need help ensuring that they can use the educational content that TVO offers online? If so, how do they obtain this help? Finally, can you let us know who has lead responsibility and authority for ensuring the full accessibility of TVO educational and programming content, and what process is in place ensure its accessibility. Given the urgency of the situation facing students, parents and teachers with disabilities, we would very much appreciate an answer to our inquiry as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

May 5, 2020 Letter to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky from Rashmi Swarup, TVO Vice President Digital Learning

Hi David,

Your note was forwarded to me by our customer service department. Thank you for reaching out, and my apologies for the delay in responding.

I appreciate you contacting us with your questions and to share your thoughts, particularly as we continue to evolve our digital learning resources and content to make them even more accessible for Ontarians.

TVO prides itself in being able to meet a wide variety of the educational needs Ontarians have, and we take care to ensure our approach and policy reflects this objective. We are continuously working to improve the accessibility of our content and resources.

Our videos on tvo.org, tvokids.com and in most of our ILC courses have closed captioning and described video or a DV text alternative (although in some cases where the program is an acquisition there may be a delay in posting the closed captioning and descriptive video while these elements are being created).

While YouTube does not support descriptive video audio or text, we do ensure that captions are present on all of our YouTube channels.

Our TVO ILC courses, including courses accessed through ILC Open House, have been created to meet the accessibility needs of students according to the AODA, and we ensure the course content supports both PC and Mac operating systems as well as a variety of screen readers.

Many of our newer courses offer the ability to choose from a variety of content formats (e.g video and/or article options for study) and assignment options to better cater to individual student needs. As we continue to evolve and update our courses, we are increasingly offering students the ability to choose from a variety of formats. We also ensure that there are transcripts for all of the audio in our TVO ILC courses.

We are proud to offer students completing courses through TVO ILC access to subject-specific academic support through academic advisors and to guidance counsellors who can support individual needs, all of whom are Ontario Certified Teachers.

While I appreciate that our efforts to make our content accessible to as many Ontarians as we can may not meet the level you would propose, please know that we continue to strive for improved accessibility of our digital learning resources for Ontarians.

Thank you again for your letter and feedback. If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.

Sincerely,

Rashmi Swarup

Vice President Digital Learning

647.203.0979

Help make the world a better place through the power of learning.

Donate today.

May 7, 2020 Email from the AODA Alliance to the Vice President of TVO

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

Email: [email protected]

Visit: www.aodalliance.org

Twitter: @aodaalliance

May 7, 2020

To: Rashmi Swarup

Vice President Digital Learning

Via email: [email protected]

Thank you for your May 5, 2020 email that responds to our April 27, 2020 email and for your invitation to reach out to you if we have any further questions. We do. Our April 27, 2020 email inquired into the accessibility of TVO online learning content to students, teachers and parents with disabilities who need adaptive technology to use a computer.

We have serious concerns about accessibility problems with TVO’s educational online content for students, teachers and parents and about your May 5, 2020 answers to our inquiries. We seek your leadership as TVO’s digital content vice president to get these problems promptly solved.

We ask what TVO will do now to quickly address serious accessibility problems with its online content, given your web content’s increased importance for K-12 education during the COVID-19 crisis. The Ontario Government publicly emphasized that it partnered with TVO to provide online educational content for K-12 students during the COVID-19 crisis. The Government’s “Learn at Home” website, a central hub of the Government’s offerings for parents, teachers and students, points to TVO web pages and resources, among other things.

Yet a rudimentary check of some of TVO’s educational online content quickly revealed significant and obvious accessibility problems. We don’t say that TVO has done nothing about online accessibility or has included no accessibility features at all. Where accessibility features are included, we commend this.

However, what TVO has done on the web accessibility front falls far short of what students, teachers and parents with disabilities need to effectively use TVO’s educational offerings. Among the various people with disabilities that these online barriers can hurt are people with vision loss, people with reading disabilities such as dyslexia, and people who need to use alternative technology instead of a keyboard and mouse to interact with a computer.

In the limited time we had available, just a few examples of these accessibility problems were described at the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on the impact of the COVID-19-19 crisis on students with disabilities organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. We invite you and all TVO’s digital content staff and contributors to watch that virtual Town Hall.

Our Town Hall’s guest speaker on this topic, Ms. Karen McCall, has expertise in digital content accessibility. She explained that it took her very little time to discover these accessibility problems. If Ms. McCall could find those problems so quickly, it should have been easy for TVO or the Ministry of Education to do the same. Given the problems found in this limited review, it is our experience that one could expect an extensive audit to reveal additional problems.

Your email suggests that you believe that TVO’s educational web content complies with AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) requirements. The deficiencies that we discovered with TVO’s educational web content call that into question. In any event, as our April 27, 2020 email to you explained, TVO and the Ontario Government must obey the typically-stronger accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code. It cannot simply fall back on the weaker AODA accessibility standards on point, passed nine years ago, as if those were the only accessibility laws that govern here. Moreover, as an Ontario Government-owned public education network, we hope and trust that TVO knows that a Government-appointed Standards Development Committee has been reviewing those accessibility standards for some 2-3 years. Last year it circulated draft recommendations that would call for the 2011 AODA Information and Communication Accessibility Standard to be strengthened and modernized. For more background on the need to strengthen the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, visit our accessible information and communication web page.

In light of our preliminary check of TVO’s educational web content, we are troubled by your May 5, 2020 email. It appears that you may not be fully aware of the extent of the problem. You wrote in part:

“While I appreciate that our efforts to make our content accessible to as many Ontarians as we can may not meet the level you would propose, please know that we continue to strive for improved accessibility of our digital learning resources for Ontarians.”

We are also quite concerned that you, TVO’s vice president of digital content, said in your email that it is your understanding that Youtube cannot support audio description for Youtube video content. You wrote:

“While YouTube does not support descriptive video audio or text, we do ensure that captions are present on all of our YouTube channels.”

This statement about including audio description in videos to be posted on Youtube is incorrect. It is quite possible to post content on Youtube that has been created with audio description included. Moreover, after reading your email, it took about 30 seconds and one Google search to find a link to online resources on how to add audio description to a Youtube video. We invite you to do a Google search on the terms “Youtube” and “audio description.”

In our April 27, 2020 email, we asked you if TVO makes available over-the-phone or online help from someone with knowledge about accessibility for teachers, parents or students with disabilities who need help using TVO’s online educational content. We also asked how they can get this help.” You responded:

“We are proud to offer students completing courses through TVO ILC access to subject-specific academic support through academic advisors and to guidance counsellors who can support individual needs, all of whom are Ontario Certified Teachers.”

