The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF and Ten Disability Organizations Have Already Endorsed the AODA Alliance’s 19 Recommendations on What the Ontario Government Must Now Do to Meet the Needs of A Third of A Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools


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/

June 26, 2020

SUMMARY

Last week, the AODA Alliance made public a detailed brief showing the Ontario Government what it must now do to address the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools during the transition to schools eventually re-opening, hopefully this fall. This brief draws on grassroots feedback we have received from many sources both before and during the COVID-19 crisis.

We are delighted that in just over one week since we submitted it to the Ontario Government, the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on what should be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis has already won important endorsements. As an important step forward, our brief’s 19 recommendations, set out below, were just endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of secondary school teachers who work at the front lines in Ontario’s public schools. OSSTF’s June 26, 2020 public statement, sent to the AODA Alliance, says:

“Supporting students with disabilities A statement from OSSTF/FEESO

June 26, 2020 – Over the past four months, educators have done their best to work with students in this unprecedented environment of emergency remote learning. The start of the new school year in September will come quickly, and it is critical that the Ontario government prepare a plan for reopening schools that meets the learning needs of all students.

It is essential for the government to ensure that they meet the learning needs of the thousands of students with disabilities in our school system now, and during the transition to school reopening.

OSSTF/FEESO supports the 19 recommendations of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance as outlined in its June 18, 2020 brief on this topic. These recommendations effectively speak to the needs of students with disabilities, their families, and those of us committed to providing those students and all students with an excellent education.”

Seven years ago, when we were in the midst of our multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tackle the many barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system, We were fortified and helped in our efforts when the OSSTF wrote , the Ontario Government to support our call for an Education Accessibility Standard. Several other teachers unions supported our efforts back then.

As well, we have been notified that ten key organizations in the disability community have endorsed our brief’s recommendations, including March of Dimes of Canada, Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, Community Living Ontario, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University, Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy, Balance for Blind Adults, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford Network), and Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired).

We commend all those who have already supported our brief. We urge other organizations and individuals, whether within the disability community or not, to email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. Both individuals and organizations can write the Ontario Government to voice this support. Please help us get more individuals and organizations to do so.

There have been 512 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 93 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected] Please stay safe!

MORE DETAILS

List of Recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 Brief to the Ontario Government

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.

b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the family’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.

c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;

b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.

b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and

b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.




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The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF and Ten Disability Organizations Have Already Endorsed the AODA Alliance’s 19 Recommendations on What the Ontario Government Must Now Do to Meet the Needs of A Third of A Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools


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 Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF and Ten Disability Organizations Have Already Endorsed the AODA Alliance’s 19 Recommendations on What the Ontario Government Must Now Do to Meet the Needs of A Third of A Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools

June 26, 2020

          SUMMARY

Last week, the AODA Alliance made public a detailed brief showing the Ontario Government what it must now do to address the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools during the transition to schools eventually re-opening, hopefully this fall. This brief draws on grassroots feedback we have received from many sources both before and during the COVID-19 crisis.

We are delighted that in just over one week since we submitted it to the Ontario Government, the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on what should be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis has already won important endorsements. As an important step forward, our brief’s 19 recommendations, set out below, were just endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation OSSTF. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of secondary school teachers who work at the front lines in Ontario’s public schools. OSSTF’s June 26, 2020 public statement, sent to the AODA Alliance, says:

“Supporting students with disabilities – A statement from OSSTF/FEESO

June 26, 2020 – Over the past four months, educators have done their best to work with students in this unprecedented environment of emergency remote learning. The start of the new school year in September will come quickly, and it is critical that the Ontario government prepare a plan for reopening schools that meets the learning needs of all students.

It is essential for the government to ensure that they meet the learning needs of the thousands of students with disabilities in our school system now, and during the transition to school reopening.

OSSTF/FEESO supports the 19 recommendations of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance as outlined in its June 18, 2020 brief on this topic. These recommendations effectively speak to the needs of students with disabilities, their families, and those of us committed to providing those students and all students with an excellent education.”

Seven years ago, when we were in the midst of our multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tackle the many barriers that impede students with disabilities  in Ontario’s education system, We were fortified and helped in our efforts when the OSSTF wrote the Ontario Government to support our call for an Education Accessibility Standard. Several other teachers unions supported our efforts back then.

As well, we have been notified that ten key organizations in the disability community have endorsed our brief’s recommendations, including March of Dimes of Canada, Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, Community Living Ontario, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University, Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy, Balance for Blind Adults, the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford Network), and Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired).

We commend all those who have already supported our brief. We urge other organizations and individuals, whether within the disability community or not, to email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. Both individuals and organizations can write the Ontario Government to voice this support. Please help us get more individuals and organizations to do so.

There have been 512 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 93 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

List of Recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 Brief to the Ontario Government

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

  1. a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.
  1. b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the family’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
  1. c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

  1. a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;
  1. b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

  1. a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.
  1. b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

  1. a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
  1. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.



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Download in MS Word format the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 finalized brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the transition to school re-opening



Download in MS Word format the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 finalized brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the transition to school re-opening



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Please Email the Ontario Government to Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief on Measures Needed to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities Now and During the Transition to Schools Re-Opening


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/

Please Email the Ontario Government to Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief on Measures Needed to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities Now and During the Transition to Schools Re-Opening

June 18, 2020

          SUMMARY

Working at warp speed, the AODA Alliance has finalized and submitted its brief to the Ontario Government on what must be done to meet the needs of at least one third of a million students with disabilities in kindergarten to Grade 12 now and during the eventual transition to schools re-opening. We set out that 23-page brief below.

We invite and encourage you to email the Ontario Government right away to support our brief’s 19 recommendations. Those recommendations are set out and described throughout the brief. To make it easier for you, at the end of the brief is an appendix that lists all the recommendations together in one place.

You can support us by emailing the Government at this address: [email protected] If you are part of a disability community organization, please get your organization to write the Government to support our recommendations. Of course, we encourage you to add any thoughts, experiences or recommendations that you wish.

It is good if you can use your own words when you write the Government. If you don’t have time, you might just wish to say something like this:

“I support the recommendations made in the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities now and during the transition to re-opened schools.”

We thank everyone who took the time to read over the draft of this brief that we circulated for comment on June 11, 2020. We got fantastic feedback. We drew heavily on that feedback as we finalized this brief.

This finalized brief makes all the 17 recommendations that were in our draft brief (with some minor improvements) with one exception. Based on feedback we received, we removed our draft recommendation 13(b) in the draft brief. It had recommended that schools re-open for vulnerable students first. Our finalized brief replaced that recommendation with this, in #13(b):

“The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.”

This finalized brief adds two new recommendations, 18 and 19. These propose that the Government and school boards across the board make more use during the COVID-19 pandemic of the Special Education Advisory Committee that each Ontario school board is required to have, if they are not doing so now.

In addition to writing the Government to support our recommendations, we encourage you to send this brief to your local school board and school trustees. Encourage them to take the actions we recommend in this brief.

For more background on these issues, please visit the AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page and our education web page.

Stay safe, and let us know what you do to help us press for these reforms. Email us at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

A Brief to the Ontario Government on Key Measures Needed to Address the Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities in Ontario During the COVID-19 Crisis Both During Distance Learning and During The Transition to the Eventual Re-Opening of Schools

Submitted by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

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

To: The Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education

Via email [email protected]

June 18, 2020

 Introduction

The AODA Alliance submits this brief to the Minister of Education for Ontario, in response to the Ministry of Education’s public consultation on the transition to school re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AODA Alliance is a voluntary non-partisan grassroots coalition of individuals and organizations. Our mission is:

“To contribute to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, by promoting and supporting the timely, effective, and comprehensive implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.”

To learn about us, visit: https://www.aodaalliance.org.

Our coalition is the successor to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The ODA Committee advocated more than ten years for the enactment of strong, effective disability accessibility legislation. Our coalition builds on the ODA Committee’s work. We draw our membership from the ODA Committee’s broad, grassroots base. To learn about the ODA Committee’s history, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net.

We have been widely recognized by the Ontario Government, by all political parties in the Ontario Legislature, within the disability community and by the media, as a key voice leading the non-partisan campaign for accessibility in Ontario. In every provincial election since 2005, parties that made election commitments on accessibility did so in letters to the AODA Alliance.

Among our many activities, we led a multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA to tear down the many barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. Our years of efforts to advocate for accessibility for students with disabilities are documented on our website’s education page.

Our efforts and expertise on accessibility for people with disabilities have been recognized in MPPs’ speeches in the Ontario Legislature, and beyond. Our website and Twitter feed are widely consulted as helpful sources of information on accessibility efforts in Ontario and elsewhere. We have achieved this as an unfunded volunteer community coalition.

The Government must pay special heed to the input it receives from the disability community including parents of students with disabilities . Input to the Government from other organizations can fail to effectively address the specific experience and needs of students with disabilities . The recommendations in this brief are gathered together in a list in the appendix appearing at the end of this brief. Our position in this brief is summarized as follows:

  1. a) The COVID-19 crisis has imposed disproportionate added hardships on people with disabilities. As part of this, it has led to disproportionate, serious hardships being inflicted on students with disabilities in Ontario schools. These hardships are exacerbated by no small part by serious pre-existing problems and disability barriers that have faced students with disabilities for years in Ontario’s education system, which have been made even worse for too many students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  1. b) In this brief we address the needs of all students with disabilities, using the inclusive definition of “disability” in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . We do not limit our recommendations to the narrower group of students whose disability falls in the narrower definitions of “special education “ or “exceptionality” that the Ministry of Education uses.
  1. c) To date, the provincial response to the problems facing students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been substantially insufficient. The AODA Alliance offers 19 recommendations in this brief, to effectively address this, starting now and into the fall. Our fuller recommendations for comprehensive and long term reforms in the form of a strong and effective Education Accessibility Standard are set out in the AODA Alliance’s October 10, 20-19 Framework for the promised Education Accessibility Standard.
  1. d) While students are not able to go to school this spring due to the COVID-19 crisis, students with disabilities are experiencing wildly different learning experiences. Some are making good progress. Some are making much less progress. Some are making no progress or are losing ground. Some are getting extensive educational supports from their school board. Some are getting much less support. Some are getting little if any support. Conditions and supports can vary widely, even within the same school board and by students with the same disability.
  1. e) There is a pressing need for a comprehensive Ministry of Education plan of action to address the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
  1. f) There is a need for a provincial “Students with Disabilities Command Table” at the Ministry of Education.
  1. g) The Ministry must prevent a rash of principals refusing to admit some students with disabilities to school when schools re-open.
  1. h) There is a need for specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for individual students with disabilities before and during the transition to return to school.
  1. i) There is a need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to be established to address recurring urgent needs of students with disabilities.
  1. j) A surge of specialized supports for students with disabilities is needed when schools re-open.
  1. k) School boards must plan for the needs of students with disabilities who cannot themselves ensure social distancing.
  1. l) The Ministry must ensure the full accessibility of digital platforms used for remote classes or “synchronous learning”.
  1. m) The Ontario Government must immediately ensure the digital accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO online learning resources.
  1. n) The Ministry of Education and school boards must stop making some learning resources available only in PDF format as this creates accessibility barriers.
  1. o) One size fits all does not fit for return to school.
  1. p) There is a need for a rapid method to spread the word to teachers and parents about effective teaching strategies for students with disabilities during COVID-19.
  1. q) Distance learning must be effectively provided for students who cannot return to school right away when schools re-open.
  1. r) The Ministry of Education should now create provincial resources for parents to prepare their students for the return to school.
  1. s) New protocols are needed for safe school bussing for students with disabilities.
  1. t) The Ministry should ensure the very active engagement of each school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee.

