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The regulations governing special education and accommodations for students with disabilities are different in post-secondary than they are in high school. Because access to education is regulated in different ways, future post-secondary students need to be aware that the process for accessing accommodations will be different.

Legal Rights

Students in Ontario are guaranteed the right to equal treatment in post-secondary education, without discrimination on the grounds of disability. Several pieces of federal and provincial legislation ensure that post-secondary students with disabilities are entitled to appropriate accommodations, services, and supports in their post-secondary programs any time the impairments that arise from their disability interfere with equal participation or with equal opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and skill.

A stack of 5 books in focus, the top book lays open. A set of scales is out of slightly out of focus in the background.Post-secondary education providers have a duty to accommodate students with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship. Universities and colleges meet the right to equal treatment by providing accommodations and other services to students with disabilities. Publicly funded colleges and universities operate an Accessibility Services (AS) office as a centre to coordinate and provide accommodations and services to students with disabilities. More information on AS offices can be found on the Accessibility Services page. 

For more detailed information about the legislation that outlines the rights for individuals with disabilities, please refer to the following:


A woman in a public place, sitting, with papers in hand. She is looking out a window with a thoughtful gaze.

The regulations outlined above mean that students with disabilities have the right to equal access to education at post-secondary institutions. Universities and colleges meet these rights by providing accommodations and other services to students with disabilities through their Accessibility Services (AS) office. While students have the right to equal treatment, they also have responsibilities. For students who wish to receive formal accommodations from the AS, it is their responsibility to:

  • Self-identify to AS staff;
  • Provide appropriate documentation of their disability to AS staff; and
  • Follow the rules and guidelines set out by the AS.

For example, a common accommodation is for students to write exams in a Test Centre; however, it is often the responsibility of the student to book a place in the testing room in advance of each exam. If a student were to arrive 10 minutes before the exam without booking ahead, the institution may not be able to accommodate the student on such short notice.

Students in post-secondary school must take a larger role in arranging and implementing their own accommodations than they did in high school. It can sometimes be difficult for incoming students to take on the challenge of becoming more independent and advocating for themselves.

What Will Be Different in Post-Secondary?

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 learning disabilities and ADHD). In addition, a diagnosis, in and of itself, does not necessarily justify the provision of accommodations, even if that person was given special education services in the past. Instead, at the post-secondary level, special education per se is not available, and accommodations are only provided when the impairments that flow from a disorder interfere with equal ability to access and use the educational system. Therefore, 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 the AS at their post-secondary school directly.

Chart of Differences between High School and College/University (PDF)

Points to Consider High School College/University
Access to education for students with disabilities is regulated by... The Education Act The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
To show that a student has a disability, they must... Have an IEP that can be based on a formal diagnosis or an informal identification Have recent documentation (3-5 years old) of their disability (for students with a Learning Disorder/Disability, a full Psychoeducational Assessment is often required)
The decision to disclose one's disability is made by... Your parent or guardian (until you're 18) You
To decide which accommodations students need... Teachers can recommend various accommodations to students, often all students with learning difficulties have access to the same accommodations Accessibility Services advisors will review your documentation and only choose specific accommodations that address your areas of functional impairment
To inform teachers/professors of accommodations… The special education teacher provides each classroom teacher with IEPs for appropriate students Accessibility Services develops a letter of appropriate accommodations that is communicated to professors/instructors
Teachers/professors will know your specific disability... Always – your identification/diagnosis is written right on your IEP beside your list of accommodations Only if you specifically tell them – otherwise they will only know which accommodations you receive, but not why 
The cost of assessments is provided by... The school board (due to limited availability many seek private assessments) You (funds may also be available via private health insurance and/or OSAP)
The cost of assistive technology is provided by… The school board via SEA application You (unless you qualify for the BSWD)
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