Can you please let us know how many of these TVO advisors are trained and equipped to assist students, teachers or parents with disabilities if they encounter accessibility problems with your online content, where on your website it might indicate that such accessibility help is available, and how someone can reach a TVO person with that accessibility expertise?

As well, in our April 27, 2020 email we asked you the following:

“Can you let us know where on your website a parent, teacher or student can go to quickly ascertain which TVO website content (such as these online courses) is available with captioning and/or audio description and/or with other accessibility features?”

Your May 5, 2020 email did not answer this inquiry. We could not find this information on TVO’s website. A teacher, looking for audio-described content, would need such information to be able to readily discover what audio-described choices they have among your offerings. We would note that in contrast, Netflix enables a viewer to browse its audio-described content.

Finally, you wrote:

“We are continuously working to improve the accessibility of our content and resources.”

Our April 27, 2020 email asked who has lead responsibility and authority at TVO for ensuring the full accessibility of TVO educational and programming content and what process is in place to ensure its accessibility. Your May 5, 2020 email did not answer this question. We are eager to know who has this responsibility, what staff is allocated to this, and what plans you have in place for the accessibility improvement work that you described as “continuous.”

Given the urgency of these concerns to students, teachers and parents with disabilities who need accessible web content especially now during the COVID-19 crisis, we would welcome your prompt action and response.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC

Premier Doug Ford

[email protected]

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education,

[email protected]

Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education

[email protected]

Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branch

[email protected]

Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

[email protected]

Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission

[email protected]

 QP Briefing May 5, 2020

Some Ontario e-learning doesn’t work for students with disabilities

Jack Hauen

The Ford government’s at-home learning tools require some changes to be fully accessible to students with disabilities, advocates say.

Some TVO and ministry course content isn’t accessible to people with low vision, said Karen McCall, a professor who teaches about accessible media at Mohawk College and owns an accessible design firm. She was one of several experts who spoke at a virtual town hall hosted on Monday by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a member of the province’s K-12 AODA standards committee, and Ontario Autism Coalition President Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a high school teacher.

None of the stories in the “math storytime” section worked for McCall, who has low vision herself and uses a screen reader. She couldn’t find any homework in the “homework zone.”

Teachers did a good job of describing what was going on in the videos she watched, until they didn’t, she said. For instance, one math teacher didn’t read out the main formula students were to use.

“She said this formula equates to one quarter, but if I’m a student who’s trying to learn this, I have no idea what equates to one quarter,” McCall said.

Another gap came during a science class. “Everything was fine, everything was explained, until the teacher said, ‘Watch what happens,’ and then did not describe what was happening,” she said.

But the biggest problems came with the ministry of education’s own course preview site, McCall said, where her screen reader couldn’t make heads or tails of what it said.

“If they’re going to rely on this kind of content, they’ve got to make sure it’s properly accessible,” Lepofsky said of the provincial government.

Kirby-McIntosh noted that Zoom is the most accessible streaming service, but some school boards have banned teachers from using it. More top-down direction is needed to avoid these types of errors, she said.

Other experts during the town hall provided tips for educators and parents such as making sure videos were the highest quality possible, so kids with hearing loss can better lip read; and sticking to routines as much as possible, which helps many kids on the autism spectrum.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has held two meetings with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education (MACSE) during the pandemic, and is also consulting the K-12 standards development committee that Lepofsky sits on, said ministry of education spokesperson Ingrid Anderson.

Lepofsky confirmed that he’ll be speaking with Lecce on Wednesday.

“TVO has been working to make all their online content and resources accessible and compliant to AODA regulations. The Ministry will continue to work with the Agency to consider ways to enhance accessibility beyond the AODA requirements,” Anderson said in a statement. “School boards remain independently accountable for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.”

The minister’s advisory committee is “no substitute for consulting extensive grassroots disability community participation that is needed,” the AODA Alliance wrote in an April 29 letter to Lecce. A number of positions on the committee remain vacant, the group said. “Also, MACSE is designed to focus on ‘special education’ which is not addressed to students with all kinds of disabilities, due to the Government’s unduly narrow definition of special education students.”

The town hall’s last guest was Jeff Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of student support and field services in the ministry of education. He pointed to actions the ministry has taken already, like directing school boards to consult with their special education committees and honour individual education plans; as well as working with boards to distribute assistive technology that usually lives in schools to families.

The ministry has also hosted a series of webinars for teachers to learn about special education during the pandemic. About 500 educators have attended them so far, and more are planned, he said.

Responding to McCall’s feedback about sites not working with screen readers, he said: “I absolutely am listening on that and will take that input back. It is important to us that those resources that are there are accessible for students with disabilities and students with special needs.”

He promised to continue to engage with experts, saying that their input has been “incredibly valuable.”

It’s critical for the government to carry these lessons through to when schools eventually re-open, Lepofsky said.

For instance, some students won’t be able to socially distance or wear masks due to their disabilities, if they require a close by aide or are hypersensitive to touch. “We can’t tell those kids, ‘Oh, sorry kid, you stay home, everybody else is going back to school.’”

A “surge” in education hours will be needed for some kids with disabilities, who will have fallen further behind some of their peers, Lepofsky said, giving the example of kids learning to read braille who require hand-over-hand instruction that’s impossible to conduct online.

“This is really something we can’t leave to every single school board again to try to reinvent the same wheel,” he said, calling for the provincial government to “take on leadership here.”

Kirby-McIntosh ended the stream with a message for Lecce: don’t just assemble a “spiffy webpage with a blizzard of links,” but consult with experts and provide school boards with top-down direction on best practices.

“Please learn from this town hall,” she said, and gather ideas from the front-line people teaching kids with disabilities during the pandemic.

“The premier committed at the beginning of this crisis to protecting those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “Well, surely a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities are among those most vulnerable.”



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Even More Media Coverage of Disability COVID Issues — and – Pressing Need for the Ford Government to Ensure that Hospital Patients with Communication Disabilities Face No Barriers to Using Technology that Lets Them Effectively Communicate


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Even More Media Coverage of Disability COVID Issues — and – Pressing Need for the Ford Government to Ensure that Hospital Patients with Communication Disabilities Face No Barriers to Using Technology that Lets Them Effectively Communicate

May 6, 2020

SUMMARY

Here are three more important media reports that focus directly or indirectly on disability issues during the COVID-19 crisis. All are set out below.