This brief builds on extensive involvement of the AODA Alliance during the COVID-19 crisis, advocating for the needs of people with disabilities across society. On June 11, 2020, we made public a draft of this brief, and solicited public input on it. We were very gratified by the supportive and helpful feedback we received. We have drawn heavily on that feedback to produce this finalized brief. We are urging one and all to share their own advice and recommendations with the Ontario Government during this important consultation.

 1. Pressing Need for A Comprehensive Ministry of Education Plan of Action to Address Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the AODA Alliance has repeatedly urged the Ontario Government to develop and announce a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This has been needed so over 70 school boards don’t have to each re-invent the wheel in deciding what the needs of students with disabilities are and how best to meet them. To date, the Ontario Government has not done what we have urged.

The need for this comprehensive provincial plan remains pressing during the period of distance learning due to school closures. It is also needed to ensure that students with disabilities’ needs are met across Ontario when schools eventually re-open. Ontario needs to also be prepared in the event of the realistic possibility that distance learning will have to continue in the fall, either because school re-opening is further delayed, or because a second wave of COVID-19 would require another round of school closures.

To date, the Ontario Government has primarily focused its education strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic on students without disabilities. Almost as an afterthought, it then reminded school boards that they should also accommodate students with special education needs.

The plan for students with disabilities should, to the extent possible, be included in the Ministry’s overall plan for school re-opening.

We therefore recommend that:

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

 2. Need for a Provincial “Students with Disabilities Command Table”

To deal with the need for rapid planning during the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has commendably set up its own “command tables” to deal with critical areas, like health care planning and planning for the safe operation of the economy during this crisis. This enables the Government to have critical expertise at the table to make rapid and key decisions.

There is a pressing need for a “students with disabilities command table” within the Government to plan for the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. No such table or concentrated expertise centre exists now within Ontario’s Ministry of Education. We have been pressing for this for three months. That table needs to be staffed by professionals with focused expertise on providing education to students with disabilities.

This is not meant to be an advisory or consultative table. It needs to be a planning and implementation table that can quickly and nimbly make decisions and effectively connect with the frontlines in the education system, where the action is.

This need is not fulfilled by the Minister of Education having had some consultative meetings with the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Special Education (MACSE), which still has vacancies, or with the AODA K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. Those bodies are only advisory. They do not have the capacity of a Ministry command table. Of course, it is good that they have been consulted.

We therefore recommend that:

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

 3. Preventing a Rash of Refusals to Admit Students with Disabilities to School When Schools Re-Open

Ontario’s Education Act lets a school principal refuse to admit to school any “person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils…”. Disability advocates have repeatedly criticized this as an excessive, arbitrary and unfair power. The Education Act and the Ministry of Education leave to school boards and individual principals an extremely wide discretion over when, how and why to exclude a student from school under this power. The Education Act does not even require principals to give a parent their reasons for excluding a student from school. It does not cap the duration of the student’s exclusion from school. It does not require a school board or the Ministry to keep track of how often or why students are excluded from school under this power.

Disproportionately, this excessive power has been used against students with disabilities, leading them too often to be excluded from school altogether or allowing them to attend school only for reduced hours. Long before the COVID-19 crisis, parents’ and students’ advocates have called for this power to be reduced and regulated. See for example the January 30, 2019 joint news release by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. To date, the Ontario Government has not made any significant reform of this power.

In September 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released an updated policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

“9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).”

There is a serious risk that some principals will feel at liberty to use this power to exclude some students with disabilities from school during school re-openings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially before any effective vaccine is invented and widely available. This is especially so if school boards do not now effectively plan for the inclusion and accommodation of students with disabilities at school during the transition to school re-opening. They may do so either because they don’t know how to accommodate some students with disabilities during social distancing, or because the Ontario Government and/or their school board has not given them the staffing, directions and resources they need to be able to effectively include and accommodate those students at school for part or all of the school day. Such exclusions from school raise serious human rights concerns and are contrary to the student’s right to an education.

With all the uncertainties and pressures anticipated during the transition back to school, a principal can be expected to feel a real temptation to use the power to refuse to admit such students to school during a COVID-19 school re-opening. This is so because it would seem to solve the problem of having to plan for those students’ needs at school.

The need to reform practices regarding a school principal’s power to refuse to admit a student to school for part or all of the school day has therefore become even more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AODA Alliance considers this a major priority. It is essential that school re-openings this fall do not lead to a rash of principals’ refusals to admit any number of students with disabilities to school. Such a rash of exclusions would thereby create two classes of students, those allowed to return to school and those who are excluded from school, especially if this disproportionately divides along disability lines.

The Ontario Government has commendably been willing to give directions to a school board about the use of its power to refuse to admit students to school in other contexts. It can and should do so here as well. The Ontario Ministry of Education has very recently given directions to the Peel District School Board to keep and report data on exclusions of students from school by race. In directive number 9, the Ministry stipulated that:

“The Board shall centrally track disaggregated race-based data on suspensions (in-school and out-of-school), expulsions and exclusions, and report publicly through the Annual Equity Accountability Report Card.”

We therefore recommend that:

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

  1. a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.
  1. b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the family’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
  1. c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

 4. Need for Specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for Individual Students with Disabilities Before and During Transition to Return to School

For each student with disabilities, distance learning during COVID-19 will have created different deficits and challenges. The transition back to school will present challenges and needs that will vary from student to student.

Students’ IEPs were all written earlier this past school year while students were in school. They were written with no contemplation of the COVID-19 crisis or the challenges and hardships of distance learning and then of a later transition back to school. All students with disabilities will need their IEP modified to address these unforeseen needs.

As an immediate measure, students with disabilities each now need a customized COVID-19 –specific IEP to be created and implemented. This should not be limited to students whose disability fits within the narrow and incomplete definition of “exceptionality” in Ontario, which leaves out some disabilities. It should be provided to any student that has a disability within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It should not be limited to students whose disability has been formally “identified” at an Identification and Placement Review Committee.

This COVID-19 IEP would not replace the student’s existing IEP. It would not replace the usual IEP development process when school is back in usual operation. This COVID-19 IEP is meant as an immediate, temporary or interim measure to address these hitherto-unanticipated events and related learning needs. IEPs are supported to deal, among other things, with transition needs. Both the transition to distance learning and the later transition to school re-opening fit well within that rubric.

The COVID-19 IEP should be developed now and over the summer, not in the fall when students are already back in school. This may well require new resources to enable this to be developed over the summer.

As noted earlier, there is a real possibility that distance learning will continue in September, or may have to later resume due to a resurgence or a second wave of COVID-19. These COVID-19 IEPs need to now anticipate and effectively address each of these possible eventualities.

The development of each student’s COVID-19 IEP should start with a direct phone conversation as soon as possible between the student’s teacher and the family. They should discuss where the gains and gaps have been, the concerns for the fall that are anticipated and how best to address them. The COVID-19 IEP should be developed in close consultation with the family and, where appropriate, the student.

We therefore recommend that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

  1. a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;
  1. b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

 5. Need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to Be Established to Address Recurring Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities

During the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario’s education system continues to try to navigate uncharted territory. No matter how much planning for the needs of students with disabilities takes place as we here recommend, unexpected surprises will crop up. School boards and the Ministry of Education each need to be able to quickly detect these, and to nimbly respond to them. Traditionally, large organizations are not always the best at rapid and nimble adaptations in the midst of great uncertainty.

Parents, teachers and principals need a central point in the school board to report difficult challenges. Each school board needs to quickly feed this information to a single point at the Ministry that is staying on top of things, for rapid responses to recurring issues around the province.

We therefore recommend that:

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

 6. Surge Needed in Specialized Supports for Students with Disabilities

All students will have fallen behind to varying extents during the months when schools were closed. This hardship falls especially on students with disabilities who have additional specialized curriculum to learn, related to their disabilities, or who need specialized supports to learn which are unavailable during distance learning.

When students return to school, students with disabilities who need those supports will need a surge in the hours of support provided to them to help them catch up and adjust to the return to school. School boards cannot simply pull those resources out of the air. School boards will need added funding to hire those staff. They will need provincial help in finding them where there are shortages.

For example, students with vision loss are unable to get the full benefit of teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) teaching hands-on braille reading when schools are closed. When schools re-open, school boards will need to engage additional TVIs to help ramp up the surge in TVI hours to be provided to students. There is now a shortage of TVIs in Ontario. The Ministry will need to lead a concerted effort to create a surge of TVIs to help school boards fill this gap during the return to school. Comparable needs can similarly be identified for students with other disabilities where such specialized educational support is needed.

We therefore recommend that:

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

 7. Planning for Needs of Students with Disabilities Who Cannot Themselves Ensure Social Distancing

As an illustration of the last issue discussed, any return to school while COVID-19 continues to exist in our community will require students to engage in social distancing. If schools re-open, they will be doing so mindful of the fact that many students will not be able to consistently and reliably engage in social distancing, frequent hand washing and other important protective activities. Many are too young to ensure that they can fully understand the need to do so and comply. For some older children, it may seem cool to periodically break the rules. For many, it will be impossible to remain attentive to these precautions all the time.

For any number of students with disabilities, social distancing and related safe practices may pose additional challenges. For some, wearing a mask may not be possible due to such things as sensory integration or behavioural issues.

Some students with disabilities require an education assistant (EA) or special needs assistant (SNA) for all or part of the day to fully take part in school activities. For some of these students, it will not be possible to remain two meters away while providing the support or assistance that the student needs. Some will require close assistance for eating, hand-washing and other personal needs.

Pre-COVID-19 staffing levels for EAs and SNAs were too often inadequate. They did not account for these important additional requirements. EAs and SNAs were not experienced with or trained for this before COVID-19. It is not sufficient to now send them an email with instructions, or a link to a training video, and thereafter to assume that they will be fully equipped to consistently and reliably handle these duties. In addition to new in-person training, they will need to have constant access to good quality personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks.

It is also important to employ enough EAs and SNAs so that they don’t have to split their time among multiple schools or venues, lest they pose a greater risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus from place to place among vulnerable students.

We therefore recommend that:

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

 8. Ensuring Full Accessibility of Digital Platforms Used for Remote Classes or “Synchronous Learning”

We do not here wade into the dispute between the Ford Government and some teachers’ unions about whether or when a teacher should conduct online classes for their students in real time over the internet, sometimes called “synchronous learning”. We insist, however, that whenever an online real time class or synchronous learning takes place, or any other online meeting involving students with disabilities or their parents in connection with their education, it must be conducted via a fully accessible digital meeting platform.

When the Ontario Government moved our education system from the physical classroom to the virtual classroom in late March, it should have ensured from the start that the choice of digital meeting platforms was fully accessible. The Ontario Government did not do so, nor did it monitor school boards to see what platforms they were using. The Ontario Government dropped the ball on this critical accessibility concern, to the detriment of students, teachers and parents with disabilities. The Ministry of Education took the erroneous position that it was up to each school board to decide which online virtual meeting platform to use, based on the board’s assessment of its local needs. Yet these disability accessibility needs do not vary from school board to school board. They are the same across Ontario. The Ministry wastefully leaves it to each school board to investigate the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms.

As a belated partial attempt to address this problem, the Minister of Education wrote school boards on or around May 26, 2020 about several issues regarding distance learning. That memo stated, among other things:

“Boards must ensure that the platforms they use for connecting with students and families are fully accessible for persons with disabilities.”

However, that direction provides no assistance to school boards on which platforms to use or avoid, or how to figure this out. It still leaves it to each school board to investigate this as much or as little as they wish, and then to duplicate the same investigations of this issue over and over across Ontario. We have seen no indication that the Minister’s direction led any school boards to change what they were doing in this regard.

This issue remains a live one and will continue into the fall. It is not clear when schools will re-open. Our education system may still be running on 100% distance learning at the start of the fall school term. Even when schools re-open, there is a real likelihood that some distance learning will continue in some blended model of in-school and distance education. As noted earlier, if a second wave of COVID-19 hits, as has happened elsewhere, requiring another round of school closures, Ontario will have to return to 100% distance learning.

