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Accommodation: Academic

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Academic Accommodations

The University is committed to developing an accessible learning environment that provides reasonable accommodations to enable students with disabilities to meet the essential academic requirements of the University’s courses and programs.

Academic accommodations for students with disabilities are provided in accordance with the statutory duty arising from the Ontario Human Rights Code. Some reasonable accommodations are outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (2018).

The University’s Statement of Commitment Regarding Persons with Disabilities(PDF) provides that “the University will strive to provide support for, and facilitate the accommodation of individuals with disabilities so that all may share the same level of access to opportunities, participate in the full range of activities that the University offers, and achieve their full potential as members of the University community.”

 

Accommodation Process

The University of Toronto has an accessibility services office on each campus to assist students and faculty with academic accommodations. The role of these offices is to:

  • Receive and review the student’s documentation (by a practitioner licensed to diagnose) on a confidential basis;
  • Verify the student’s disability on behalf of the University;
  • Determine, whether accommodations are appropriate, based on the documentation provided, with the student, the faculty member, and the academic department as needed;,
  • Determine what accommodations would be effective and adjust accommodations as needed;
  • Collaborate with faculty and academic staff to implement accommodations in the classroom, for practicums, labs, graduate programs, and with respect to multiple forms of assessment.

Under the Human Rights Code provisions, students may choose to provide their Letter of Academic Accommodation (PDF) directly to a faculty member or request that the accessibility office send the letter of accommodation to the faculty member.  This letter verifies that the accessibility office has received and reviewed documentation confirming a disability and provides details on the proposed accommodation. Letters of Academic Accommodation may be issued at any time during the year.

If a faculty member has a concern regarding the proposed accommodation, they should contact the student’s advisor listed on the Letter of Academic Accommodation. Please refer to the contact information under “Resources” below.

Medical Documentation

The accessibility services offices will review the medical documentation with the student and determine if the accommodation request is related to a disability-related need. If deemed appropriate, the accessibility services office will communicate this to the department/faculty.
The Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (2018) also outlines the criteria for the provision of medical documentation. The type of information students may generally be expected to provide to support an accommodation includes:

  • That the student has a disability;
  • The limitations or needs associated with the disability;
  • Whether the student can perform the essential academic requirements, with or without accommodation;
  • The type of accommodation that may be needed to allow the student to fulfill the essential academic requirements (page 76 and 77).

In acknowledging the stigma that many students with mental health issues face, the Human Rights Commissioner in 2014 emphasized the importance of assessing a student’s functional limitations with respect to academic work over providing a mental health diagnosis in the provision of medical documentation. Students with both temporary and permanent mental health disabilities will be accommodated.

When a faculty or staff member verifies that a student is encountering serious difficulties and the student is in the process of obtaining the necessary accommodations, a student may request interim accommodations.

Maintaining Confidentiality

Accommodation measures should not require students to reveal their private medical information directly to, or seek accommodation directly from their professors, instructors, and/or teaching assistants. The guidelines state that disclosure to faculty or staff at post secondary institutions should be on a need to know basis only, and at the choice of the student. If teaching assistants need to play a role in the accommodation process, then the student’s letter of accommodation would be shared with them.

The accessibility services offices are the designated offices for the University of Toronto to house documentation for students with disabilities. Departments cannot make it a requirement that they be provided with the medical documentation. The accessibility services offices will review the medical documentation and determine if the accommodation request is a disability-related need.

If deemed appropriate, the accessibility services office, will communicate this to the department/faculty.

Verification of Absence for Disability-Related Reasons vs. Verification of Student Illness or Injury Form

If a student is unable to meet their academic obligations for disability-related reasons or if a disability compounds the impact of an illness or life circumstance, the accessibility advisor will assess the impact on the student’s inability to complete assignments based on available medical documentation and other information provided by the student and will collaborate with faculty members to provide reasonable accommodation.

Please note the distinction between such written recommendations from an accessibility advisor and the Verification of Student Illness or Injury Form (PDF) that is presented to faculty when a student is seeking an exception due to a short-term illness or injury, or other compassionate ground such as difficult life circumstances. Note: The VOI replaced the previous “Student Medical Certificate” in 2013.