The first is a good CBC Radio news report on the need for the City of Toronto to include the accessibility needs of people with disabilities if it starts erecting barriers and signs on or around sidewalks to channel pedestrian traffic and people in line for stores during COVID-19 social distancing. The second is an interview on the May 5, 2020 CBC Radio Toronto Metro Morning program. It focused on our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

The third story did not involve the AODA Alliance at all. We comment on important broad disability issues it raises.

Premier Ford has pledged to protect the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. There is a pressing need for the Ford Government to now publicly direct all hospitals and health care providers to ensure that they do not create any barriers that impede people with communication disabilities from being free to use the technology they need to be able to effectively communicate. In the middle of this COVID-19 crisis, patients with disabilities cannot wait for the months and months that it will take for the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard, now under development, to be enacted. They should not have to try to fight accessibility barriers one at a time under human rights laws.

A May 1, 2020 Toronto Sun article, set out below, reports that a Toronto area hospital is not allowing a patient with a significant communication disability to use his computer tablet while he is in hospital, except for one hour a day. He reportedly needs to use the tablet as a communication aid.

The family reportedly went to the media after they could not get the hospital to let him use the tablet when he wished. We do not have the capacity to investigate such situations, and cannot comment on the accuracy of the specific details in the Toronto Sun’s report.

This article raises very serious issues. It has very serious implications for patients with disabilities, if the facts set out in it are accurate. It further illustrates why the Ontario Government must immediately launch and implement an effective and comprehensive plan to ensure that the urgent needs of people with disabilities are met during the COVID-19 crisis, including patients with disabilities.

In the widely-watched April 7, 2020 first Virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and disability organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, Ms. Barbara Collier of Communication Disabilities Access Canada, a widely-respected expert on communication disabilities, emphasized the vital importance of ensuring that people with communication disabilities can effectively communicate, especially while they are in hospital. This builds on what the Supreme Court of Canada said in 1997 when it addressed the fundamental importance of hospitals accommodating the communication needs of deaf patients to effectively communicate while in hospital in Eldridge v. BC.

The Ontario Government has committed to develop a Health Care Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tear down barriers in our health care system facing patients with disabilities. The AODA Alliance’s February 25, 2020 Framework detailed what that Health Care Accessibility Standard should include. Among other things, it emphasized the importance of ensuring effective communication supports for people with communication disabilities including when they are in hospitals.

According to the Toronto Sun report, the hospital said that it was disallowing the use of the tablet “…because it was being used to conduct “surveillance” of his care.” Yet hospital patients and visitors routinely are free to use tablets, smart phones and laptop computers while in a hospital, without having to get anyone’s permission or approval. None are banned from using them for the reason that they could be used to conduct “surveillance” of a patient’s care.

The Toronto Sun reported that the hospital said the hospital staff have a reasonable expectation of privacy and should have a safe and secure working environment. It is hard to see what threat a patient with a severe and immobilizing disability would pose to the safety or security of hospital staff, with or without a tablet in hand.

We need the long-overdue strong Health Care Accessibility Standard more than ever, so that all patients can be free from discrimination because of disability. Hospitals have a duty to accommodate patients with disabilities. They can only refuse to do so if they can prove that accommodation of that patient would cause the hospital undue hardship.

During the COVID-19 crisis, when hospital visitors are restricted, this imposes special hardships on various patients with disabilities, including those with communication disabilities. At our April 7, 2020 virtual Town Hall event, Barbara Collier gave strategies that the Ontario Government should implement across Ontario to address such needs. Since then, no one from the Ministry of Health has tried to contact the AODA Alliance to follow up on those strategies or any other health-related COVID-19 issues.

For more background, check out the following:

* The May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition.

* The April 7, 2020 virtual Town Hall organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on more generally meeting the urgent needs of all people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

* The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

* The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

* The AODA Alliance’s health care web page, which documents our years of effort to get the Ontario Government to enact a strong and effective AODA Health Care Accessibility Standard.

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 460 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 41 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

MORE DETAILS

CBC News May 3, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/accessibility-curbto-program-disability-rights-david-lepofsky-1.5554034

City urged to think about people with disabilities in CurbTO plan to create space on sidewalks

With files from Kelda Yuen

An advocate is urging the City of Toronto to make sure its plan to ease sidewalk crowding takes into consideration the needs of people with disabilities amid COVID-19.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the new CurbTO program, in which the city will make room for pedestrians and delivery drivers through the creation of “curb lane pedestrian zones” and “temporary parking pickup zones,” is a good one. The alliance is a consumer advocacy group.

Through the program, the city is aiming to enable people on city sidewalks and drivers picking up and dropping goods off to engage in physical distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

But the program will actually make things worse for people with disabilities if city planners fail to think about accessibility for all people, Lepofsky told CBC Toronto on Sunday.

“The real question that I would ask is: What are they doing to ensure that, in altering this part of the built environment, that the alteration will increase and not decrease accessibility?

“In other words, the idea of creating more space for social distancing is obviously important and good. And the fact that they are looking at that is, regardless of disability, good.”

“If they don’t plan for its accessibility, they will likely screw up its accessibility. That’s what we find over and over. Accessibility doesn’t happen by accident. Inaccessibility happens by accident.”

Under the program, the city will make room at “hot spots” or “pinch points” where it is challenging for people to practise physical distancing because of lineups or congestion outside essential businesses.

These areas include sidewalks outside grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and community agencies that offer pickup, takeout and delivery services, the city has said.

The city said it will initially target hotspots along 10 busy retail main streets for curb lane installations before the program is expanded to more than 100 locations across Toronto.

Lepofsky said the program raises several issues around accessibility.

For example, if people in a lineup outside a drug store are rerouted onto a curb lane, then it would be difficult for a person using a mobility device, such as wheelchair, scooter or walker, to enter that fenced-off lineup because it would involve stepping down onto the road.

“If they build accessibility in by making sure that the route has level access to get down into the street and so on, that could be an improvement,” he said.

And if, as an additional example, the city sets up a sign outside a drug store indicating where pedestrians should line up, that sign itself could become an obstacle for people who are blind or who have vision loss.

“What kind of prompting will there be to let me know where to go to line up? If they stick a sign on the road or on the sidewalk, which they might want to do, they have now created a new obstacle I could whack into,” he said.