At least one school board has improperly prohibited the use of Zoom, even though it is at least as accessible as, or more accessible than, other platforms. The Ministry of the Attorney General did its own comparison of digital meeting platforms, for use by the courts. The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has decided to use Zoom as its platform for virtual court proceedings. If Zoom is safe enough for the Superior Court of Justice, there is no reason why a school board should prohibit its use.

Canada’s largest school board, TDSB, has announced that it is using Webex for parent-teacher meetings. This is so even though Webex has real accessibility problems. Such a practice should not be allowed.

We have heard examples of quite inaccurate information on this topic from some in the school board sector. Parents should not have to fight about this, one school board at a time, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

This topic requires ongoing effort and leadership by the Ministry. By August, there could well have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. School boards need to operate based on current information.

We therefore recommend that:

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

 9. Ensuring Digital Accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO Online Learning Resources

Over three months into the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has still not ensured that the online content that it provides to school boards, teachers, parents and students meets accessibility requirements for computer-users with disabilities. The AODA Alliance has been raising concerns with the Government about this since early in the pandemic. We have seen no public commitment to the needed corrective action. We have raised our concerns at senior levels within TVO and the Ministry of Education. The Government and TVO were required to comply with these accessibility requirements well before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We therefore recommend that:

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

 10. Stop Making Some Learning Resources Available Only in PDF Format

Throughout this pandemic, as well as beforehand, the Ministry of Education and too many school boards have continued to make important digital information available to the public, including to parents, teachers and students, only in pdf format. That format can present accessibility problems for people with disabilities. When a document is made public in PDF format, it should also be made public in an accessible format, such as MS Word. This is an important time to start this long-overdue practice.

We therefore recommend that:

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

 11. One Size Fits All Does Not Fit for Return to School

To avoid chaos, a return to school should not be done all at once using a one-size-fits-all approach. Because we are in uncharted waters, it makes sense to go about this gradually and to try different approaches at different locations to see what works. We must avoid students with disabilities being again treated as after-thoughts who have to try to fit into a chaotic situation that was not designed with their needs in mind.

One suggestion that some have raised is to enable students with disabilities to return to school first, and for teaching staff to ensure their needs are met, before trying to also cope with an onslaught of all other students. Some have raised with us a concern that this might turn out to be a form of segregation, and could be detrimental for some of those students.

We therefore recommend that:

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

  1. a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.
  1. b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

 12. Need for A Rapid Method to Spread the Word to Teachers and Parents About Effective Teaching Strategies for Students with Disabilities During COVID-19

Teachers and parents of students with disabilities are struggling around Ontario to cope with distance learning and the barriers it can create for many students with disabilities. Teachers and parents are creating novel work-arounds to address this.

Yet the Ontario Government has not been effectively canvassing the frontlines of teachers and parents to gather these up and share them around the province, so all can benefit without having to re-invent the wheel in the midst of a traumatic pandemic. We have called on the Ontario Government for the past three months to do this without success. We modelled one way of doing this by our successful May 4, 2020 online virtual town hall on teaching students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis (jointly organized with the Ontario Autism Coalition). As far as we have been able to learn, the Ontario Government has neither taken up that idea nor has it shared with school boards the link to our May 4, 2020 virtual town hall so that they can all benefit from it. We have repeatedly asked the Ministry of Education to share that link with school boards.

In the meantime, to fill this gap, several school boards have commendably been trying to address this need themselves. They have themselves been compiling good ideas and sharing them within their own board.

This is a huge and wasteful duplication of effort. The Ontario Government should be centrally accumulating and compiling all these resources, as well as researching what other jurisdictions have compiled from their own experience. These should be rapidly made available to frontline teachers and parents in a way that is easy to access, not by a blizzard of endless links that few if anyone will have the time to explore.

This effort should have been done weeks ago. Nevertheless, it is still not too late, since distance learning will remain part of our lives in whole or in part until a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and widely administered.

It is important that any such resources be themselves fully accessible to teacher, school staff, students and family members with disabilities. We regret that we have no assurance of this. On June 15, 2020, the Ontario Government announced in a news release that it was now making available new teaching materials during the COVID-19 crisis, under the headline: “Ontario Develops Additional Learning Materials for Students and Teachers”. The AODA Alliance promptly wrote senior officials at the Ministry of Education to ask what steps were taken to ensure that these new educational materials are accessible to people with disabilities, and asking what was done to include tips for teaching students with disabilities. The Ministry has not answered as of the time this brief was submitted.

We therefore recommend that:

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

 13. Distance Learning Must Be Effectively Provided for Students Who Cannot Return to School

When schools re-open, each school board will have a duty to accommodate its students with disabilities in school unless the school board can prove that it is impossible to do so without undue hardship. There may be some students who cannot return to school when others do. Their disability may make it impossible to accommodate them in school under the restrictions that apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students may not be able to return to school because their parents or other family members with whom they live are so medically vulnerable or immuno-compromised that the family must take heightened precautions to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

In those cases, even if other students are learning at school, the school board must provide effective and accessible distance learning for those students who must remain at home. This may include home visits from teaching staff. In this, students with disabilities must be more effectively and consistently served during distance learning than was the case in the spring.

We therefore recommend that:

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

 14. Creating Provincial Resources for Parents to Prepare Their Students for Return to School

Some students with disabilities will need extensive preparation at home for their eventual return to school, including learning about social distancing and other new school practices due to COVID-19. Some parents will need a great deal of time to deal with this. Each school board or teacher and family should not have to duplicate these efforts by inventing their own curriculum, social stories or other resources.

We therefore recommend that:

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

 15. New Protocols Needed for Safe School Bussing

There were ample problems with bussing of students with disabilities to school before the COVID-19 crisis. In any return to school, heightened safeguards will be needed, including frequent sanitization of busses, ensuring students are seated more than 2 meters from each other and ensuring that the driver has PPE and doesn’t risk spreading COVID-19. It is not realistic to expect that this will all simply happen with private sector bussing companies who employ casual and part time drivers working at low wages.

We therefore recommend that:

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

 16. Ensure Very Active Engagement of Each School Board’s Special Education Advisory Committee

Each Ontario school board is required to have a Special Education Advisory Committee to advise it on special education issues. We understand that some have met regularly during the school closures, using conference calls or virtual online meeting platforms. Others have not met regularly, from what we have heard.

SEACs have a great deal to offer in this area. In making our recommendations about SEACs, we note that SEACs are not required to include representation regarding students with all kinds of disabilities. They are instead required only to have members that represent families whose students whose disability falls within the more limited definition of “exceptionality” that the Ministry of Education uses. Of course, it is open to a school board to have its SEAC have a more inclusive membership. It is also open to SEAC members to speak to any needs of any students with disabilities . School boards and the Ontario Government must ensure that they get input regarding students with any and all kinds of disabilities.

It is essential that each school board ensures that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) is meeting at least once per month, if not more, during the COVID-19pandemic, including during the transition to re-opening. While they usually don’t meet during the summer, they should meet if possible during the 2020 summer. They should be fully engaged in planning for the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period.

Their volunteer efforts would have more impact if the Ministry of Education took two easy steps. First, the Minister should create a virtual network or listserv to enable SEACs to share their work with each other. No such network now exists. As well, the Ministry should collect input from all Ontario’s SEACs on their concerns and advice given during the COVID-19 era, as this is a readily-available avenue to more front-line experience of students with disabilities.

We therefore recommend that:

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

  1. a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
  1. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.

Appendix – List of Recommendations

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministry’s overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a “Students with Disabilities Education Command Table” to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school. including directions that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

  1. a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the student’s progress during the school shutdown, the student’s specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19crisis and the student’s needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;
  1. b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

  1. a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.
  1. b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee(SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

  1. a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
  1. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.



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Please Email the Ontario Government to Support the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief on Measures Needed to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities Now and During the Transition to Schools Re-Opening


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/

June 18, 2020

SUMMARY

Working at warp speed, the AODA Alliance has finalized and submitted its brief to the Ontario Government on what must be done to meet the needs of at least one third of a million students with disabilities in kindergarten to Grade 12 now and during the eventual transition to schools re-opening. We set out that 23-page brief below.

We invite and encourage you to email the Ontario Government right away to support our briefs 19 recommendations. Those recommendations are set out and described throughout the brief. To make it easier for you, at the end of the brief is an appendix that lists all the recommendations together in one place.

You can support us by emailing the Government at this address: [email protected] If you are part of a disability community organization, please get your organization to write the Government to support our recommendations. Of course, we encourage you to add any thoughts, experiences or recommendations that you wish.

It is good if you can use your own words when you write the Government. If you dont have time, you might just wish to say something like this:

I support the recommendations made in the AODA Alliances June 18, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities now and during the transition to re-opened schools.

We thank everyone who took the time to read over the draft of this brief that we circulated for comment on June 11, 2020. We got fantastic feedback. We drew heavily on that feedback as we finalized this brief.

This finalized brief makes all the 17 recommendations that were in our draft brief (with some minor improvements) with one exception. Based on feedback we received, we removed our draft recommendation 13(b) in the draft brief. It had recommended that schools re-open for vulnerable students first. Our finalized brief replaced that recommendation with this, in #13(b):

The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

This finalized brief adds two new recommendations, 18 and 19. These propose that the Government and school boards across the board make more use during the COVID-19 pandemic of the Special Education Advisory Committee that each Ontario school board is required to have, if they are not doing so now.

In addition to writing the Government to support our recommendations, we encourage you to send this brief to your local school board and school trustees. Encourage them to take the actions we recommend in this brief.

For more background on these issues, please visit the AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page and our education web page.

Stay safe, and let us know what you do to help us press for these reforms. Email us at [email protected]

MORE DETAILS
A Brief to the Ontario Government on Key Measures Needed to Address the Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities in Ontario During the COVID-19 Crisis Both During Distance Learning and During The Transition to the Eventual Re-Opening of Schools

Submitted by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

To: The Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education
Via email [email protected]
June 18, 2020

Introduction

The AODA Alliance submits this brief to the Minister of Education for Ontario, in response to the Ministry of Educations public consultation on the transition to school re-opening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AODA Alliance is a voluntary non-partisan grassroots coalition of individuals and organizations. Our mission is:

To contribute to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, by promoting and supporting the timely, effective, and comprehensive implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. To learn about us, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org.

Our coalition is the successor to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The ODA Committee advocated more than ten years for the enactment of strong, effective disability accessibility legislation. Our coalition builds on the ODA Committees work. We draw our membership from the ODA Committee’s broad, grassroots base. To learn about the ODA Committees history, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net.

We have been widely recognized by the Ontario Government, by all political parties in the Ontario Legislature, within the disability community and by the media, as a key voice leading the non-partisan campaign for accessibility in Ontario. In every provincial election since 2005, parties that made election commitments on accessibility did so in letters to the AODA Alliance.

Among our many activities, we led a multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA to tear down the many barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. Our years of efforts to advocate for accessibility for students with disabilities are documented on our websites education page.

Our efforts and expertise on accessibility for people with disabilities have been recognized in MPPs speeches in the Ontario Legislature, and beyond. Our website and Twitter feed are widely consulted as helpful sources of information on accessibility efforts in Ontario and elsewhere. We have achieved this as an unfunded volunteer community coalition.

