Library Accessibility After the COVID-19 Pandemic


As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, organizations, from media outlets to stores, have adapted to new ways of providing information during the pandemic. Many of these adaptations are also practices that make information more accessible for viewers with disabilities. More information is being offered online, in accessible formats, or with communication supports. In the post-COVID-19 future, more people may recognize the value of adapting information to meet citizens’ diverse needs. Consequently, cities and towns may want to improve their library accessibility after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Library Accessibility After the COVID-19 Pandemic

When libraries re-open, workers will need to adjust to new protocols ensuring public safety. For example, when people return books, staff will not reshelve them right away. Instead, staff may need to wait several days before touching the books. Alternatively, libraries may work with publishers to offer more copies of digital media, such as ebooks or digital audio. Similarly, rules for library programming may also change. For instance, programming may be:

  • In-person, but open to fewer people because of physical distancing requirements
  • Online, through video-conferencing

In short, libraries will need to adapt in order to continue serving the public during the later stages of the pandemic. In the same way, libraries can adapt just as proactively to make their programs and services more accessible to patrons who have disabilities.

Materials and Resources

Under the Information and Communications Standards of the AODA, public libraries must offer accessible-format versions of resources, such as:

  • Literature
  • Music
  • Reference works
  • Dramatic or artistic works
  • Archival materials
  • Special collections
  • Rare books
  • Donated materials

When possible, libraries should have their own copies of resources in accessible formats, such as:

  • Braille
  • Large print
  • Audio
  • Accessible digital files, such as ebooks or digital audio
  • Described video

Alternatively, libraries can partner with the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) or the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS), organizations that make works available in these formats for patrons with print disabilities.

When librarians plan to buy new books or subscribe to new publications, they should try to find copies in accessible formats. Moreover, when librarians are choosing online resources to subscribe to or partner with, they should create partnerships with websites that comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0.

Training Staff

Libraries must ensure that their staff are trained to interact with patrons who have disabilities. Staff should understand how to communicate with patrons, both in person and remotely. In addition, staff should know where accessible content is shelved as well as how patrons can access library materials in alternative ways, such as:

  • through the library website
  • from other branches
  • from CELA or NNELS

In addition, staff should know how to provide a welcoming experience for patrons if their branches are lacking certain structural features. For instance, staff should:

  • Retrieve resources from inaccessible sections or floors upon request
  • Know where the nearest accessible washrooms are
  • Offer remote service for patrons who cannot enter the space

Accessible Equipment and Services

In addition, libraries can offer a variety of equipment that will allow all patrons to use computers on-site. Staff should also know how their libraries’ accessible computer equipment works. This knowledge allows them to help first-time patrons learn the basics or troubleshoot if computers malfunction, the same way they help non-disabled patrons using their computers.

Similarly, libraries can offer communication devices for patrons to use on-site, such as assistive listening devices or communication boards.

Accessible Programs

Moreover, libraries can make their premises and programs accessible to patrons of all abilities. Some accessible set-ups and services libraries could implement include:

  • Wide aisles between shelves and tables
  • Programs that include communication supports like Sign language interpretation or captioning
  • Quiet study or work spaces

Contact Information

Finally, libraries should provide multiple contact methods for patrons to get in touch with them, including:

  • Phone and teletypewriter (TTY) numbers
  • email addresses
  • Accessible online catalogues for ordering resources, and contact forms on websites

In the coming weeks, library staff will likely develop new ways to serve the public in response to COVID-19. They will be using new rules and procedures to solve the problems the pandemic has posed for their staff and patrons. Therefore, library boards and staff can use the same strategies in the future to offer more library accessibility after the COVID-19 pandemic.




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Covid-19 Work Flexibility Improves Accessibility for People With Disabilities


8 June 2020
Eleisha Foon, Journalist

More flexibility with hours and working from home will help people with physical and intellectual challenges to be a part of the workforce, disability advocates say.

New Zealanders with disabilities have been calling for more flexibility in working arrangements for years and Covid-19 has made that more of a possibility.

Disability Rights Commissioner Paula Tesoriero said one in four New Zealanders have a disability, so workplaces must stay flexible, and have improving the diversity of their workforce on their radar to fully utilise their skills.