“What are they are going to do to plan for safe navigation?”

Mayor John Tory told reporters at a recent daily news briefing that staff will use signs and barriers to create additional space. ‘Each location will have unique conditions that will be assessed carefully by Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services staff to develop the most appropriate solution.’ (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

In its April 27 news release in which it unveiled the program, the city did not address these concerns. The city has yet to respond to questions posed by CBC Toronto.

“Each location will have unique conditions that will be assessed carefully by Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services staff to develop the most appropriate solution,” Tory said.

“In some cases, city staff may be able to suggest line-up configurations to the business operator that alleviates crowding concerns. In other cases, a temporary curb lane closure may be the most effective response.”

“Curb lane pedestrian zones” are defined as areas in which pedestrians trying to move past lineups outside essential businesses will have more space.

“Temporary parking pick-up zones” are defined as areas in which drivers delivering food and medicine will be allowed to park for up to 10 minutes near an essential business where they are picking up or dropping off goods.

These zones could be created in areas that are now restricted parking zones.

A downtown councillor, meanwhile, has enlisted the support of residents to propose locations that the city could fix when it expands the program.

Count. Joe Cressy, who represents Ward 10 Spading-Fort York, said he is recommending 18 new additional spaces in his ward for “immediate improvements” under the CurbTO program where room could be created to allow people to distance physically during the outbreak.

“Notwithstanding the overarching advice to, where possible, stay at home, we know that in many neighbourhoods, especially in downtown Toronto, there are immediate spaces where it’s not possible to walk on the sidewalk without coming into contact with lots of people,” Cressy said.

His office has worked with local residents, community organizations, businesses and institutions to identify where there are issues around crowding, he said.

“We know that in this dense, crowded city of ours, the overarching message to stay at home works for some, but depending on how busy and crowded the sidewalks are, it doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s why we’re proposing these changes.”

Cressy said to make streets safe and accessible for all requires a “fundamental” redesign of city streets.

He said of CurbTO: “We need to include an accessibility focus around that.”

CBC Radio 1 Metro Morning May 5, 2020

Note: the host conducting the interview was David Common.

Radio Host: So, learning from home as we’ve been discussing for weeks now can be really tough for any student, and certainly for many families. For students with disabilities, whether that’s physical, mental, or sensory, the disruptions to the school year have been especially hard, there hasn’t been much direction from school boards or for school boards, about working with special needs students during the pandemic. Well that’s why a group of concerned parents and Disability Advocates held a virtual Town Hall yesterday. The goal was to share ideas of what parents, teachers and school boards can do to help students with disabilities. David Lepofsky co hosted that session, he is chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. Lolly Herman teaches children with autism. She is a certified teacher and a behavior analyst who founded Under the Umbrella Tree educational services, she’s got three kids of her own. Both Lolly and David join us now. Good morning to both of you.

Guests: Good morning, David

Radio Host: I like to start with you, David, and just ask you about this virtual Town Hall you hosted yesterday. What was your goal?

David Lepofsky: Well we’ve got upwards of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools, and their teachers, their parents, and the kids are facing enormous additional barriers of hardships because of the move to online learning. And we wanted to get ideas, action tips, practical action tips to the frontline teachers and parents. There are teachers and parents who can innovate and come up with creative ideas, but the province, the provincial government has dropped the ball by not reaching out to those frontline folks, finding out what they’ve innovated and sharing them to all school boards around the province so everybody can benefit from them. We came up with the idea of our virtual Town Hall, to try to fill the gap and frankly to embarrass the province, into doing its job by picking up where we left off, and continuing that process.

Radio Host: Do you feel like in the rush to get some sort of distance learning program out that students with disabilities were simply left behind?

David Lepofsky: Well, unfortunately our Ministry of Education or provincial government tend to operate our education system first and foremost on the idea that it’s for kids without disabilities, then kids with disabilities become kind of an afterthought. Oh, what do we do for them? kind of thing. We recognize that the province had an enormous challenge, as did the school boards, moving to onsite online learning and we got to cut them some slack but we’ve now been into this for weeks. And yesterday we revealed, very serious issues. There are grassroots strategies for fixing it but the province has to step up to the plate. Let me give you one example, the provinces announced that TVO Ontario is its major partner in helping deliver online education. Well, one of our speakers yesterday, an expert in digital accessibility, found out within minutes of checking out the online resources that TV Ontario has posted, that they have significant accessibility problems for students or teachers or parents with various disabilities who have to use adaptive technology to interact with those kind of websites.

Radio host: I just want to bring Lolly into the conversation because she teaches children with autism and I wonder Lolly, what are some specific examples of how kids with autism and their parents are struggling right now?

Lolly Herman: Yeah. So, when we made the decision to close our clinic and move to online services I really worried about what our families would do without the therapies and intensive intervention that they had been receiving prior to this outbreak. And so, sort of not offering services not an option, going online and transferring our therapy and all our services online was certainly scary but it needed to be done. And I’m proud to say that we are in our eighth week of telehealth services, and it is going very well. Families help children with disabilities as specifically, the ones I work with, many of them have a diagnosis of autism, are struggling with not only changes in sleep patterns, an increase in, well, some of my kids when they can’t express themselves, when they can’t for what they need, sometimes they act out, and the ways that they act can be to hurt themselves or to hurt their parents, or to refuse eating the few foods that they were eating prior to this pandemic. A change in routine can be devastating and is often devastating to these children and their families going you know not having the child go to bed till 3 or 4 am every night is quite difficult. And so knowing that our kiddos thrive on routine, we did everything we could to get online and continue to support our families. I can say that, like, all of us I’m a mom of three. And, you know, getting online was not so fun for me and my three kids, three kids in the TDSB and all three of their, their online learning looks different. So it took a little bit of time to set that up. But for our families, you know, a lot of them just sort of wanted to wait this out hoping it wasn’t going to take so long saying you know we’re just goanna wait to get back to the clinic. And my response to that was okay, but I really want to make sure that your kids know that we’re still here, you know, give me a few minutes. Let me see them. Let’s just FaceTime, you know, let’s use our chosen method or virtual platform. Let’s get online and I think that parents, when they saw how their child connected to their therapists to their teacher, to myself I immediately felt comfort. I know myself as director, when I made the decision to close down, I felt like I, you know, had put all the weight on my shoulders and it was a massive decision. The moment I got online and saw my colleagues I immediately felt a sense of relief. There’s something special in these times where we are all social distancing and self isolating, to get online and to see the people that you see every day the people that care for you, the people that love you, the people that teach you, and you feel part of something positive. And so I think that one of the greatest strides we’ve made aside from moving our curriculum and online is by making the massive push to make sure that everything we do for our kids for our families for our staff are face to face. I mean we’ve started doing Wednesday PJ and story night for my kids and myself we get into our pajamas and our families log on and I read our clients stories, right before bed, you know we have morning coffee with me with just our parents in the morning. So we have time to connect. I think that anything that we can do to bring our community and keep our community together and engaged makes us all feel like this isn’t the new norm, we will get back to where we need to be and the more that we can keep our children, engaged and retained and being, you know, engaged with their teaching team, the better off we will be when we get back out into society and continue working with our kids.