Students who present the Verification of Illness (VOI) form and are seeking long-term or permanent accommodation should be directed to their accessibility services office. Students seeking temporary accommodation (e.g. broken bones) should also be directed to accessibility services.

For assistance in implementing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, please contact the relevance accessibility office on your campus.

Appropriate Accommodations

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities (2018) provides the following:

“An appropriate accommodation at the post-secondary level would enable a student to successfully meet the essential requirements of the program, with no alteration in standards or outcomes, although the manner in which the student demonstrates mastery, knowledge and skills may be altered. In this way, education providers are able to provide all students with equal opportunities to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges and meet the requirements for acquiring an education without the risk of compromising academic integrity.”

“It may likely be an essential requirement that a student master core aspects of a course curriculum. It is much less likely that it will be an essential requirement to demonstrate that mastery in a particular format, unless mastery of that format (e.g., oral communication) is also a vital requirement of the program.”

Alternative ways faculty may be advised by the accessibility services office to alter how a student demonstrates mastery, knowledge and skills in a course may include:

    • Make up tests/extensions on coursework: A student may be unable to write a mid-term test, make-up test, or complete graded term-work for disability-related reasons. Accommodation in this instance would normally require that scheduled graded term work or tests be adjusted by providing similar evaluation on alternate dates. The alternate date or assessment should not be unnecessarily onerous on the student. For example, if a student misses a mid-term and, instead of offering an alternate assessment, the weight of the weight of the mid-term is transferred to the final making it worth 75% compared to 35%. This may be deemed onerous on the student as the final exam is now worth significantly more as a result of the proposed accommodation. The professor has a responsibility to explore alternative ways for the student to make up the missed work.

 

  • Alternative evaluation formats: When reviewing accommodations requests faculty need to consider whether the method in which they are testing for knowledge and skill is an essential course requirement. For example, presentation and group work skills in an MBA program may be an essential requirement. If not, an alternate format may need to be created which may include:
    • Alternative assignments (e.g., submission of a paper in lieu of a presentation);
    • Alternate format exam (e.g., no multiple choice questions offered, use short answer and essay to allow student to demonstrate knowledge);
    • Faculty need to consult with colleagues and their Chair to develop reasonable opportunities for evaluation. This may require contacting colleagues on other campuses.

     

  • Exam scheduling
    • A test/exam scheduled for the morning may need to be moved to the afternoon;
    • Student may need spacing between exams (e.g., one test/exam per day);
    • The test/exam may need to be written in an alternate space (such as the accessibility office or the Test and Exam Centre) to accommodate for appropriate technology support or physical space conditions;
    • Ask the students to write a quiz before a break. This may provide sufficient time to provide accommodation for many students;
    • Universal design principles for assignments/labs/placements/practicums can assist in responding to individual student circumstances. For example, counting a reduced number of quizzes and using technology (e.g., web option course, online tests, etc.).

Faculty should communicate specific limits on their ability to meet requests with the student’s accessibility advisor as soon as possible in order for the faculty and service to explore accommodation options.

Note: While the above are examples of accommodation, the determination of reasonable accommodation will be made on a case-by-case basis by accessibility staff, faculty, and academic departments based on recommendations from documentation received from health providers, with student input and the academic integrity of the program. All reasonable options for accommodation will be considered while maintaining safety and academic standards.

Retroactive Accommodations

“A student may be experiencing a disruption in their functioning but may not be able to follow the institution’s process for arranging accommodation. A student may not have prior warning that they will have accommodation needs, or they may find themselves in a situation where they are experiencing disability-related symptoms for the first time. In these circumstances, if a student has failed to meet performance expectations in a class, course, program, etc., the institution has an obligation to consider accommodation after the fact” (OHRC, 2018, p.55)

Communications from academic departments or faculty members should not state or imply that requests for accommodation after a deadline, test, or course completion (i.e. retroactive accommodation) will not be considered. For term work, faculty are asked to work with accessibility services to determine accommodation options. Students can also request consideration through the University’s petitions/appeals committees.