“During Covid New Zealanders at large got real insight into the disabling world that many people with impairments or chronic health conditions have to deal with on a daily basis,” she said.

She said about 30 percent of public sector respondents in a 2019 survey on diversity reported disability as an important issue compared to 19 percent for those in the private sector.

Both numbers were low in her view and she encouraged employers to understand the benefits to having people with disability in the workforce.

Tanya Harrison is blind and has a sleeping disorder due to low melatonin, and has been looking for work since January.

She said her ideal job would be working from home for a company like Emerge Aotearoa providing support for people needing mental health services.

“I was telling people months ago, I really want to work from home because for me it is much more suitable.

“People used to say ‘oh, bet jobs like that would be scarce’ … now you don’t get that response. There is a fresh canvas where we can put new ideas out there and hear how things work for others.”

Disabled Persons Assembly New Zealand chief executive Prudence Walker said most of the staff she hired had a disability.

“Catering for the flexibility that people need, the access that people need is day-to-day heart of what we do. We have a really talented team and it they didn’t have the flexibility – people wouldn’t work for us.”

Before the coronavirus, 39 percent of young people with disabilities were not in any employment, training or education. There is hope the government’s free apprenticeship scheme could help change this.

Walker said employers needed to remove all barriers within the recruitment process to make things accessible and welcoming to all. Employers must understand what they need to perform best and not assume people’s needs.

“Employers really lose out when they undervalue what disabled people might be able to bring. That could be to do with people’s personal bias, discomfort or not knowing a lot around disability.”

Deaf Aotearoa chief executive Lachlan Keating said there had been increased awareness and interest in learning sign language thanks to the daily press conference on Covid-19 case updates.

More opportunities for interpreters had been opening up and sign classes had been hugely popular, with some selling out across the country, he said.

He said greater awareness of New Zealand Sign Language – one of three official languages in New Zealand – must continue.

“Sometimes the greatest hurdle disabled people can be up against is others’ low expectations and assumptions about abilities and that can start when disabled children are at school and it continues right throughout the recruitment process.”

Paula Tesoriero agreed a change in mindsets was a must and said a lot of that responsibility rested with employers and recruiters.

She said the greatest barrier to employment for disabled people seeking work was employers’ assumptions.

The commissioner pointed out there was generally little to no added cost to hiring someone with a disability.

Belong well-being and equity specialist Jody Brownlie works with businesses to help their staff and organisations thrive, and said well being and staff retention would be at the forefront of most employers’ minds.

Covid-19 had forced changes to how companies operated, and the ones continuing to embrace flexibility would hire and attract better people for the role.

Tesoriero said “now is the time to have the conversation around how we increase the participation rate of people with disabilities.”

Original at https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/418547/covid-19-work-flexibility-improves-accessibility-for-people-with-disabilites




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U of T Accessibility Services Supports Students During COVID-19.


Anna Dawson, who just finished her first year at U of T Mississauga, says the academic accommodations she received from U of T made it possible for her to excel in her studies.

When in-person classes ended in mid-March, accessibility services staff at the University of Toronto’s three campuses faced a daunting challenge: how to ensure the more than 7,000 students who use accommodations could complete their final exams.

For some students, writing a test remotely presented no difficulty; for others it created new barriers.

“You can imagine if you’re a student with vision concerns, doing an online exam is going to be problematic,” said Michael Nicholson, director of accessibility services on the St. George campus. “Students who are recovering from a concussion or head injury are often not supposed to use a computer for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time.”

The directors of accessibility services on each campus began meeting daily online with staff from the accommodated testing centres. Accessibility advisers sprung into action, reaching out to individual students to ask if they had concerns ” and then working with faculty to modify exams as needed.

In some cases, instructors permitted students to complete a project or assignment instead of the exam. In others, students were given options for when they could take their exam. Testing centres on each campus remained open for any student who preferred to write exams in person. Most did not, but the few who did appreciated the choice, said Nicholson. “Staff at the testing centres worked hard to put a lot of options in place. There was a great deal of flexibility on the part of faculty to give students different ways to get their work done,” he says.