The Government must pay special heed to the input it receives from the disability community including parents of students with disabilities . Input to the Government from other organizations can fail to effectively address the specific experience and needs of students with disabilities . The recommendations in this brief are gathered together in a list in the appendix appearing at the end of this brief. Our position in this brief is summarized as follows:

a) The COVID-19 crisis has imposed disproportionate added hardships on people with disabilities. As part of this, it has led to disproportionate, serious hardships being inflicted on students with disabilities in Ontario schools. These hardships are exacerbated by no small part by serious pre-existing problems and disability barriers that have faced students with disabilities for years in Ontario’s education system, which have been made even worse for too many students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

b) In this brief we address the needs of all students with disabilities, using the inclusive definition of disability in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . We do not limit our recommendations to the narrower group of students whose disability falls in the narrower definitions of special education or exceptionality that the Ministry of Education uses.

c) To date, the provincial response to the problems facing students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been substantially insufficient. The AODA Alliance offers 19 recommendations in this brief, to effectively address this, starting now and into the fall. Our fuller recommendations for comprehensive and long term reforms in the form of a strong and effective Education Accessibility Standard are set out in the AODA Alliances October 10, 20-19 Framework for the promised Education Accessibility Standard.

d) While students are not able to go to school this spring due to the COVID-19 crisis, students with disabilities are experiencing wildly different learning experiences. Some are making good progress. Some are making much less progress. Some are making no progress or are losing ground. Some are getting extensive educational supports from their school board. Some are getting much less support. Some are getting little if any support. Conditions and supports can vary widely, even within the same school board and by students with the same disability.

e) There is a pressing need for a comprehensive Ministry of Education plan of action to address the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

f) There is a need for a provincial Students with Disabilities Command Table at the Ministry of Education.

g) The Ministry must prevent a rash of principals refusing to admit some students with disabilities to school when schools re-open.

h) There is a need for specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for individual students with disabilities before and during the transition to return to school.

i) There is a need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to be established to address recurring urgent needs of students with disabilities.

j) A surge of specialized supports for students with disabilities is needed when schools re-open.

k) School boards must plan for the needs of students with disabilities who cannot themselves ensure social distancing.

l) The Ministry must ensure the full accessibility of digital platforms used for remote classes or synchronous learning.

m) The Ontario Government must immediately ensure the digital accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO online learning resources.

n) The Ministry of Education and school boards must stop making some learning resources available only in PDF format as this creates accessibility barriers.

o) One size fits all does not fit for return to school.

p) There is a need for a rapid method to spread the word to teachers and parents about effective teaching strategies for students with disabilities during COVID-19.

q) Distance learning must be effectively provided for students who cannot return to school right away when schools re-open.

r) The Ministry of Education should now create provincial resources for parents to prepare their students for the return to school.

s) New protocols are needed for safe school bussing for students with disabilities.

t) The Ministry should ensure the very active engagement of each school boards Special Education Advisory Committee.

This brief builds on extensive involvement of the AODA Alliance during the COVID-19 crisis, advocating for the needs of people with disabilities across society. On June 11, 2020, we made public a draft of this brief, and solicited public input on it. We were very gratified by the supportive and helpful feedback we received. We have drawn heavily on that feedback to produce this finalized brief. We are urging one and all to share their own advice and recommendations with the Ontario Government during this important consultation.

1. Pressing Need for A Comprehensive Ministry of Education Plan of Action to Address Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the AODA Alliance has repeatedly urged the Ontario Government to develop and announce a comprehensive plan to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This has been needed so over 70 school boards dont have to each re-invent the wheel in deciding what the needs of students with disabilities are and how best to meet them. To date, the Ontario Government has not done what we have urged.

The need for this comprehensive provincial plan remains pressing during the period of distance learning due to school closures. It is also needed to ensure that students with disabilities needs are met across Ontario when schools eventually re-open. Ontario needs to also be prepared in the event of the realistic possibility that distance learning will have to continue in the fall, either because school re-opening is further delayed, or because a second wave of COVID-19 would require another round of school closures.

To date, the Ontario Government has primarily focused its education strategy during the COVID-19 pandemic on students without disabilities. Almost as an afterthought, it then reminded school boards that they should also accommodate students with special education needs.

The plan for students with disabilities should, to the extent possible, be included in the Ministrys overall plan for school re-opening.

We therefore recommend that:

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministrys overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

2. Need for a Provincial Students with Disabilities Command Table

To deal with the need for rapid planning during the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has commendably set up its own command tables to deal with critical areas, like health care planning and planning for the safe operation of the economy during this crisis. This enables the Government to have critical expertise at the table to make rapid and key decisions.

There is a pressing need for a students with disabilities command table within the Government to plan for the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. No such table or concentrated expertise centre exists now within Ontarios Ministry of Education. We have been pressing for this for three months. That table needs to be staffed by professionals with focused expertise on providing education to students with disabilities.

This is not meant to be an advisory or consultative table. It needs to be a planning and implementation table that can quickly and nimbly make decisions and effectively connect with the frontlines in the education system, where the action is.

This need is not fulfilled by the Minister of Education having had some consultative meetings with the Ministers Advisory Committee on Special Education (MACSE), which still has vacancies, or with the AODA K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. Those bodies are only advisory. They do not have the capacity of a Ministry command table. Of course, it is good that they have been consulted.

We therefore recommend that:

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a Students with Disabilities Education Command Table to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

3. Preventing a Rash of Refusals to Admit Students with Disabilities to School When Schools Re-Open

Ontarios Education Act lets a school principal refuse to admit to school any person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principals judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils”. Disability advocates have repeatedly criticized this as an excessive, arbitrary and unfair power. The Education Act and the Ministry of Education leave to school boards and individual principals an extremely wide discretion over when, how and why to exclude a student from school under this power. The Education Act does not even require principals to give a parent their reasons for excluding a student from school. It does not cap the duration of the students exclusion from school. It does not require a school board or the Ministry to keep track of how often or why students are excluded from school under this power.

Disproportionately, this excessive power has been used against students with disabilities, leading them too often to be excluded from school altogether or allowing them to attend school only for reduced hours. Long before the COVID-19 crisis, parents and students advocates have called for this power to be reduced and regulated. See for example the January 30, 2019 joint news release by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. To date, the Ontario Government has not made any significant reform of this power.

In September 2018, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released an updated policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

“9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).”

There is a serious risk that some principals will feel at liberty to use this power to exclude some students with disabilities from school during school re-openings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially before any effective vaccine is invented and widely available. This is especially so if school boards do not now effectively plan for the inclusion and accommodation of students with disabilities at school during the transition to school re-opening. They may do so either because they dont know how to accommodate some students with disabilities during social distancing, or because the Ontario Government and/or their school board has not given them the staffing, directions and resources they need to be able to effectively include and accommodate those students at school for part or all of the school day. Such exclusions from school raise serious human rights concerns and are contrary to the students right to an education.

With all the uncertainties and pressures anticipated during the transition back to school, a principal can be expected to feel a real temptation to use the power to refuse to admit such students to school during a COVID-19 school re-opening. This is so because it would seem to solve the problem of having to plan for those students needs at school.

The need to reform practices regarding a school principals power to refuse to admit a student to school for part or all of the school day has therefore become even more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AODA Alliance considers this a major priority. It is essential that school re-openings this fall do not lead to a rash of principals refusals to admit any number of students with disabilities to school. Such a rash of exclusions would thereby create two classes of students, those allowed to return to school and those who are excluded from school, especially if this disproportionately divides along disability lines.

The Ontario Government has commendably been willing to give directions to a school board about the use of its power to refuse to admit students to school in other contexts. It can and should do so here as well. The Ontario Ministry of Education has very recently given directions to the Peel District School Board to keep and report data on exclusions of students from school by race. In directive number 9, the Ministry stipulated that:

The Board shall centrally track disaggregated race-based data on suspensions (in-school and out-of-school), expulsions and exclusions, and report publicly through the Annual Equity Accountability Report Card.

We therefore recommend that:

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:

a) During the re-opening at schools, students with disabilities have an equal right to attend schools for the entire school day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.

b) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process should be required to immediately give the student and their family written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the familys right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.

c) A principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should be required to immediately report this in writing to their school boards senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a bi-monthly basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized). The Ministry should promptly make public on a provincial basis and a school board by school board basis the information it receives on numbers, reasons and durations of refusals to admit during post- COVID-19 school re-opening.

4. Need for Specific COVID-19 Individual Education Plans for Individual Students with Disabilities Before and During Transition to Return to School

For each student with disabilities, distance learning during COVID-19 will have created different deficits and challenges. The transition back to school will present challenges and needs that will vary from student to student.

Students IEPs were all written earlier this past school year while students were in school. They were written with no contemplation of the COVID-19 crisis or the challenges and hardships of distance learning and then of a later transition back to school. All students with disabilities will need their IEP modified to address these unforeseen needs.

As an immediate measure, students with disabilities each now need a customized COVID-19 specific IEP to be created and implemented. This should not be limited to students whose disability fits within the narrow and incomplete definition of exceptionality in Ontario, which leaves out some disabilities. It should be provided to any student that has a disability within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It should not be limited to students whose disability has been formally identified at an Identification and Placement Review Committee.

This COVID-19 IEP would not replace the students existing IEP. It would not replace the usual IEP development process when school is back in usual operation. This COVID-19 IEP is meant as an immediate, temporary or interim measure to address these hitherto-unanticipated events and related learning needs. IEPs are supported to deal, among other things, with transition needs. Both the transition to distance learning and the later transition to school re-opening fit well within that rubric.

The COVID-19 IEP should be developed now and over the summer, not in the fall when students are already back in school. This may well require new resources to enable this to be developed over the summer.

As noted earlier, there is a real possibility that distance learning will continue in September, or may have to later resume due to a resurgence or a second wave of COVID-19. These COVID-19 IEPs need to now anticipate and effectively address each of these possible eventualities.

The development of each students COVID-19 IEP should start with a direct phone conversation as soon as possible between the students teacher and the family. They should discuss where the gains and gaps have been, the concerns for the fall that are anticipated and how best to address them. The COVID-19 IEP should be developed in close consultation with the family and, where appropriate, the student.

We therefore recommend that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the students progress during the school shutdown, the students specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis and the students needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;

b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

5. Need for Provincial and School Board Rapid Response Teams to Be Established to Address Recurring Urgent Needs of Students with Disabilities

During the COVID-19 crisis, Ontario’s education system continues to try to navigate uncharted territory. No matter how much planning for the needs of students with disabilities takes place as we here recommend, unexpected surprises will crop up. School boards and the Ministry of Education each need to be able to quickly detect these, and to nimbly respond to them. Traditionally, large organizations are not always the best at rapid and nimble adaptations in the midst of great uncertainty.

Parents, teachers and principals need a central point in the school board to report difficult challenges. Each school board needs to quickly feed this information to a single point at the Ministry that is staying on top of things, for rapid responses to recurring issues around the province.

We therefore recommend that:

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

6. Surge Needed in Specialized Supports for Students with Disabilities

All students will have fallen behind to varying extents during the months when schools were closed. This hardship falls especially on students with disabilities who have additional specialized curriculum to learn, related to their disabilities, or who need specialized supports to learn which are unavailable during distance learning.

When students return to school, students with disabilities who need those supports will need a surge in the hours of support provided to them to help them catch up and adjust to the return to school. School boards cannot simply pull those resources out of the air. School boards will need added funding to hire those staff. They will need provincial help in finding them where there are shortages.

For example, students with vision loss are unable to get the full benefit of teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs) teaching hands-on braille reading when schools are closed. When schools re-open, school boards will need to engage additional TVIs to help ramp up the surge in TVI hours to be provided to students. There is now a shortage of TVIs in Ontario. The Ministry will need to lead a concerted effort to create a surge of TVIs to help school boards fill this gap during the return to school. Comparable needs can similarly be identified for students with other disabilities where such specialized educational support is needed.

We therefore recommend that:

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

7. Planning for Needs of Students with Disabilities Who Cannot Themselves Ensure Social Distancing

As an illustration of the last issue discussed, any return to school while COVID-19 continues to exist in our community will require students to engage in social distancing. If schools re-open, they will be doing so mindful of the fact that many students will not be able to consistently and reliably engage in social distancing, frequent hand washing and other important protective activities. Many are too young to ensure that they can fully understand the need to do so and comply. For some older children, it may seem cool to periodically break the rules. For many, it will be impossible to remain attentive to these precautions all the time.