Timelines and Advance Notice

“Accommodations must be provided in a timely manner. Delays in providing accommodation have the potential to directly impede a student’s ability to access and take part in the curriculum. Delayed accommodations may also contribute to disability-related behavioural issues and the challenges faced by front-line educators in dealing with these issues. Unreasonable delays may be found to violate the procedural duty to accommodate, and thus constitute a breach of the Code” (OHRC, 2018, p. 52)

Disability related accommodations frequently require flexibility in timing. Examples include:

    • requiring information about course materials in order to convert them to alternative formats;
    • sending tests to the Test and Exam Centre or accessibility office (depending on campus) before the date of the test;
    • confirming test dates to allow for Test and Exam Centre/accessibility office to schedule; alternative scheduling for tests and exams;
    • additional time to complete assignments
    • allowing considerable time for delivery of specialized furniture and equipment.

The OHRC (2004) also highlighted that “where the most appropriate accommodation cannot be provided right away, education providers have a duty to provide interim accommodation as the next best and timely solution while planning for a more appropriate and permanent solution. In the meantime, this will enable students to be as productive and involved as possible (p. 16-17)”.
The OHRC (2009) noted “the duty to accommodate may require waiving or changing a rule (for example, allowing guide dogs or other service animals in a building with a “no pets” policy.) It may also require flexibility when enforcing rules and requirements… for example…where [an individual] is unable to meet a reporting deadline for a Code-related reason, the duty to accommodate may require [the university] to extend the timeline.

Example: Due to unforeseen symptoms arising from a change in medication, an individual] with a mental disability fails to meet the deadline…. Before this incident, the [student] had complied fully with the rules and requirements of [the academic] program…, in this instance, [the institution] uses [their] discretion to extend the deadline, thus avoiding much embarrassment for the [student and possible academic penalty]. ”

Petitions

In the matter of petitions, the accessibility services offices houses the medical documentation and, at the student’s request, supplies the petition office with a letter indicating that the office has appropriate medical documentation indicating a disability related need for the purpose of the petition.

When a student requests a deferred examination due to a disability related barriers and has supplied the offices for students with a disability with appropriate medical documentation and completed the necessary petition forms for the Faculty, the student shall not be charged an examination deferral fee. All other normal examination deferral procedures, including deadlines shall apply.

Denial of Accommodations

Faculty members should consult with accessibility services before denying an accommodation request.

Furthermore, faculty ought not tell students they do not need the accommodations or to try without accommodations. The Human Rights Tribunal noted “where a person requires accommodation, to require that person to attempt to do something they cannot do without accommodation is not appropriate.”

Finally, disagreements with the accommodations and essential requirements requires a quick resolution as, “dispute resolution procedures that are not timely or effective could amount to a failure of the duty to accommodate” (OHRC, 2003, p.59).

Student's Role and Responsibilities

Students with disabilities are required to register with accessibility services in a timely way, to follow procedures and meet deadlines. Examples including booking tests and exams before deadlines; providing the letter of accommodation to faculty and academic staff before the deadline for an assignment and making accommodation requests for specialized services and equipment. Timelines in providing accommodations are not always within the control of accessibility services. Consideration needs to be given if students with disabilities are unable to meet deadlines for extenuating disability related reasons.

Resources

For assistance in implementing reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, please contact the relevant accessibility services office on your campus:

References

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2003). The opportunity to succeed: Achieving barrier-free education for students with disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/opportunity-succeed-achieving-barrier-free-education-students-disabilities.

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2004). Guidelines on accessible education. Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/guidelines-accessible-education.

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2009). Policy on human rights and rental housing. Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-human-rights-and-rental-housing/vi-duty-accommodate#sthash.dNOwBMAQ.dpuf.

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (2014). Policy on preventing discrimination on mental health disabilities and addictions. Retrieved from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/sites/default/files/Policy%20on%20Preventing%20discrimination%20based%20on%20mental%20health%20disabilities%20and%20addictions_ENGLISH_accessible.pdf

Ontario Human Rights Commission (2018) Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities. http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/policy-accessible-education-students-disabilities