Radio Host: Certainly I understand what you say, particularly around the importance of routine and the consequences without it. David, I know you have written to the Education Minister Stephen Lecce. What do you need the province to do now to better support students with disabilities?

David Lepofsky: Well the province has basically left it to over 70 school boards, to principals and teachers, to each have to figure these things out on their own. What we did yesterday was we brought together five experts like Lolly to give practical tips, addressing certain disabilities. We couldn’t address them all.

Radio Host: We’ve only got about a minute, David, so if you could give me some of those tips that would be helpful.

David Lepofsky: So for example if you’re going to use an online platform, you need an accessible platform for students and parents and teachers with disabilities. Zoom is by far the most accessible platform yet some school boards are either not promoting it, or in fact are refusing to allow it. That’s ridiculous. We are getting tips on. Sorry, just one other tip, Lolly gave a pile of them in the millions, you folks will have a link on your website. We invite your listeners to go and watch the different action tips we gave in the areas of educating kids with blindness or kids who are deaf or kids with autism or kids with behavior issues. One of the great ideas was setting up an area in your house that’s going to be the learning area it’s kind of a school at home, so kids who have behavior issues need to learn to focus, have one area that they could orient themselves to. That’s the learning area, very practical things that people find are working but we need the province to reach out directly to grassroots teachers on the frontlines and parents, collect their ideas. Don’t create a website that’s just a blizzard of a million links leaving it to everyone to have to click on a million links to find a good idea. Come up with really nicely packaged lists of action tips and share them with families, share them with teachers. That’s what we started doing yesterday and we invited the province to pick up, take it over and do it themselves, we will help them.

David and Lolly unfortunately we’re goanna have to leave it there but thanks very much for raising what is very clearly an important issue for a great many. Thanks a lot.

Guests: Thanks so much

Radio Host: That’s Lolly Herman who works with children with autism, she’s a behavior analyst and founder of Under the Umbrella Tree Educational Services, a parent herself. And David Lepofsky is Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance.

Toronto Sun May 1, 2020

Originally posted at https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/levy-hospital-bans-disabled-patient-from-using-ipad-calling-it-surveillance-tool

LEVY: Hospital bans disabled patient from using iPad calling it ‘surveillance tool’

Sue-Ann Levy

Tommy Jutcovich, 69, is bedridden in Toronto Grace hospital but staff are no longer allowing him to use his iPad — his lifeline to the outside world during the COVID-19 pandemic — because it considered a “surveillance tool.” Supplied photo

Tommy Jutcovich is bedridden in Toronto Grace hospital — unable to walk, talk, eat or use his hands — and his only lifeline to the outside world was taken away from him.

The 69-year-old much beloved retired Toronto District School board principal was diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy eight years ago — a rare disease that presents similar to ALS — and is only able to communicate by either blinking one eye or through his computer tablet.

But his daughter, Adalia Schweitzer, said Friday that his tablet has literally been shut off by hospital staff over allegations it is being used to conduct “surveillance” of his care and is not providing a “safe and secure environment” for the nurses and other employees who service his needs.

After spending four months in the ICU at North York General Hospital, she said her dad was transferred to Toronto Grace a week ago — against the wishes of the family — to make room at NYGH for COVID-19 patients.

When her mom was no longer able to be by his side at NYGH due to the escalating pandemic, they came up with the idea of the tablet.

Through an app, her mom was able to program the tablet from home to assist with his daily readings from the Torah, allow him to watch the news and listen to podcasts.

They’d also do daily video conferencing with all members of the family, who live in different countries and time zones.

NYGH had no problem with his use of the tablet, Schweitzer said.

She said her father was admitted with his tablet on Thursday and he was using it until the patient care manager informed the family three days later that it was an “issue of privacy” and he would only be permitted to access his tablet one hour a day — at a time acceptable to hospital staff and subject to their availability.

Schweitzer feels because he was in a new hospital situation, the nurses didn’t “appreciate” that her mom was trying to advocate for his care needs and advise them of his “very strict” medication schedule.

She said the other day, while he was doing his Torah prayers, a hospital staff member actually came in to his private room and “just shut it off.”

When the family tried to work out a compromise, lawyers got into the mix and Thursday night the family received a letter indicating the hospital does not permit monitors that “allow the continuous surveillance and recording of what is occurring within the hospital.”

The lawyer’s letter also stated that hospital employees have a “reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace” and the hospital must provide employees and professional staff with a “safe and secure work environment.”

Schweitzer said all staff have to do is put the tablet on “mute” or “turn it off” when they come in to his private room to take care of her father.

“No one’s stopping them from turning off his tablet or turning it around when they are doing his care,” she said. “They’re calling it a monitor … we’re calling it his lifeline.”

Lt.-Col. John Murray, board chair of Toronto Grace health centre, said in an e-mailed statement they are committed to “providing exceptional and compassionate care” but the Personal Health Information Protection Act prohibits the use of a monitor that can be “controlled remotely” from outside a public hospital.

When I suggested what they were doing is tantamount to elder abuse, Murray said “nothing could be further from the truth” and that they are doing “everything possible” to ensure loved ones remain connected to their families.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott’s spokesman Hayley Chazan said she’s not able to comment on the specifics because hospitals operate autonomously. However, she did say she expects Ontario hospitals to “act reasonably” to support patients during this unprecedented crisis.

Schweitzer said the entire family is “heartbroken.”

“My dad was always a passionate advocate for causes he believed in … and now he can’t speak up for himself,” she said. “(What the hospital is doing) is not acceptable.”



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Yesterday’s Virtual Town Hall Reveals Serious Hardships Facing Hundreds of Thousands of Ontario Students with Disabilities During COVID-19 Crisis and Makes Practical Recommendations for Urgent Action – But Will the Ford Government Do What’s Needed?