For any number of students with disabilities, social distancing and related safe practices may pose additional challenges. For some, wearing a mask may not be possible due to such things as sensory integration or behavioural issues.

Some students with disabilities require an education assistant (EA) or special needs assistant (SNA) for all or part of the day to fully take part in school activities. For some of these students, it will not be possible to remain two meters away while providing the support or assistance that the student needs. Some will require close assistance for eating, hand-washing and other personal needs.

Pre-COVID-19 staffing levels for EAs and SNAs were too often inadequate. They did not account for these important additional requirements. EAs and SNAs were not experienced with or trained for this before COVID-19. It is not sufficient to now send them an email with instructions, or a link to a training video, and thereafter to assume that they will be fully equipped to consistently and reliably handle these duties. In addition to new in-person training, they will need to have constant access to good quality personal protective equipment (PPE), like masks.

It is also important to employ enough EAs and SNAs so that they dont have to split their time among multiple schools or venues, lest they pose a greater risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus from place to place among vulnerable students.

We therefore recommend that:

#8. The Ministry of Educations plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

8. Ensuring Full Accessibility of Digital Platforms Used for Remote Classes or Synchronous Learning

We do not here wade into the dispute between the Ford Government and some teachers unions about whether or when a teacher should conduct online classes for their students in real time over the internet, sometimes called synchronous learning. We insist, however, that whenever an online real time class or synchronous learning takes place, or any other online meeting involving students with disabilities or their parents in connection with their education, it must be conducted via a fully accessible digital meeting platform.

When the Ontario Government moved our education system from the physical classroom to the virtual classroom in late March, it should have ensured from the start that the choice of digital meeting platforms was fully accessible. The Ontario Government did not do so, nor did it monitor school boards to see what platforms they were using. The Ontario Government dropped the ball on this critical accessibility concern, to the detriment of students, teachers and parents with disabilities. The Ministry of Education took the erroneous position that it was up to each school board to decide which online virtual meeting platform to use, based on the boards assessment of its local needs. Yet these disability accessibility needs do not vary from school board to school board. They are the same across Ontario. The Ministry wastefully leaves it to each school board to investigate the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms.

As a belated partial attempt to address this problem, the Minister of Education wrote school boards on or around May 26, 2020 about several issues regarding distance learning. That memo stated, among other things:

Boards must ensure that the platforms they use for connecting with students and families are fully accessible for persons with disabilities.

However, that direction provides no assistance to school boards on which platforms to use or avoid, or how to figure this out. It still leaves it to each school board to investigate this as much or as little as they wish, and then to duplicate the same investigations of this issue over and over across Ontario. We have seen no indication that the Ministers direction led any school boards to change what they were doing in this regard.

This issue remains a live one and will continue into the fall. It is not clear when schools will re-open. Our education system may still be running on 100% distance learning at the start of the fall school term. Even when schools re-open, there is a real likelihood that some distance learning will continue in some blended model of in-school and distance education. As noted earlier, if a second wave of COVID-19 hits, as has happened elsewhere, requiring another round of school closures, Ontario will have to return to 100% distance learning.

At least one school board has improperly prohibited the use of Zoom, even though it is at least as accessible as, or more accessible than, other platforms. The Ministry of the Attorney General did its own comparison of digital meeting platforms, for use by the courts. The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario has decided to use Zoom as its platform for virtual court proceedings. If Zoom is safe enough for the Superior Court of Justice, there is no reason why a school board should prohibit its use.

Canadas largest school board, TDSB, has announced that it is using Webex for parent-teacher meetings. This is so even though Webex has real accessibility problems. Such a practice should not be allowed.

We have heard examples of quite inaccurate information on this topic from some in the school board sector. Parents should not have to fight about this, one school board at a time, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

This topic requires ongoing effort and leadership by the Ministry. By August, there could well have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. School boards need to operate based on current information.

We therefore recommend that:

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

9. Ensuring Digital Accessibility of Ontario Government and TVO Online Learning Resources

Over three months into the COVID-19 crisis, the Ontario Government has still not ensured that the online content that it provides to school boards, teachers, parents and students meets accessibility requirements for computer-users with disabilities. The AODA Alliance has been raising concerns with the Government about this since early in the pandemic. We have seen no public commitment to the needed corrective action. We have raised our concerns at senior levels within TVO and the Ministry of Education. The Government and TVO were required to comply with these accessibility requirements well before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We therefore recommend that:

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

10. Stop Making Some Learning Resources Available Only in PDF Format

Throughout this pandemic, as well as beforehand, the Ministry of Education and too many school boards have continued to make important digital information available to the public, including to parents, teachers and students, only in pdf format. That format can present accessibility problems for people with disabilities. When a document is made public in PDF format, it should also be made public in an accessible format, such as MS Word. This is an important time to start this long-overdue practice.

We therefore recommend that:

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

11. One Size Fits All Does Not Fit for Return to School

To avoid chaos, a return to school should not be done all at once using a one-size-fits-all approach. Because we are in uncharted waters, it makes sense to go about this gradually and to try different approaches at different locations to see what works. We must avoid students with disabilities being again treated as after-thoughts who have to try to fit into a chaotic situation that was not designed with their needs in mind.

One suggestion that some have raised is to enable students with disabilities to return to school first, and for teaching staff to ensure their needs are met, before trying to also cope with an onslaught of all other students. Some have raised with us a concern that this might turn out to be a form of segregation, and could be detrimental for some of those students.

We therefore recommend that:

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.

b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

12. Need for A Rapid Method to Spread the Word to Teachers and Parents About Effective Teaching Strategies for Students with Disabilities During COVID-19

Teachers and parents of students with disabilities are struggling around Ontario to cope with distance learning and the barriers it can create for many students with disabilities. Teachers and parents are creating novel work-arounds to address this.

Yet the Ontario Government has not been effectively canvassing the frontlines of teachers and parents to gather these up and share them around the province, so all can benefit without having to re-invent the wheel in the midst of a traumatic pandemic. We have called on the Ontario Government for the past three months to do this without success. We modelled one way of doing this by our successful May 4, 2020 online virtual town hall on teaching students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis (jointly organized with the Ontario Autism Coalition). As far as we have been able to learn, the Ontario Government has neither taken up that idea nor has it shared with school boards the link to our May 4, 2020 virtual town hall so that they can all benefit from it. We have repeatedly asked the Ministry of Education to share that link with school boards.

In the meantime, to fill this gap, several school boards have commendably been trying to address this need themselves. They have themselves been compiling good ideas and sharing them within their own board.

This is a huge and wasteful duplication of effort. The Ontario Government should be centrally accumulating and compiling all these resources, as well as researching what other jurisdictions have compiled from their own experience. These should be rapidly made available to frontline teachers and parents in a way that is easy to access, not by a blizzard of endless links that few if anyone will have the time to explore.

This effort should have been done weeks ago. Nevertheless, it is still not too late, since distance learning will remain part of our lives in whole or in part until a vaccine for COVID-19 is created and widely administered.

It is important that any such resources be themselves fully accessible to teacher, school staff, students and family members with disabilities. We regret that we have no assurance of this. On June 15, 2020, the Ontario Government announced in a news release that it was now making available new teaching materials during the COVID-19 crisis, under the headline: Ontario Develops Additional Learning Materials for Students and Teachers. The AODA Alliance promptly wrote senior officials at the Ministry of Education to ask what steps were taken to ensure that these new educational materials are accessible to people with disabilities, and asking what was done to include tips for teaching students with disabilities. The Ministry has not answered as of the time this brief was submitted.

We therefore recommend that:

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

13. Distance Learning Must Be Effectively Provided for Students Who Cannot Return to School

When schools re-open, each school board will have a duty to accommodate its students with disabilities in school unless the school board can prove that it is impossible to do so without undue hardship. There may be some students who cannot return to school when others do. Their disability may make it impossible to accommodate them in school under the restrictions that apply during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students may not be able to return to school because their parents or other family members with whom they live are so medically vulnerable or immuno-compromised that the family must take heightened precautions to avoid the risk of contracting COVID-19.

In those cases, even if other students are learning at school, the school board must provide effective and accessible distance learning for those students who must remain at home. This may include home visits from teaching staff. In this, students with disabilities must be more effectively and consistently served during distance learning than was the case in the spring.

We therefore recommend that:

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

14. Creating Provincial Resources for Parents to Prepare Their Students for Return to School

Some students with disabilities will need extensive preparation at home for their eventual return to school, including learning about social distancing and other new school practices due to COVID-19. Some parents will need a great deal of time to deal with this. Each school board or teacher and family should not have to duplicate these efforts by inventing their own curriculum, social stories or other resources.

We therefore recommend that:

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

15. New Protocols Needed for Safe School Bussing

There were ample problems with bussing of students with disabilities to school before the COVID-19 crisis. In any return to school, heightened safeguards will be needed, including frequent sanitization of busses, ensuring students are seated more than 2 meters from each other and ensuring that the driver has PPE and doesnt risk spreading COVID-19. It is not realistic to expect that this will all simply happen with private sector bussing companies who employ casual and part time drivers working at low wages.

We therefore recommend that:

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

16. Ensure Very Active Engagement of Each School Boards Special Education Advisory Committee

Each Ontario school board is required to have a Special Education Advisory Committee to advise it on special education issues. We understand that some have met regularly during the school closures, using conference calls or virtual online meeting platforms. Others have not met regularly, from what we have heard.

SEACs have a great deal to offer in this area. In making our recommendations about SEACs, we note that SEACs are not required to include representation regarding students with all kinds of disabilities. They are instead required only to have members that represent families whose students whose disability falls within the more limited definition of exceptionality that the Ministry of Education uses. Of course, it is open to a school board to have its SEAC have a more inclusive membership. It is also open to SEAC members to speak to any needs of any students with disabilities . School boards and the Ontario Government must ensure that they get input regarding students with any and all kinds of disabilities.

It is essential that each school board ensures that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) is meeting at least once per month, if not more, during the COVID-19pandemic, including during the transition to re-opening. While they usually dont meet during the summer, they should meet if possible during the 2020 summer. They should be fully engaged in planning for the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period.

Their volunteer efforts would have more impact if the Ministry of Education took two easy steps. First, the Minister should create a virtual network or listserv to enable SEACs to share their work with each other. No such network now exists. As well, the Ministry should collect input from all Ontarios SEACs on their concerns and advice given during the COVID-19 era, as this is a readily-available avenue to more front-line experience of students with disabilities.

We therefore recommend that:

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and

b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.

Appendix List of Recommendations

#1. The Ministry of Education should immediately develop, announce and implement a comprehensive plan for meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This plan should include during this time of distance learning, during an eventual return to school, and in case of a future COVID-19 wave that requires another round of school closures. To the extent possible, this plan should be an integral part of the Ministrys overall plan it is developing for school re-opening.

#2. The Ministry of Education should immediately establish a Students with Disabilities Education Command Table to oversee the development and implementation of a Government action plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, and to swiftly react to issues for students with disabilities as they arise.

#3. The Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to all school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school. including directions that:

#4. For each student with disabilities, each school board should now:

a) Contact the family of each student with disabilities, preferably by phone rather than email, to discuss and identify the students progress during the school shutdown, the students specific and individualized disability-related deficits and needs arising from and during distance learning due to the COVID-19crisis and the students needs and challenges related to eventual transition to school (including any vulnerabilities of other family members due to the COVID-19 pandemic), and;

b) Create a COVID-19 IEP to set specific goals and activities to effectively address their disability-related needs during distance learning, and in connection with transition back to school.

#5. The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist its Students with Disabilities Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.

#6. The Ministry should direct that each school board shall establish a similar central rapid response team within the board to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period, that will quickly network with other similar offices at other school boards, and that can report recurring issues to the Ministry.