Anna Dawson, who just finished her first year at U of T Mississauga, found the changes relatively easy to manage. She had moved home to Calgary in mid-March but was in frequent contact with her accessibility adviser. “It definitely took some time to get used to, but it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be.” She says she wrote her final exam online, in the basement of her parents’ home, where the only glitch was unwanted noise when her sister started vacuuming upstairs.

Finishing first year successfully was important to Dawson. As a youth who struggled with learning disabilities, and later anxiety, she had harboured doubts she would ever attend university. But through high school, she worked hard, advocated for herself and learned how to manage her challenges with reading, math and written expression. “There have definitely been a lot of bumps along the road,” she says. “But I defied the odds, and I did better than I thought I ever could.” She’s now looking forward to returning to U of T Mississauga in September.

Dawson, who is majoring in psychology, says the academic accommodations she received from accessibility services contributed to her success. (Accommodations are designed to help eliminate obstacles faced by students.)

To reduce her anxiety, Dawson can take tests alone and spend more time completing them. She uses assistive technology to read exam questions and multiple-choice answers aloud. She takes notes during lectures, but can also access notes from a designated (and anonymous) peer in case she misses anything. “My processing speed is a bit slow,” she explains. “When my profs are speaking and I miss something, it’s very helpful to be able to see someone else’s notes.”

Dawson hopes to pursue a master’s degree in counselling and eventually a PhD, with a focus on child development. It’s not a career she imagined for herself a few years ago ” but with a successful first year at U of T Mississauga behind her, she feels new opportunities have opened up.

“My confidence is through the roof,” she says.

In a sense, this is the mission of accessibility services: to level the playing field for students ” and expand the opportunities available to them. With offices on each campus, the department works with students who have mobility challenges, visual and hearing impairments, cognitive challenges, anxiety, depression and many other conditions. Over the past five years, the number of students seeking support has grown by more than 60 per cent, with mental health issues accounting for much of the increase.

Nicholson says the nature of this support is sometimes misunderstood. Academic accommodations such as those provided to Dawson are not intended to “help” students with their studies, he explains, but instead are about ensuring that all students have access to the same levels of opportunity. “Our office gets obstacles out of the way so students can actually do their work,” he said. “This is never about expecting less of a student or doing work for them.”

Evidence shows that accommodations are effective. A 2018 study conducted by the university found that, with respect to GPAs and graduation rates, students who received accommodations performed similarly to their peers. (Although they take longer to graduate, they are just as likely to finish their degree.) “We talk a lot about excellence at U of T,” says Nicholson. “This study showed that our students contributed to this excellence as much as any others.”

Faculty are crucial to this effort, says Nicholson. “Without them, our work would come to a standstill.”

Accessibility advisers at the three campuses work with faculty to help modify course materials and provide students with alternate ways to demonstrate competency in the courses. Nancy Johnston, an associate professor, teaching stream, in Women’s and Gender Studies at U of T Scarborough, has co-hosted workshops for faculty members on inclusive education. She says even minor adjustments ” such as explicitly welcoming students with diverse learning styles and encouraging them to raise concerns, or giving students a short “cognitive break” during lectures ” can make a big impact.

Johnston advises her colleagues who are unsure about how to address a student’s request for an accommodation to seek input from accessibility services. She also encourages instructors, if possible, to design their courses from the outset to be inclusive. “Assume you will always have diverse learners who require different types of accommodation,” she says. By being proactive, “you’ll save time in the long run.”

When the pandemic brought an end to in-person classes this spring, Johnston didn’t have to modify her courses much: she’d already designed them to be accessible through the web. “I had already created my courses assuming that some students would want to review the lectures later, or participate in discussion online.”

David Onley, a senior lecturer and distinguished visitor at U of T Scarborough, says the pandemic provides an opportunity to build a more inclusive and accessible society

According to David Onley, a senior lectuer and distinguished visitor at U of T Scarborough and a long-time advocate for greater accessibility, the pandemic provides an opportunity to address the problem of ableism more generally in society. In May, Onley made a submission to the House of Commons, arguing that as part of Canada’s economic recovery, the federal government should develop a “new, improved and accessible normal.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that the federal government would take steps to support Canadians with disabilities during the pandemic. The measures include a one-time, tax-free payment to holders of the disability tax credit, a $15-million investment to provide community organizations with resources to improve workplace accessibility and access to jobs and a $1.18-million investment five new projects across the country through the Accessible Technology Program.