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

ONTARIO AUTISM COALITION

 

News Release   For Immediate Release

Yesterday’s Virtual Town Hall Reveals Serious Hardships Facing Hundreds of Thousands of Ontario Students with Disabilities During COVID-19 Crisis and Makes Practical Recommendations for Urgent Action — But Will the Ford Government Do What’s Needed?

May 5, 2020 Toronto: A ground-breaking virtual Town Hall held online yesterday afternoon revealed that a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario disproportionately suffer hardships due to the shift to distance education. (Video of the Town Hall is now archived on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phdtibf5DbM At this event, organized by grassroots disability advocates, experts gave teachers, principals and parents of students with disabilities dozens of practical tips for overcoming the many disability barriers that online schooling creates. Anchored by Ontario Autism Coalition president Laura Kirby-McIntosh (herself a teacher) and AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky (an Osgoode Hall Law School visiting professor), this virtual public forum shone a spotlight on the critical learning needs of at least one third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario (1 of every 6 students in Ontario-funded schools). The Town Hall addressed disability barriers such as:

  • The Ford Government partnered with TV Ontario to provide online school content, but TVO’s online content has substantial disability accessibility problems that impede a range of students, teachers and parents with disabilities. The Government must get its own TV station to fix this now.
  • Zoom is the most accessible online platform for students, parents and teachers with disabilities, such as those who have vision loss or dyslexia. However, the government left school boards floundering to figure out which to use, and at least one board doesn’t allow the use of Zoom at all.
  • Students with autism or other behaviour-related disabilities can face major challenges with the total disruption of predictable schedules on which they heavily relied.

“This grassroots effort was just a first step to fill a huge gap which the Ford Government has left. Time did not permit speakers to cover every disability and each recurring barrier that students with disabilities face during school closures,” said co-anchor David Lepofsky. “As volunteers, we pulled this Town Hall together in under a week. The Government should use its staff and resources to quickly hold sequel events to address other strategies and action tips we did not have time to cover.”

“It was wrong for the Ford Government to burden every school board during this crisis to have to reinvent the wheel for students with disabilities,” said co-anchor Laura Kirby-McIntosh. “The Ford Government should now step up to the plate. It should quickly find out what solutions are being devised by teachers and parents of students with disabilities on the front lines, and share these with all school boards and parents of students with disabilities during the COVID crisis.”

The Media are welcome to use excerpts from the virtual public forum in their coverage. Technical issues with captioning during the first few minutes will be repaired soon.

For further information, contact:

David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Laura Kirby-McIntosh President Ontario Autism Coalition [email protected]

416-315-7939 www.ontarioautismcoalition.com Twitter @OntAutism

Background Resources

The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

  • The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities
  • The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • The Ontario Autism Coalition‘s web site, to learn about its ongoing advocacy efforts.
  • The earlier widely-watched April 7, 2020 virtual public forum by the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition on the overall impact of the COVID-19 crisis on 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities.

Speakers at the April 7, 2020 Virtual Public Forum:

  1. Co-anchor: Laura Kirby-McIntosh, President, Ontario Autism Coalition and teacher
  2. Co-anchor: David Lepofsky, AODA Alliance chair and Osgoode Hall Law visiting professor
  3. York University Faculty of Education’s Professor Pamela Millet, an expert in meeting the learning needs of students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  4. Lolly Herman, founder and Executive Director of the Umbrella Tree Educational Services, an expert in meeting the learning needs of students with autism.
  5. Marty Schultz, cofounder of ObjectiveEd, which builds distance learning digital curriculum and educational games for pre-K to 12th grade students with vision impairments, used by teachers worldwide, an expert in education of students with vision loss.
  6. Lisa Glover, a TDSB itinerant Child and Youth Worker, is an expert in addressing behavioural challenges experienced by some students with disabilities .
  7. Karen McCall, Adjunct Faculty at Mohawk College’s Accessible Media Production Program and owner of Karlen Communications, an expert on making digital documents and other digital content accessible to people with disabilities.
  8. Jeff Butler, acting Assistant Deputy Minister of Student Support and Field Services at the Ontario Ministry of Education, the Ontario Government’s senior official responsible for special education.



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Ontario’s Ministry of Education Must Now Meet the Urgent Needs of A Third of a Million Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis – A Captioned Online Virtual Town Hall Today at 3 PM Lets Experts Give Practical Action Tips for Teachers and Parents While Schools Remain Closed


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Ontario’s Ministry of Education Must Now Meet the Urgent Needs of A Third of a Million Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis – A Captioned Online Virtual Town Hall Today at 3 PM Lets Experts Give Practical Action Tips for Teachers and Parents While Schools Remain Closed

May 4, 2020

Some hardships of COVID-19 fall disproportionately on students with disabilities. What can teachers, principals, parents, schools and the Ontario Government do to make sure Ontario’s students with disabilities can effectively continue their education at home while schools are closed? What can teachers and parents of students with disabilities do right now to break through the barriers that distance and online learning can create for students with disabilities?

We’ll tackle these questions today from 3 to 4 pm Eastern at a captioned Virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Log in to https://www.youtube.com/c/OntarioAutismCoalition

Nothing will stream at that link until the moment we start our Virtual Town Hall. If you click that link just before we start streaming, you may get our stream automatically coming to you we start, or you may have to monitor for a new link to click when we start. That will depend on your settings. Just keep at it till you start receiving our event. Within hours after this event, we will circulate a new link to this event once it is archived on Youtube and permanently available for all to revisit.

The rapid move to online learning for 2 million students in schools created enormous challenges for all students, teachers and parents. Much bigger hardships face a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities, if not more, and for their parents and teaching staff. These are at least one out of every six students in Ontario-funded schools.

Before COVID, Ontario’s education system had far too many disability barriers, impeding many students with disabilities. The move to online learning created even more hardships for them, and their teachers.