#7. The Ministry of Education should plan for, fund and coordinate the provision by school boards of a surge in specialized disability supports to those students with disabilities who will need them when students return to school.

#8. The Ministry of Educations plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures for ensuring that students with disabilities are safe from COVID-19 during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional SNAs and EAs they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that an EA or SNA does not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.

#9. The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital meeting platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual meeting platforms. The Ministry should direct which platforms may be used and which may not be used for virtual or synchronous classes or parent/school meetings, based on their accessibility.

#10. The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines.

#11. The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.

#12. The Ministry of Education should direct all its staff and all school boards that whenever making digital information public in a PDF format, it must at the same time also be made available in an accessible format such as an accessible MS Word document.

#13. The provincial plans for return to school should include these features:

a) Rather than having all students across Ontario return to school at once, in a one-size-fits-all strategy, the Ontario Government should lead a strategic return to school process, trying out different approaches to see what works most effectively. For example, opening a few schools first to detect recurring problems and plan to prevent them would assist with opening of other schools across Ontario.

b) The COVID-19 IEP of each student with disabilities should tailor their plans for the return to school to meet their individual needs. Students with disabilities who need this accommodation should be afforded a chance to return to the school facility early so they can be oriented to any changes to which they need to adjust in the COVID-19 era.

#14. The Ministry of Education should immediately put in place an effective proactive team to gather teaching strategies for students with disabilities during distance learning from frontline teachers, parents and school boards and make these easily available to the frontlines on an ongoing basis, in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities. These should be supplemented by strategies that the Ministry researches from other jurisdictions that have innovated creative solutions.

#15 The plans for return to school must include measures for ensuring that those who cannot return to school at the same time can secure effective distance learning, including home visits (with social distancing) from teaching staff.

#16. The Ministry of Education should prepare teaching materials for teachers and parents to use, addressing different disability-related learning needs, for preparing students with disabilities for the return to school, to address such changes as social distancing.

#17. The Ministry of Education should create, fund and effectively enforce new standards for safe bussing practices for students with disabilities during any return to school while COVID-19 remains a community threat.

#18. Each school board should ensure that its Special Education Advisory Committee(SEAC) meets at least once per month, and preferably more often, during the COVID-19 crisis, to give its board ongoing input into planning for students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

#19. To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:

a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and

b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis.




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Tell Doctors, Nurses, EMTs or Others You Know That Work in the Health Care System About the AODA Alliance’s Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities


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/

Tell Doctors, Nurses, EMTs or Others You Know That Work in the Health Care System About the AODA Alliance’s Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities

April 15, 2020

          SUMMARY

Please help us ensure that no people with disabilities who get the COVID-19 virus face any discrimination due to their disability when they seek help from our health care system. This Update offers you ways that you can quickly help, while you remain self-isolating at home.

          MORE DETAILS

Yesterday, the AODA Alliance made public a short but extremely important document. It is our Discussion Paper ensuring that medical triage or rationing of health care services during the COVID-19 crisis does not discriminate against patients with disabilities. We urge you to share this Discussion Paper far and wide. We set out specific action tips below.

The AODA Alliance‘s April 14, 2020 Discussion Paper describes 9 hypothetical situations which could arise in our health care system if the growing number of COVID-19 patients is greater than our hospitals can serve. We want to make sure that no patient with disabilities is denied needed medical care because of their disability, or is discriminated against because of their disability.

We are very concerned about this because since at least late last month, the Ontario Government has had in circulation a protocol on rationing or triage of medical services during the COVID-19 crisis. On April 8, 2020, the ARCH Disability Law Centre made public an open letter, signed by over 200 community organizations (including the AODA Alliance ) and by thousands of individuals. That open letter raises serious concerns with the Ontario Government’s medical care triage or rationing protocol that was in circulation. The open letter called on the Ontario Government to ensure that any medical care rationing or triage never discriminates against patients because they have a disability.

For our part, the AODA Alliance prepared our new Discussion Paper on this topic to kick start a much-needed public discussion of this topic. We were delighted that within minutes of making this Discussion Paper public, CBC Radio in Winnipeg invited AODA Alliance Chair, David Lepofsky, to appear on its afternoon program “Up to Speed” to discuss this topic. We are eager to spread the word as much as we can.

We regret that the Ontario Ministry of Health, responsible for our health care system, has not reached out to us to engage in this discussion. Ontarians with disabilities cannot wait, given the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus and the growing demand on health care services. We again offer the Government our help. We believe that the grassroots disability community must be a key part of Government discussions in this area.

We want to get our Discussion Paper directly to people working in the health care system. We are eager for them to read the nine specific examples we give of situations where discrimination against patients with disabilities must not be permitted. We emphasize that these are not the only situations that can give rise to concern. That is why we’ve tried to start a public dialogue, via this Discussion Paper.

* If you know any physician, nurse, emergency medical technician (EMT), hospital administrator, nursing home or other long term care administrator, or anyone else working in the health care system, send them our Discussion Paper titled, Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities. It is available online at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/a-discussion-paper-on-ensuring-that-medical-triage-or-rationing-of-health-care-services-during-the-covid-19-crisis-does-not-discriminate-against-patients-with-disabilities/

Urge them to read it and to share it with other health care professionals.

* Post our Discussion Paper’s link on your website and your Facebook page and urge your Facebook friends to share it with any physicians, nurses, EMTs or others working in the health care system.

* Call, text, email, tweet or Facebook message your member of the Ontario Legislature. Let them know about our Discussion Paper. Tell them to make sure the situations addressed in our Discussion Paper are not permitted to happen in the Government’s medical triage and rationing protocol.

* Contact the media. Urge them to cover our Discussion Paper and the issues it addresses, like CBC Radio Winnipeg’s Up to Speed program commendably did on April 14, 2020. They can email the AODA Alliance at [email protected] to get a speaker or more information on this.

* If you know of situations where people with disabilities have faced possible denial of needed medical services due to their disability, let the media and your MPP know as soon as possible. As a volunteer disability coalition, the AODA Alliance is not able or equipped to give advice or advocate in specific cases. If you are a person with a disability in Ontario, you can reach ARCH Disability Law Centre for free confidential legal information, referrals, and summary

legal advice. For more information about how to contact ARCH, please use the following link:

www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/contact

* If you are a member of a religious community, urge your congregation and your spiritual leader to circulate our Discussion Paper and to take a public stand in support of the concerns it identifies, so that patients with disabilities don’t suffer discrimination in our health care system during the COVID-19 crisis.

*If you have not already done so, watch our April 7, 2020 Virtual Public Forum, jointly organized with the Ontario Autism Coalition. It is on the important subject of what Government must now do to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during its emergency COVID-19 planning. This includes the issue of medical triage and rationing, among other important and inter-connected issues. It is captioned and has American Sign Language interpretation.

In just 8 days, our Virtual Public Forum has been viewed more than 1,700 times. That is very encouraging. Spread the word to others to check it out. It is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ23it9ULjc

As of now, the Ontario Government’s Ministries of Health, Education, Colleges and Universities and Children, Community and Social Services have not reached out to us to discuss any of the practical recommendations for action that our ten experts brought forward during our Virtual Public Forum.

* Let us know what steps you take to help spread the word. Also, give us feedback on our Discussion Paper. We can always be reached at [email protected]

There have now been 440 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has still announced no good comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report.

There have now been 21 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. His office has not contacted us. The plight facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is made even worse by that delay. We repeat that we are reaching out our hand to help the Government.



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Tell Doctors, Nurses, EMTs or Others You Know That Work in the Health Care System About the AODA Alliance’s Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities


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/

April 15, 2020

SUMMARY

Please help us ensure that no people with disabilities who get the COVID-19 virus face any discrimination due to their disability when they seek help from our health care system. This Update offers you ways that you can quickly help, while you remain self-isolating at home.

MORE DETAILS

Yesterday, the AODA Alliance made public a short but extremely important document. It is our Discussion Paper ensuring that medical triage or rationing of health care services during the COVID-19 crisis does not discriminate against patients with disabilities. We urge you to share this Discussion Paper far and wide. We set out specific action tips below.

The AODA Alliance’s April 14, 2020 Discussion Paper describes 9 hypothetical situations which could arise in our health care system if the growing number of COVID-19 patients is greater than our hospitals can serve. We want to make sure that no patient with disabilities is denied needed medical care because of their disability, or is discriminated against because of their disability.

We are very concerned about this because since at least late last month, the Ontario Government has had in circulation a protocol on rationing or triage of medical services during the COVID-19 crisis. On April 8, 2020, the ARCH Disability Law Centre made public an open letter, signed by over 200 community organizations (including the AODA Alliance ) and by thousands of individuals. That open letter raises serious concerns with the Ontario Government’s medical care triage or rationing protocol that was in circulation. The open letter called on the Ontario Government to ensure that any medical care rationing or triage never discriminates against patients because they have a disability.

For our part, the AODA Alliance prepared our new Discussion Paper on this topic to kick start a much-needed public discussion of this topic. We were delighted that within minutes of making this Discussion Paper public, CBC Radio in Winnipeg invited AODA Alliance Chair, David Lepofsky, to appear on its afternoon program “Up to Speed” to discuss this topic. We are eager to spread the word as much as we can.

We regret that the Ontario Ministry of Health, responsible for our health care system, has not reached out to us to engage in this discussion. Ontarians with disabilities cannot wait, given the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus and the growing demand on health care services. We again offer the Government our help. We believe that the grassroots disability community must be a key part of Government discussions in this area.

We want to get our Discussion Paper directly to people working in the health care system. We are eager for them to read the nine specific examples we give of situations where discrimination against patients with disabilities must not be permitted. We emphasize that these are not the only situations that can give rise to concern. That is why we’ve tried to start a public dialogue, via this Discussion Paper.

* If you know any physician, nurse, emergency medical technician (EMT), hospital administrator, nursing home or other long term care administrator, or anyone else working in the health care system, send them our Discussion Paper titled, Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities. It is available online at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/a-discussion-paper-on-ensuring-that-medical-triage-or-rationing-of-health-care-services-during-the-covid-19-crisis-does-not-discriminate-against-patients-with-disabilities/

Urge them to read it and to share it with other health care professionals.

* Post our Discussion Paper’s link on your website and your Facebook page and urge your Facebook friends to share it with any physicians, nurses, EMTs or others working in the health care system.

* Call, text, email, tweet or Facebook message your member of the Ontario Legislature. Let them know about our Discussion Paper. Tell them to make sure the situations addressed in our Discussion Paper are not permitted to happen in the Government’s medical triage and rationing protocol.

* Contact the media. Urge them to cover our Discussion Paper and the issues it addresses, like CBC Radio Winnipeg’s Up to Speed program commendably did on April 14, 2020. They can email the AODA Alliance at [email protected] to get a speaker or more information on this.

* If you know of situations where people with disabilities have faced possible denial of needed medical services due to their disability, let the media and your MPP know as soon as possible. As a volunteer disability coalition, the AODA Alliance is not able or equipped to give advice or advocate in specific cases. If you are a person with a disability in Ontario, you can reach ARCH Disability Law Centre for free confidential legal information, referrals, and summary
legal advice. For more information about how to contact ARCH, please use the following link: www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/contact

* If you are a member of a religious community, urge your congregation and your spiritual leader to circulate our Discussion Paper and to take a public stand in support of the concerns it identifies, so that patients with disabilities don’t suffer discrimination in our health care system during the COVID-19 crisis.

*If you have not already done so, watch our April 7, 2020 Virtual Public Forum, jointly organized with the Ontario Autism Coalition. It is on the important subject of what Government must now do to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during its emergency COVID-19 planning. This includes the issue of medical triage and rationing, among other important and inter-connected issues. It is captioned and has American Sign Language interpretation.