At U of T, with the fall term less than three months away, accessibility services is now working with faculties and departments to ensure that students have the accommodations they need. How will professional faculties handle placements, for example? What will happen to labs, or classroom-based courses that rely on in-person interactions? “We’re being creative and looking for unique solutions,” says Nicholson.

For graduate students dealing with barriers to learning, the pandemic has presented its own set of challenges. PhD students, in particular, operate in a different environment from undergrads; they study independently, often have teaching responsibilities and conduct their own research.

Alex Lu is a third-year PhD student in the department of computer science at the Faculty of Arts & Science. He is applying machine learning in biology to discover new insights about proteins. Lu is also Deaf.

Because all of his research collaborations and meetings shifted online, Lu needed sign-language interpreters to join his video calls. He says accessibility services supported the request in a way that kept his logistic work to a minimum ” and enabled him to continue a research collaboration with a lab in Zurich.

Alex Lu, a third-year PhD student in computer science who is Deaf, says U of T “gave me the equal opportunity I needed to concentrate on producing good science”

From the beginning of his U of T career, Lu credits his first accessibility adviser, Adina Burden, for coming up with innovative ways to minimize barriers, such as real-time captioning services for courses. What he appreciated most about working with Burden, he says, was her effort to streamline the accommodations process. Deaf students often have to request interpreters for every seminar and event they attend. As Lu points out, this is burdensome. “A PhD is difficult enough without having to co-ordinate every last detail of your accessibility plan,” he says. “Adina and I worked out a way for me to prioritize my research instead of getting bogged down in accessibility logistics.”

Lu will defend his thesis in January and says he’s pleased with what his partnership with accessibility services has helped him accomplish. “I’ve produced a lot of exciting research that is “out-of-the-box’ and challenges conventions in my field,” he says.

“U of T gave me the equal opportunity I needed to concentrate on producing good science.”

This is really what it’s all about, says Nicholson: creating an environment at U of T that gives every student the best possible chance of success.

Original at https://www.utoronto.ca/news/equal-opportunity-i-needed-how-u-t-accessibility-services-supports-students-amid-covid-19




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Accessibility Training for Web Designers After the COVID-19 Pandemic


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools, colleges, and universities are implementing online learning. Before COVID-19, students could sometimes choose to take a course or program of study online. However, some online platforms or courses are not accessible for students with disabilities. As a result, these students could choose to take all courses in person. However, during COVID-19, online learning is no longer a choice. If a course or platform is not accessible for a student with a disability, schools and school boards must find ways to make that student’s online learning accessible. This urgent need for greater online accessibility shows us that web developers lack knowledge about the features allowing people with disabilities to navigate websites. Accessibility training for web designers after the COVID-19 pandemic would remove information barriers for future students.

Accessibility Training for Web Designers After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Web developers and other communications professionals should learn more about accessibility during any courses they take to educate themselves. These professionals should be prepared to design web layouts and content for all people, not just people without disabilities. Therefore, any courses or modules that teach people about web design should show them how to design accessibly. For example, they should be aware of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, which ensure that website content and layouts are accessible. Similarly, they could learn about the various ways people with disabilities access the web using assistive technology, such as:

  • Keyboard or voice commands, instead of mouse clicking
  • Screen readers
  • Screen magnification
  • Captioned audio
  • Captioned and described video

Moreover, web developers could learn about how well, or badly, different designs interface with assistive technologies. Finally, they could also learn about the consequences of inaccessible web design on people’s independence. For instance, they could discover that if an online learning platform is not accessible, students with disabilities do not have equal opportunities to learn.

