Educational institutions have a legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations that promote equity for people with disabilities. To adhere to their legal obligation, provincial/territorial governments provide publicly funded colleges and universities with operating funds to set up special services for students with disabilities.
Publicly funded colleges and universities operate an Accessibility Services (AS) office to coordinate and provide accommodations and services to students with disabilities. Different institutions have different names for this office. Many schools use the word 'disability' or 'accessibility' in their office name, such as Disability Services Office or Accessibility Centre. The word ‘accessibility’ is becoming more commonly used, as it emphasizes that it should be the environment rather than the individual that adapts and becomes accessible. The specific name and location of the office at each college or university can be found under Accessibility Services on each school’s page in the Colleges and Universities sections.
Accessibility Service Office
Staff at AS offices assist students in a variety of ways. Given that each student’s needs are unique, services and accommodations are established on an individual basis and based on the documentation of the student’s disability.
The Accessibility Services (AS) office has several responsibilities in supporting students:
- Assess requests for accommodations, on the basis of each student’s submitted documentation;
- Recommend and provide reasonable and appropriate accommodations and/or support services for students with disabilities;
- Assist students in communicating with faculty (when needed) about their disability and required accommodations;
- Maintain confidentiality of all information pertaining to a student’s disability; and
- Provide information regarding policies, procedures, rights, and responsibilities to students with disabilities in accessible formats upon request.
Registering with the Accessibility Services Office
In order to arrange for accommodations, incoming students with disabilities must arrange and attend an intake appointment with the AS office (returning students will need to re-register with the office each year, but they will not need an intake appointment). Students will be required to complete forms and submit documentation, often in advance of the meeting. During the intake meeting, students will meet with their advisor/counsellor and determine which accommodations and resources they require. Following this meeting, students are typically provided with a letter of accommodation to share with their professors/instructors.
Please keep in mind:
- It is the responsibility of the student to self-identify as a student with a disability and to register with the AS office in order to receive accommodations. For more information about disclosing your disability, visit Advocacy & Disclosure.
- It can take several weeks for accommodations to be arranged, and longer if documentation is not up-to-date; therefore, students should register early with the AS office in order to have accommodations arranged.
- Most schools offer summer intake meetings for new students with disabilities to register ahead of the start of first semester.
- Students may need to obtain re-assessments in order to provide up-to-date documentation. This process can take several months, which may delay the arrangement of formal accommodations. Thus, students should connect with their AS office early to determine whether updated documentation is required. If there is a delay in obtaining current documentation, temporary accommodations may be available for a short time.
- Each school has their own guidelines for appropriate and up-to-date documentation. Staff can assist in obtaining proper documentation and arranging re-assessments when necessary.
- Some schools are able to offer phone/virtual intake meetings for students who are unable to visit campus in person.
Each institution will have its own policies and procedures regarding the required documentation to show proof of a disability. An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) from secondary school provides background information, but it is not enough for post-secondary supports. Students are required to provide documentation from a qualified practitioner that confirms a diagnosis of a permanent disability. Staff at the AS office can assist students in obtaining up-to-date documentation or assessments as needed.
Be sure to check with the AS office at your institution to determine specifically what documentation requirements they have.
Some common requirements are:
- Learning disabilities: a recent psychoeducational assessment (conducted within the last 3-5 years)
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): a diagnosis by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or physician who has appropriate training in neuropsychological disorders
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): a medical form or letter from a qualified specialist or a psycho-educational assessment
- Mental health disorders: a medical form or letter from a qualified specialist indicating the student’s areas of disability and functional limitations
- Deaf or hard-of-hearing: an audiologist report
- Blind or low vision: a vision assessment and/or CNIB registration number
The accommodations and supports provided in post-secondary programs are meant to ensure that students with disabilities have equal opportunities to access the curriculum and to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of course material. Thus, functional impairments that affect ones ability to participate equally can be accommodated, so long as the accommodations do not alter the essential requirements of the task or activity. Accommodations do not give students an unfair advantage in their course work; they are designed to address specific barriers and are determined for each student on a case-by-case basis. Accessibility advisors at each school review the documentation of students with disabilities and determine which accommodations each student needs.
Types of accommodations may include:
- Extended time on exams
- No more than one exam per day
- Access to a computer or spell check on exams
- Note-taker in class
- Sign language interpreter
- Alternate format material (e.g., Braille)
It is important to remember that the laws that regulate accommodations at college and university are different than those for high school. Many post-secondary institutions require more specific and comprehensive documentation to show proof of a disability than is required in high school (especially for ADHD and learning disabilities). Incoming students will not automatically receive the same accommodations at college or university that they received at high school. To discuss available accommodations, students should contact their post-secondary school directly.