In just 8 days, our Virtual Public Forum has been viewed more than 1,700 times. That is very encouraging. Spread the word to others to check it out. It is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ23it9ULjc

As of now, the Ontario Government’s Ministries of Health, Education, Colleges and Universities and Children, Community and Social Services have not reached out to us to discuss any of the practical recommendations for action that our ten experts brought forward during our Virtual Public Forum.

* Let us know what steps you take to help spread the word. Also, give us feedback on our Discussion Paper. We can always be reached at [email protected]

There have now been 440 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has still announced no good comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report.

There have now been 21 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. His office has not contacted us. The plight facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is made even worse by that delay. We repeat that we are reaching out our hand to help the Government.




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AODA Alliance’s Toronto Star Guest Column Honours the Memory of the Late Senator David Smith, An Important Hero in the Campaign for Accessibility for People with Disabilities


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/

March 3, 2020

SUMMARY

1. Toronto Star Runs A Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair on the Legacy for Canadians with Disabilities Left by the Late Senator David Smith

The March 3, 2020 Toronto Star includes a guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, set out below. It recounts the important legacy for people with disabilities in Canada left by the late Senator David Smith, who died last week. Almost 40 years ago, David Smith played a critical role in helping get the Federal Government to amend the proposed Charter of Rights, to entrench in Canada’s Constitution a guarantee of equality for people with disabilities.

The Charter’s guarantee of disability equality underpins the AODA and all other similar accessibility laws across Canada. If you want to know more about the history of the grassroots campaign to win the disability amendment to the Charter back in 1980-82, check out a two-hour captioned online lecture.

2. Liberal Leadership Candidate Brenda Hollingsworth Makes All 10 of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Seeks

In a tweet to the AODA Alliance last week, Ontario Liberal Leadership candidate Brenda Hollingsworth made all 10 commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities that the AODA Alliance has sought from the six Ontario Liberal leadership candidates. This weekend, the Ontario Liberal Party chooses its next leader, to succeed Kathleen Wynne.

On February 25, 2020, Brenda Hollingsworth tweeted:

“Brenda Hollingsworth @LiberalBrenda
@DavidLepofsky @StevenDelDuca @KateMarieGraham @MitzieHunter @AlvinTedjo Hi David, as I mentioned to you previously, I pledge agreement with all the items in your letter.”

As of now, only two of the six candidates for Ontario Liberal Party leadership have made all 10 pledges we seek, Michael Coteau and Brenda Hollingsworth. Steven Del Duca only made 4 of the 10 commitments we seek. On the other 6, his commitments fell well short of what we asked. Alvin Tedjo only made 1 of the 10 commitments we seek. Mitzie Hunter and Kate Graham have made none of the commitments we seek.

There are still four days left for all of the Liberal leadership candidates to make all the commitments we seek. We will let you know if any more commitments are made.

3. Twenty-Two Years After the Supreme Court of Canada Ordered that Hospitals Provide Sign Language Interpretation Services to Patients with Disabilities, Problems Still Persist

Here is a stunning illustration of the barriers that patients with disabilities continue to face in Ontario’s health care system. A December 26, 2019 Hamilton Spectator article reported on problems that can be faced when a deaf hospital patient seeks Sign Language interpretation services in connection with a hospital visit. We set out that article below.

This is yet more proof why Ontario needs a strong and effective Health Care Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We have been pressing for the Government to do that for over a decade.

Back in 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the landmark case of Eldridge v. B.C. that governments must ensure that hospitals provide Sign Language interpretation services to deaf patients when this is needed to receive health care services. Over two decades later, Ontario still has problems fulfilling this constitutional obligation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For more background check out the AODA Alliance’s Framework that sets out what the Health Care Accessibility Standard should include. Watch a captioned one-hour talk by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on what the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard should include, which has already been seen over 1,000 times!

Queen’s Park Briefing Podcast Features an Episode On Our Accessibility Campaign

The Sunday, March 1, 2020 edition of the QP Briefing podcast (a product of the Toronto Star) features an in-depth interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. QP Briefing has, to our knowledge, not posted a transcript of this audio recording.

It’s great that we have been included in this podcast. QP Briefing focuses on key issues getting attention in the halls of Queen’s Park!

The Ford Government’s Delay on Accessibility Continues

A seemingly-endless 397 days have now slipped by since the Ford Government received the blistering final report on the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that was prepared by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. We are waiting and waiting for the Ford Government to come up with a comprehensive and effective plan of new measures to implement the Onley Report’s recommendations, needed to substantially strengthen the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. To date, all the Government has offered Ontarians with disabilities is thin gruel.

MORE DETAILS

March 3, 2020 Toronto Star Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

Toronto Star March 3, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/03/02/sen-david-smith-an-unsung-hero-of-disabled-canadians.html

OPINION
Sen. David Smith an unsung hero of disabled Canadians
By David Lepofsky Contributor

Canada mourns the passing of Sen. David Smith, who dedicated decades to public service as a municipal and federal politician. Let’s ensure that his eulogies recognize his enduring and incredible achievement for millions of Canadians with disabilities.

It is known to far few that he played a decisive role in the successful grassroots battle to get Parliament to include equality for people with disabilities in Canada’s proposed Charter of Rights. He championed that cause not on the front pages of newspapers, but where we needed help the most, in the backrooms of the halls of federal political power.

Forty years ago, prime minister Pierre Trudeau proposed to add a Charter of Rights to Canada’s Constitution. His proposed Charter of Rights included a guarantee of equality rights, to protect against discrimination by laws and governments. However, that proposed equality clause left out equality for people with disabilities.

A number of us in the disability community rushed to campaign to get Parliament to add disability equality rights to the Charter. We contended that otherwise, the Charter would only guarantee equality for some. Equality for some means equality for none.

It was a near hopeless uphill battle. Trudeau was racing to blitz his constitutional reforms through Parliament. We had no internet, email, social media or other such campaigning tools. The media gave us scant attention.

Thankfully, along came a new Liberal backbench MP David Smith. Entirely unconnected to our campaign, earlier in 1980 he had been appointed to chair an all-party Parliamentary committee to hold public hearings on disability issues, because the UN had declared 1981 to be the International year of the Disabled Person. Those hearings were undoubtedly a Government PR gesture, of which we people with disabilities, have seen many.

Yet those hearings galvanized Smith. He learned about the pressing need to amend the proposed Charter of Rights to protect equality for people with disabilities, before Parliament passed the Charter. With no public fanfare, and known only to a few, he took it on himself to work the backrooms on his own impetus, buttonholing MP after MP, pressing our case.

The result of all these efforts? On Jan. 28, 1981, another Parliamentary Committee (of which Smith was not a member) was debating the Trudeau constitutional reforms, when it held a historic vote. It unanimously voted to amend the proposed Charter of Rights to entrench equality for people with disabilities as a constitutional right.

Smith was likely not even in the room where that committee was meeting. Yet he was arguably the most important MP, relentlessly and successfully advocating for our cause, behind-the-scenes. Equality for people with disabilities was the only right that was added to the Charter during those debates.

To my knowledge, Smith sought no limelight for this achievement. Yet as we look back on his life of accomplishments, this should rank very high among them.

Decades later, the grassroots campaign across Canada to win strong disability accessibility legislation at the federal and provincial levels traces itself back to that historic amendment to the proposed Charter of Rights. It spawned accessibility laws enacted in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and federally. Other provinces are now playing catch up.

Rest in peace David Smith, with our undying gratitude for what you have done for everyone in Canada for generations to come

David Lepofsky is chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and visiting professor, Osgoode Hall Law School.

Hamilton Spectator December 26, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thespec.com/news-story/9789405–do-you-want-to-live-or-die-son-forced-to-interpret-for-his-deaf-parents-at-hamilton-health-sciences/

‘Do you want to live or die’: Son forced to interpret for his deaf parents at Hamilton Health Sciences

John Davidson says both of his parents were denied an American Sign Language interpreter when they were patients at Hamilton hospitals.

News Dec 26, 2019 by Joanna Frketich The Hamilton Spectator

Mary Davidson, a 62-year-old Hamilton advocate for the deaf, experienced communication barriers during her last weeks in hospital before she died Dec. 24, 2018. This year, her son said he had the same issues getting an interpreter again when his father was in a Hamilton hospital. – submitted by Catherine Soplet

A second deaf patient at Hamilton Health Sciences was denied an American Sign Language interpreter despite repeated requests, alleges the family.

“I’ve gone so far as to look up the number and say ‘Here, call,’” said John Davidson, who was left interpreting difficult conversations about cancer and do-not-resuscitate orders by video chat from work for his dad, Grant Davidson, during a nearly two-week stay at Hamilton General Hospital at the beginning of December.

His dad has a legal right to a qualified interpreter paid for by the hospital and the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) has the ability to fill 99 per cent of urgent requests within 40 minutes.

The catch is that the hospital has to be the one to call because it’s footing the bill.

It’s the same loophole that left his mother, Mary Davidson, with limited ability to communicate at the end of her life one year ago at Juravinski Hospital.

“I’m going through the same thing one year later,” said Davidson. “It hasn’t changed.”

A statement from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says it “abides by and supports all provincial legislation and regulations related to disability and accessibility.”

But HHS didn’t answer questions about why two patients at two of its hospitals within one year have been unable to get American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for key discussions around diagnosis, treatment and end-of-life decisions.

Davidson describes being at a construction site working when a doctor contacted him by video chat to ask his 64-year-old dad whether he wanted to sign a do-not-resuscitate order while in the hospital being treated for an infection.

“I don’t know how to say resuscitate in sign language,” said Davidson. “A professional probably does and probably knows a lot more words … I just showed him someone pumping on a chest like CPR.”

The end result was a lot of confusion, said Davidson.

“My father didn’t understand the question well. His answer was, ‘My heart is strong. Why would it stop?’”

Davidson said the doctor then accused him of not properly interpreting his dad’s answer.
“The doctor had the nerve to question whether I was answering for him,” said Davidson. “I was frustrated. Why did you make me ask the question if you are going to question what the answer is?”

He said the doctor had no regard for how difficult it would be for a son to interpret such a conversation. Davidson said it was the same when his mom was in hospital from Nov. 3, 2018, until she died Dec. 24 last year.

The CHS says it’s inappropriate for family members to be used as a go-between, particularly when a patient’s health is being discussed and medical terms used.

“I’m asking my parents, ‘Do you want to live or die’ and I’ve had to do it twice less than a year apart,” he said.

He also had to tell his dad that he might have cancer and would be undergoing tests.

“I spelled it,” said Davidson. “My dad showed me the sign for cancer, so now I’ve learned that one.”

The family said it took nearly four weeks for Davidson’s mother to get minimal translation services before she died. Davidson said his dad never got an interpreter before he left the hospital.

The CHS has no waiting list and fulfils around 90 per cent of the roughly 19,000 requests it gets in Ontario each year for interpreters for medical reasons.

Interpreters can come for key discussions or as much as 24-hours-a-day, but the hospital gets to set the parameters.

Hospitals can also go to any service provider as long as the interpreter is qualified.

“I think that’s the problem, the hospital has to pay for it,” said Davidson. “With all these budget cuts, they can’t afford to give people their rights.”

The HHS statement says that staff and physicians “work very hard to meet the unique needs of every patient in our care on a daily basis. It is an important part of our organization’s values to show respect, caring and accountability in the services we provide … We have polices and tools in place organizationwide to help our staff and physicians arrange interpretation services which would include ASL for any patients in our care.”

But Davidson says that statement is a far cry from his family’s experience.

Instead, staff got by “with writing on pieces of paper and me,” said Davidson, who lives in Toronto.