Solutions

Mandatory online learning during COVID-19 shows us that all people should have equal access to all websites at all times. Therefore, accessibility training for web developers should also be mandatory. The government could mandate accessibility in professional training by requiring modules or courses about accessible design. Newly-trained web developers would know, at the start of their careers, how to serve people of all abilities. Likewise, professional development in web accessibility should also be required for people in mid-career. These modules or courses would ensure that practicing professionals add accessibility to their existing areas of expertise. Finally, the government could audit online learning platforms for accessibility and require schools to use only accessible platforms. This mandate would give web developers incentive to make their sites accessible enough for schools to choose as hosts for their courses.




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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


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: http://www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

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, Ontarios 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 Ministers May 8, 2020 email to all school boards about distance learning during COVID-19. We also set out that memo below. The ministers 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 Fords 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 provinces 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 Ministrys 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 Ministrys 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 boards 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 wont 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 Bongos 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 products 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 Zooms 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 teachers attention, by simply typing a keyboard shortcut. Bongo has no such keyboard shortcut. For a student to reach Bongos 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 ones hand without having to hunt around the program for the relevant control. D2L conceded that their accessibility tester had earlier asked Bongos provider to add this to their program. D2L did not include this important fact in its comparison of its product to Zoom.

In the Ministrys PowerPoint prepared to demonstrate Bongos 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 ARCHs 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.

ARCHs 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 ARCHs 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 Governments own Learn at Home web page and the Government-owned TVOs online learning resources. It became evident from my May 14, 2020 phone call with TVOs 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 publics attention. I encourage you to read our May 21, 2020 letter to TVOs 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 contents accessibility. After that, your Ministry failed to ensure the accessibility of TVOs 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 Ministrys 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 Premiers 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 Premiers 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 Ministrys 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 TVOs 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 TVOs Online Educational Content

Thank you for speaking to me by phone on May 14, 2020 about the accessibility problems on TVOs 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 TVOs 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 contents 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 TVOs Vice President of Digital Content. Previously, you were a superintendent of schools at the York Region District School Board. You didnt 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 TVOs digital content and online offerings. It seems clear from the presence of accessibility problems in TVOs 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 TVOs 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 TVOs 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 TVOs 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 TVOs 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 lapprentissage 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 Ontarios 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 ministrys 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 childs 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 parents 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 Ontarios 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 Ontarios 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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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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Global Accessibility Awareness Day


Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day! Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) takes place around the world on the third Thursday of May every year. The day is a chance to spread awareness about how people with disabilities use technology. Many people who design or fund technology want to make it accessible. However, these people are often unaware about what makes technology accessible. On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, community organizations host events to help people learn more about technology accessibility.

Global Accessibility Awareness Day

Accessible Hardware

Accessible hardware devices connect to computers or phones and allow people to input and receive information in different ways. People may use different kinds of keyboards, such as one-handed or large-key keyboards. Key guards are frames that fit over a keyboard with a hole for each key. This set-up ensures that users type only one key at a time. Furthermore, some people use pointing devices other than traditional mice. Trackballs are larger than traditional mice, and people can operate them with their thumbs, palms, or feet as well as their fingers. Other alternative mice include touch pads or screens, light pens, joysticks, head pointers, or mouth sticks.

Some people may also use these devices, or eye-tracking systems, as alternatives for keyboards as well as mice. In contrast, other people may not use any kind of pointing system. Instead, they use certain keys on their keyboards to perform tasks usually completed by clicking a mouse.

Large monitors allow large-print readers to access more information at a time. In contrast, Braille displays present the screen’s contents in Braille. People may also print in Braille using Braille embossers.

Accessible Software

Accessible software programs also affect how people can input and receive information. On-screen keyboards allow users to type by selecting letters, numbers, or symbols with their pointing devices. Speech recognition software allows users to control the computer or phone with their voices. Predictive software helps users input words by displaying word options they can choose from after they have typed the first few letters.

People may use screen magnification software to enlarge information on their screens, or use screen reader software that reads information aloud.

These types of software are often available through various programs. Many programs are built for different types of computers, such as Windows or Mac. Some programs are built into operating systems or browsers, while others are third-party software that users purchase from companies specializing in accessible hardware and software. Programs sometimes offer different levels of accessibility. For instance, some programs that read aloud read more information than others. Therefore, different people will find certain programs more valuable or necessary than others, depending on what their needs are.