Our virtual Town Hall will help you, whether you are in Ontario, elsewhere in Canada, or anywhere around the world. It will be helpful for teachers, principals, parents, students, school boards and Government officials. This is the second such virtual town hall organized by the grassroots AODA Alliance together with the Ontario Autism Coalition. Our widely-viewed earlier April 7, 2020 virtual public forum looked at the full spectrum of COVID-19 crisis problems facing people with disabilities from health care to long-term care. At today’s event, we’re zeroing in on education for students with disabilities. Co-anchors for this event are AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School, and Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the OAC. Both have strong track records in tenacious disability advocacy for students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. Their discussion will be fueled by feedback accumulating over the past days via email and social media. The hashtag #DisabilityUrgent was created for disability issues in the COVID-19 crisis. Feedback can also be sent to [email protected]

The media is free to broadcast any clips from this town hall. We hope this virtual town hall will help pressure the Ford Government to take new action. We are delighted that its lead public official responsible for special education, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education Jeff Butler, has agreed to speak at this event. Five other experts will offer practical tips for teachers and parents of students with disabilities, for just some of the barriers they are now facing. We regret that in this one event, we cannot address every disability and every barrier. We call on the Ford Government to take up this idea and run with it, using our virtual Town Hall as an illustration of what is needed.

For more background:

The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

* The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

* The Ontario Autism Coalition‘s web site, to learn about its ongoing advocacy efforts.



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AODA Alliance Asks Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce to Take Important Actions to Meet the Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

AODA Alliance Asks Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce to Take Important Actions to Meet the Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

April 29, 2020

          SUMMARY

Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has been in the public spotlight a great deal speaking about the Ford Government’s plans to meet the needs of students during the COVID-19 crisis. But what is he and his Ministry planning to do for students with disabilities  during this crisis?

Today the AODA Alliance wrote Mr. Lecce. Our letter is set out below. We ask the Ford Government to take immediate action to address the urgent needs of students with disabilities in Ontario during this crisis. These students number up to a third of a million, if not more. We offer the Minister our help.

Meanwhile, as we announced last Friday, the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition are exploring the possibility of holding a Virtual Town Hall meeting next week to share ideas on what school boards, teachers and parents can do to help with the education of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We’re inviting the Ontario Government partner with us in this effort. Stay tuned for more news on this important issue.

To learn more, check out and widely share:

* The AODA Alliance’s efforts over the past decade to advocate for full accessibility and inclusion for students with disabilities in Ontario schools.

* The AODA Alliance’s efforts on the COVID-19 crisis are available on our COVID-19 web page. Our long-term efforts to make education in Ontario accessible to and inclusive for students with disabilities are available on our education web page.

* The efforts by the Ontario Autism Coalition can be found on its web page and its Facebook page.

* The guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky in the April 20, 2020 online Toronto Star, which summarizes our major COVID disability issues in one place.

* The widely viewed April 7, 2020 online Virtual Public Forum on what Government Must Do to Meet the Urgent Needs of People with Disabilities During the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s April 14, 2020 Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities.

* Action tips on how to help ensure that patients with disabilities don’t face discrimination in access to critical health care.

* The April 8, 2020 open letter to Premier Ford, organized by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, voicing concerns about the Ontario Government’s protocol for rationing medical care during the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s March 25, 2020 letter to Premier Ford, which has gone unanswered.

There have been a jaw-dropping 454 days since the Ford Government received the groundbreaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 35 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

          MORE DETAILS

April 29, 2020 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

[email protected] www.aodalliance.org Twitter: @aodaalliance

April 29, 2020

Via Email

To: The Hon Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education

[email protected]

Dear Minister,

Re: Ensuring that Students with Disabilities Fully Benefit from Education at Home During the COVID-19 Crisis

We hope you are staying safe and healthy in the midst of this public health crisis. We write to ask your Government to take immediate, strong action to ensure that the urgent needs of at least a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario are effectively met by Ontario’s education system as part of your Government’s COVID-19 emergency planning. We offer our help, and set out constructive suggestions for action. We need your Government to show strong leadership in this important area.

Since the latter part of March and at least up to the end of May, your Government has closed Ontario’s publicly-funded schools due to the COVID-19 crisis. Your Government had to move education for Ontario students to the online setting.

This move is entirely understandable, given the COVID-19 crisis. However, it creates quite a number of serious barriers and hardship for a third of a million or more students with disabilities in Ontario-funded schools.

For years, Ontario’s education system has been plagued by many serious accessibility barriers that impede learning by students with disabilities. The Ontario Government has not had a comprehensive strategy to remove those barriers and to prevent the creation of new barriers against students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. That is why the Ontario Government is now in the process of developing an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . For over a decade, the AODA Alliance has led a non-partisan grassroots campaign to get the Ontario Government to develop and enact a strong and effective AODA Education Accessibility Standard.

The necessary swift move from the physical classroom to online learning during the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated those disability barriers. For that reason, students with disabilities as well as their parents, teachers, schools and school boards need the Ontario Government to quickly develop and implement a comprehensive action plan to ensure that the urgent needs of students with disabilities are effectively met during the COVID-19 crisis. From what we have seen, no such strong and effective provincial action plan is now in place. The Ontario Government has not committed to develop and implement one.

For example, in your April 26, 2020 statement, extending school closings to the end of May, you made no mention of students with disabilities. They number up to one in every six students in Ontario-funded schools. The only reference you made to any disabilities during your answers to the media’s questions was toward funding for a help line for students with mental health issues. That is a commendable initiative, but one which leaves out the unmet needs of the vast majority of students with disabilities .

Premier Ford has commendably stated that during the COVID-19 crisis, the Government is addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. Yet Ontario’s many school boards, schools and teaching staff have all been left largely to flounder on their own to figure out what to do for students with disabilities. This means they each must re-invent the wheel one school board, or even one teacher, at a time. This is an ineffective way to address the needs of Ontario’s most vulnerable students. It is especially unfair to parents of students with disabilities, who have to take a leading role in educating their own children at home, and who often have to try to work from home at the same time. It is also an inefficient use of public money.

Since the onset of this crisis in March, we have been publicly raising the pressing need for strong provincial action to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities in the Government’s COVID-19 emergency planning. For example, we wrote Premier Ford to this effect back on March 25, 2020. The needs of students with disabilities in the COVID-19 crisis figure prominently among concerns we have publicly raised. We repeatedly offered to help your Government, and emphasized the need for the Government to work closely with the grassroots disability community. We regret that your government has largely not taken us up on those offers. For example, our March 25, 2020 letter to Premier Ford remains unanswered five weeks after we sent it.

We offer the following recommendations to you as examples of major priorities for students with disabilities. We would welcome the opportunity to work with you and your Government to implement them, and to identify further priorities:

  1. Your Government should now announce that it will swiftly develop and implement a comprehensive action plan for meeting the urgent needs of students with disabilities during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis, to assist and support students with disabilities, as well as their families, their teaching staff, their schools and school boards.