“From a very young age, I started to translate for them when we went places. For me, it’s the status quo, but it shouldn’t be.”

by Joanna Frketich

Spectator reporter Joanna Frketich covers health. She lives in Hamilton and has been a journalist for more than 20 years, earning many Ontario Newspaper Awards including journalist of the year. She was also a National Newspaper Award finalist. Her Hamilton investigations have revealed past dysfunction among cardiac surgeons, dangerously low vaccination rates, students increasingly failing math standardized testing and hospital overcrowding. Email: [email protected]




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AODA Alliance’s Toronto Star Guest Column Honours the Memory of the Late Senator David Smith, An Important Hero in the Campaign for Accessibility for People with Disabilities – And Other 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/

AODA Alliance’s Toronto Star Guest Column Honours the Memory of the Late Senator David Smith, An Important Hero in the Campaign for Accessibility for People with Disabilities – And Other News

March 3, 2020

          SUMMARY

1. Toronto Star Runs A Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair on the Legacy for Canadians with Disabilities Left by the Late Senator David Smith

The March 3, 2020 Toronto Star includes a guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, set out below. It recounts the important legacy for people with disabilities in Canada left by the late Senator David Smith, who died last week. Almost 40 years ago, David Smith played a critical role in helping get the Federal Government to amend the proposed Charter of Rights, to entrench in Canada’s Constitution a guarantee of equality for people with disabilities.

The Charter’s guarantee of disability equality underpins the AODA and all other similar accessibility laws across Canada. If you want to know more about the history of the grassroots campaign to win the disability amendment to the Charter back in 1980-82, check out a two-hour captioned online lecture.

2. Liberal Leadership Candidate Brenda Hollingsworth Makes All 10 of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Seeks

In a tweet to the AODA Alliance last week, Ontario Liberal Leadership candidate Brenda Hollingsworth made all 10 commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities that the AODA Alliance has sought from the six Ontario Liberal leadership candidates. This weekend, the Ontario Liberal Party chooses its next leader, to succeed Kathleen Wynne.

On February 25, 2020, Brenda Hollingsworth tweeted:

“Brenda Hollingsworth @LiberalBrenda

@DavidLepofsky @StevenDelDuca @KateMarieGraham @MitzieHunter @AlvinTedjo Hi David, as I mentioned to you previously, I pledge agreement with all the items in your letter.”

As of now, only two of the six candidates for Ontario Liberal Party leadership have made all 10 pledges we seek, Michael Coteau and Brenda Hollingsworth. Steven Del Duca only made 4 of the 10 commitments we seek. On the other 6, his commitments fell well short of what we asked. Alvin Tedjo only made 1 of the 10 commitments we seek. Mitzie Hunter and Kate Graham have made none of the commitments we seek.

There are still four days left for all of the Liberal leadership candidates to make all the commitments we seek. We will let you know if any more commitments are made.

3. Twenty-Two Years After the Supreme Court of Canada Ordered that Hospitals Provide Sign Language Interpretation Services to Patients with Disabilities, Problems Still Persist

Here is a stunning illustration of the barriers that patients with disabilities continue to face in Ontario’s health care system. A December 26, 2019 Hamilton Spectator article reported on problems that can be faced when a deaf hospital patient seeks Sign Language interpretation services in connection with a hospital visit. We set out that article below.

This is yet more proof why Ontario needs a strong and effective Health Care Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We have been pressing for the Government to do that for over a decade.

Back in 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the landmark case of Eldridge v. B.C. that governments must ensure that hospitals provide Sign Language interpretation services to deaf patients when this is needed to receive health care  services. Over two decades later, Ontario still has problems fulfilling this constitutional obligation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For more background check out the AODA Alliance’s Framework that sets out what the Health Care Accessibility Standard should include. Watch a captioned one-hour talk by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on what the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard should include, which has already been seen over 1,000 times!

Queen’s Park Briefing Podcast Features an Episode On Our Accessibility Campaign

The Sunday, March 1, 2020 edition of the QP Briefing podcast (a product of the Toronto Star) features an in-depth interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. QP Briefing has, to our knowledge, not posted a transcript of this audio recording.

It’s great that we have been included in this podcast. QP Briefing focuses on key issues getting attention in the halls of Queen’s Park!

The Ford Government’s Delay on Accessibility Continues

A seemingly-endless 397 days have now slipped by since the Ford Government received the blistering final report on the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that was prepared by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. We are waiting and waiting for the Ford Government to come up with a comprehensive and effective plan of new measures to implement the Onley Report’s recommendations, needed to substantially strengthen the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. To date, all the Government has offered Ontarians with disabilities is thin gruel.

            MORE DETAILS

March 3, 2020 Toronto Star Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

Toronto Star March 3, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/03/02/sen-david-smith-an-unsung-hero-of-disabled-canadians.html

OPINION

Sen. David Smith an unsung hero of disabled Canadians

By David Lepofsky Contributor

Canada mourns the passing of Sen. David Smith, who dedicated decades to public service as a municipal and federal politician. Let’s ensure that his eulogies recognize his enduring and incredible achievement for millions of Canadians with disabilities.

It is known to far few that he played a decisive role in the successful grassroots battle to get Parliament to include equality for people with disabilities in Canada’s proposed Charter of Rights. He championed that cause not on the front pages of newspapers, but where we needed help the most, in the backrooms of the halls of federal political power.

Forty years ago, prime minister Pierre Trudeau proposed to add a Charter of Rights to Canada’s Constitution. His proposed Charter of Rights included a guarantee of equality rights, to protect against discrimination by laws and governments. However, that proposed equality clause left out equality for people with disabilities.

A number of us in the disability community rushed to campaign to get Parliament to add disability equality rights to the Charter. We contended that otherwise, the Charter would only guarantee equality for some. Equality for some means equality for none.

It was a near hopeless uphill battle. Trudeau was racing to blitz his constitutional reforms through Parliament. We had no internet, email, social media or other such campaigning tools. The media gave us scant attention.

Thankfully, along came a new Liberal backbench MP David Smith. Entirely unconnected to our campaign, earlier in 1980 he had been appointed to chair an all-party Parliamentary committee to hold public hearings on disability issues, because the UN had declared 1981 to be the International year of the Disabled Person. Those hearings were undoubtedly a Government PR gesture, of which we people with disabilities, have seen many.

Yet those hearings galvanized Smith. He learned about the pressing need to amend the proposed Charter of Rights to protect equality for people with disabilities, before Parliament passed the Charter. With no public fanfare, and known only to a few, he took it on himself to work the backrooms on his own impetus, buttonholing MP after MP, pressing our case.

The result of all these efforts? On Jan. 28, 1981, another Parliamentary Committee (of which Smith was not a member) was debating the Trudeau constitutional reforms, when it held a historic vote. It unanimously voted to amend the proposed Charter of Rights to entrench equality for people with disabilities as a constitutional right.

Smith was likely not even in the room where that committee was meeting. Yet he was arguably the most important MP, relentlessly and successfully advocating for our cause, behind-the-scenes. Equality for people with disabilities was the only right that was added to the Charter during those debates.

To my knowledge, Smith sought no limelight for this achievement. Yet as we look back on his life of accomplishments, this should rank very high among them.

Decades later, the grassroots campaign across Canada to win strong disability accessibility legislation at the federal and provincial levels traces itself back to that historic amendment to the proposed Charter of Rights. It spawned accessibility laws enacted in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and federally. Other provinces are now playing catch up.

Rest in peace David Smith, with our undying gratitude for what you have done for everyone in Canada for generations to come

David Lepofsky is chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and visiting professor, Osgoode Hall Law School.

Hamilton Spectator December 26, 2020

Originally posted  at https://www.thespec.com/news-story/9789405–do-you-want-to-live-or-die-son-forced-to-interpret-for-his-deaf-parents-at-hamilton-health-sciences/

‘Do you want to live or die’: Son forced to interpret for his deaf parents at Hamilton Health Sciences

John Davidson says both of his parents were denied an American Sign Language interpreter when they were patients at Hamilton hospitals.

News Dec 26, 2019 by  Joanna Frketich   The Hamilton Spectator

Mary Davidson, a 62-year-old Hamilton advocate for the deaf, experienced communication barriers during her last weeks in hospital before she died Dec. 24, 2018. This year, her son said he had the same issues getting an interpreter again when his father was in a Hamilton hospital. – submitted by Catherine Soplet

A second deaf patient at Hamilton Health Sciences was denied an American Sign Language interpreter despite repeated requests, alleges the family.

“I’ve gone so far as to look up the number and say ‘Here, call,’” said John Davidson, who was left interpreting difficult conversations about cancer and do-not-resuscitate orders by video chat from work for his dad, Grant Davidson, during a nearly two-week stay at Hamilton General Hospital at the beginning of December.

His dad has a legal right to a qualified interpreter paid for by the hospital and the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) has the ability to fill 99 per cent of urgent requests within 40 minutes.

The catch is that the hospital has to be the one to call because it’s footing the bill.

It’s the same loophole that left his mother, Mary Davidson, with limited ability to communicate at the end of her life one year ago at Juravinski Hospital.

“I’m going through the same thing one year later,” said Davidson. “It hasn’t changed.”

A statement from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says it “abides by and supports all provincial legislation and regulations related to disability and accessibility.”

But HHS didn’t answer questions about why two patients at two of its hospitals within one year have been unable to get American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for key discussions around diagnosis, treatment and end-of-life decisions.

Davidson describes being at a construction site working when a doctor contacted him by video chat to ask his 64-year-old dad whether he wanted to sign a do-not-resuscitate order while in the hospital being treated for an infection.

“I don’t know how to say resuscitate in sign language,” said Davidson. “A professional probably does and probably knows a lot more words … I just showed him someone pumping on a chest like CPR.”

The end result was a lot of confusion, said Davidson.

“My father didn’t understand the question well. His answer was, ‘My heart is strong. Why would it stop?’”

Davidson said the doctor then accused him of not properly interpreting his dad’s answer.

“The doctor had the nerve to question whether I was answering for him,” said Davidson. “I was frustrated. Why did you make me ask the question if you are going to question what the answer is?”

He said the doctor had no regard for how difficult it would be for a son to interpret such a conversation. Davidson said it was the same when his mom was in hospital from Nov. 3, 2018, until she died Dec. 24 last year.

The CHS says it’s inappropriate for family members to be used as a go-between, particularly when a patient’s health is being discussed and medical terms used.

“I’m asking my parents, ‘Do you want to live or die’ and I’ve had to do it twice less than a year apart,” he said.

He also had to tell his dad that he might have cancer and would be undergoing tests.

“I spelled it,” said Davidson. “My dad showed me the sign for cancer, so now I’ve learned that one.”

The family said it took nearly four weeks for Davidson’s mother to get minimal translation services before she died. Davidson said his dad never got an interpreter before he left the hospital.

The CHS has no waiting list and fulfils around 90 per cent of the roughly 19,000 requests it gets in Ontario each year for interpreters for medical reasons.

Interpreters can come for key discussions or as much as 24-hours-a-day, but the hospital gets to set the parameters.

Hospitals can also go to any service provider as long as the interpreter is qualified.

“I think that’s the problem, the hospital has to pay for it,” said Davidson. “With all these budget cuts, they can’t afford to give people their rights.”

The HHS statement says that staff and physicians “work very hard to meet the unique needs of every patient in our care on a daily basis. It is an important part of our organization’s values to show respect, caring and accountability in the services we provide … We have polices and tools in place organizationwide to help our staff and physicians arrange interpretation services which would include ASL for any patients in our care.”

But Davidson says that statement is a far cry from his family’s experience.

Instead, staff got by “with writing on pieces of paper and me,” said Davidson, who lives in Toronto.

“From a very young age, I started to translate for them when we went places. For me, it’s the status quo, but it shouldn’t be.”

by Joanna Frketich

Spectator reporter Joanna Frketich covers health. She lives in Hamilton and has been a journalist for more than 20 years, earning many Ontario Newspaper Awards including journalist of the year. She was also a National Newspaper Award finalist. Her Hamilton investigations have revealed past dysfunction among cardiac surgeons, dangerously low vaccination rates, students increasingly failing math standardized testing and hospital overcrowding.

Email: [email protected]



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