Website Accessibility

Finally, developers need to make websites compatible with the hardware and software people use on their accessible computers or phones. To do so, websites must comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, Level AA. This international standard gives web developers guidelines on web accessibility.

Highlights of WCAG 2.0

For example, guidelines state that people should be able to:

  • Perceive and navigate web content, such as with:
    • Text, instead of images of text
    • Information enlarged up to 200 per cent without losing site functionality
    • Good colour contrast between text and background
    • Buttons labeled with words, not just with pictures, shapes, or colours
    • Captions available for all audio
    • Audio descriptions and captions available for all videos
  • Operate websites, such as with:
    • Keyboard commands instead of mouse clicking
    • Options to extend time limits
    • No elements that might induce seizures, such as flashing lights
    • Titles and headings that help people know where they are
  • Understand website information and layout, such as with:
    • Simple, linear layouts that are the same for each page of a website
    • Clear language, instead of figures of speech
    • Clear instructions for completing tasks, such as purchasing items or filling in forms
    • Text descriptions of errors when inputting information
    • Sign language interpretation
    • Definitions of unusual words and abbreviations
  • Visit websites using a variety of assistive technology, such as:
    • Screen readers and Braille displays
    • Screen magnifiers
    • Speech recognition programs

The WCAG webpage provides the full list of requirements, as well as technical guidance for website owners and developers on how to implement them.

Computer accessibility gives everyone an equal chance to take part in a world that is becoming more and more digital. Global Accessibility Awareness Day helps more people learn about the many ways people with disabilities use computers or phones. In this way, technology developers can learn about the need to make their websites and apps accessible. Furthermore, they can find out specifics about how elements of their design interact with assistive technologies.

Happy Global Accessibility Awareness Day to all our readers!




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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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The AODA Alliance Calls on TVO to Take Prompt Action to Fix its Educational Web Contents Accessibility Problems


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Web: http://www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

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, andwe 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 counsellorswho can support individual needs, all of whom are OntarioCertified 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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Restaurant Accessibility in the COVID-19 Pandemic


Under the Customer Service Standards of the AODA, service providers must make their goods, services, and facilities accessible to customers with disabilities. Moreover, as Ontarians continue physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses must still make their services accessible. This article will outline ways to develop or increase restaurant accessibility in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Restaurant Accessibility in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Contact Information

In response to physical distancing, restaurants have made many changes to how they serve customers. For example, restaurants have developed systems to help customers pick up their food without entering the premises. Similarly, restaurants have devised new protocols for contactless delivery. Therefore, restaurants should alert potential diners to these changes in multiple ways, such as advertisements on TV, radio, or their websites. For example, a restaurant may need to explain:

  • Whether diners can find their menus online or in the restaurant’s window
  • Whether diners can make their orders:
    • From home
    • From the parking lot
  • New protocols for receiving orders by contactless take-out or delivery
  • Changes to their menus or hours of operation

In addition, restaurants must take orders from diners in multiple ways, such as:

  • By phone or teletypewriter (TTY)
  • By email
  • Through their websites

Accessible Websites

Furthermore, diners can use accessible computers or phones to read websites that follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Therefore, restaurants should ensure that their websites follow these guidelines. Moreover, they should post accessible versions of any printed information, such as signs in their windows, on their websites. For instance, they should post:

  • Their hours of operation, and what times breakfast, lunch, or dinner are available to order
  • Any reviews or ratings they are required or have chosen to display
  • Accessible online versions of menus

Menus

A central feature of restaurants that should be accessible is the menu. More diners can read their own menus when they are in accessible formats, including:

  • Braille
  • Large print
  • Online on accessible websites
  • Accessible Word or HTML files

Servers should tell every diner about all the formats their menus are available in. Diners remember restaurants with menus that they or their loved ones can read.

When restaurants have menus on their websites, servers need to be aware of:

  • what menu formats are available
  • how diners can find web versions

Our next article will cover how restaurant staff can create an accessible dining experience, including what to do if locations do not yet have accessible menus or other information.




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