This plan should address the needs of students with any kind of disability as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It should not be limited to the out-dated and unduly narrow definitions that the Ministry of Education uses for students with special education needs or students with “exceptionalities” or for “exceptional pupils”.

  1. This provincial action plan should be developed, implemented and overseen in close consultation with the grassroots disability community among others, and with front-line educators.

It is helpful that you have apparently met twice with your Government’s Ministry’s Advisory Committee on Special Education MACSE to get ideas. However, that is no substitute for consulting extensive grassroots disability community participation that is needed. We understand that a significant number of positions on MACSE remain vacant due to the Government’s not appointing people to fill those vacancies. Also, MACSE is designed to focus on “special education” which is not addressed to students with all kinds of disabilities, due to the Government’s unduly narrow definition of special education students.

As of the time of writing, your Government has not acted on our recommendation shared with the Premier five weeks ago that you get input on this topic from the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, appointed under the AODA. Your Government cancelled that Committee’s April 1, 2020 meeting, rather than using that opportunity to get input on this urgent topic.

  1. As part of this provincial action plan, your Government should set up a command table for students with disabilities akin to the command table that is overseeing action on COVID-19 generally. It should be headed by a senior public official with demonstrated expertise in delivery of education to students with disabilities in the K-12 school setting. That senior public official should have full-time responsibility for leading the development and implementation of the provincial action plan for students with disabilities .
  1. As a fundamental and immediate part of this provincial action plan, your Government should quickly gather and make publicly available to school boards, teaching staff, and to students with disabilities and their families, practical strategies and action tips for remotely teaching students with different disabilities. The Ministry of Education should canvass school boards, Faculties of Education, families, community disability organizations, Special Education Advisory Committees, as well as sources of experience and expertise elsewhere inside and outside Ontario (such as across Canada and in the US).

The Government should not simply create web pages with a blizzard of links to other websites. Parents, teachers and school board officials struggling with this crisis won’t have the time to plow through innumerable links in hopes of finding something helpful.

To this end, the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition are trying now to organize an online Virtual Town Hall to give practical tips to teaching staff and parents on how to effectively teach students with different disabilities remotely during the COVID-19 crisis. We have publicly offered to partner with the Ontario Government on this. No one from the Ontario Government has answered. We would still welcome your participation in this project. We would welcome a speaker from the Ontario Government. Time is tight, as you will understand.

  1. Your Government should include in this provincial action plan urgent measures to ensure that school boards are not creating new disability barriers while they move to online learning. For example, school boards are using a range of different platforms for holding online meetings and classes. Some have significant accessibility barriers. In contrast, the Zoom platform is designed with very substantial accessibility features. Ironically, we understand that Zoom is not being used in some parts of Ontario’s education system, thereby creating disability barriers. the Ontario Government should ensure that school boards know which platforms, like Zoom, are accessible, and ensure that only those platforms are used.
  1. As part of this provincial action plan, new additional accessible resources and accessible online learning opportunities should be established to support students with disabilities during the summer months. You have announced that there will be some summer learning resources made available to students this summer. However we have seen no announcements of any provincial plans to ensure that these have full disability-accessibility. We have not seen any announcement of any plan to make resources or supports available to students with disabilities to help remediate the lost learning opportunities students with disabilities suffered during the COVID-19 school closures.
  1. You have announced that TVO and its online resources are an important partner in the Government’s education strategy during the COVID-19 crisis. The provincial action plan we seek should include detailed plans to ensure that TVO’s online learning resources become fully accessible to students with disabilities. We have concerns about their accessibility.

On April 27, 2020, we wrote TVO to inquire about the steps they have taken to ensure the full accessibility of their online education resources. TVO has not answered. We would appreciate a prompt answer from TVO. We would also like to know what your Government did to investigate the accessibility of TvO’s online resources, before deciding to make TVO a key partner in your COVID-19 education strategy.

As but one example, we have not found an easy-to-use tool on TVO’s website to locate fully accessible course content and resources. This leaves school boards, teachers and families in a difficult position when trying to locate accessible online education resources and tools from your key partner, TVO.

  1. This provincial action plan should include plans or proposals for school boards on what they should include for students with disabilities in their plans for re-opening schools, when the Ontario Government deems school re-opening to be possible. Many students with disabilities will face substantial added hardships when they return to school. They will need a surge of added supports to address these hardships. School boards must include this in their school re-opening plans.
  1. The Government should not hold back on announcing this provincial action plan until all of its ingredients are finalized. Instead, the Government should start immediately to roll it out, and then announce new elements as they are ready to go. School boards, educators, parents and students need action now. They cannot await layers of protracted Government deliberative processes.
  1. It is essential to avoid the longstanding Government education practice of producing long, detailed policy documents that call on school boards to themselves create long, detailed policy documents. That will only take time, waste money and delay progress. This provincial action plan must focus on getting action tips, tools and resources into the hands of school boards’ frontline educators, and to parents who are teaching their children at home, as quickly as possible. We are not looking for school boards to create policies that get posted on their websites and which may not translate into front-line action for students.

A week ago, on April 22, 2020, I spoke with your Ministry’s acting Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for special education Mr. Jeff Butler. During that conversation, (the first one we have had with anyone in your Ministry since the COVID-19 crisis began) it was evident that there was no provincial plan in place akin to what we are seeking. We described the critical need for such a plan, and for the Ministry to get right to work on it.

Mr. Butler kindly asked me to provide any resources to him and his staff that might be helpful to share with school boards. We appreciate that offer. However, we emphasized the need for the Government to reach out not only to us via that phone call, but to all key players, such as parents, teachers, school boards , and Special Education Advisory Committees among others.

We are now over seven weeks into this crisis. We would welcome an urgent phone meeting with you to follow up on this. We ask you to be sure to update the public on what the Government is doing for students with disabilities  in each of your major public statements and announcements on education during the COVID-19 crisis. We are eager to do what we can to help you, your Government and your Ministry.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC: Premier Doug Ford

Via Email: [email protected]

Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education

[email protected]

Jeff Butler, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Support and Field Services Division

[email protected]

Yael Ginsler, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education (Acting) for the Student Achievement Division

[email protected]

Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

[email protected]

Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branch

[email protected]

Demetra Saldaris, Director of the Professionalism, Teaching Policy and Standards Branch

[email protected]



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