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A number of concepts relevant to post-secondary education are introduced in the videos. To facilitate understanding, definitions and links to specific documents are provided which will help explain these concepts.

As providers of a service (education), colleges and universities in Ontario have an obligation to meet the requirements of the Human Rights Code and to conform to the recommendations in relevant OHRC policies: Guidelines on Accessible Education (2004) and Preventing Discrimination based on Mental Health Disabilities and Addictions (2014) (PDF 1.25MB). The development of the latter policy document followed an extensive province-wide consultation and review process. This policy provides extensive guidance and direction to colleges and universities on how best to meet the needs of students with mental health disabilities and addictions.

ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENT (Video 1 – The Accommodation Letter)

What is an essential requirement?  It is the demonstration of a skill, knowledge, and/or ability in a prescribed way.  The method by which the skill is demonstrated is essential to the performance of the task.  As discussed in this video, an academic accommodation cannot interfere with an essential requirement of a course or program of study.

The Commission describes essential requirements as follows:

… 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 The opportunity to succeed: Achieving barrier-free education for students with disabilities (Ontario Human Rights Commission).

The Commission describes the relationship between academic accommodations and essential requirements as follows:

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 (OHRC, Guidelines on Accessible Education 2004, Pg. 24)

For a detailed analysis of Essential Requirements, see Defining a New Culture: Creative Examination of Essential Requirements in Academic Disciplines and Graduate Programs; Authors: Roberts, Mohler, Levy-Pinto, Nieder, Duffett, and Sukhai (2014).  In this paper, Roberts et al. provide a comprehensive discussion of:

  • The nature of essential requirements
  • How essential requirements are determined
  • The relationship between essential requirements and academic accommodations.

Defining a New Culture: Creative Examination of Essential Requirements in Academic Disciples and Graduate Programs (PDF 170.70KB)

ACCOMMODATION IN GOOD FAITH (Video 3: Accommodation Without Documentation)

In this video the student requests permission to be assigned readings instead of viewing videos which contain the depiction of violent behaviour. The request is for a very specific accommodation, which stems from specific course content. It is likely to be applicable in only one course and there is no expectation that the student would seek ongoing accommodations in other courses. After consultation with the Disability Advisor, the professor accepts the student’s request in good faith.

If the student had requested on-going accommodations in future courses then it would be more appropriate for her to register with the Office for Students with Disabilities as explained by the Disability Advisor in the video.

 “There is no set formula for accommodating people identified by Code grounds. Each person’s needs are unique and must be considered afresh when an accommodation is made” (OHRC, 2014, p. 40)  

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY (Video 5 - Flexible Deadlines)

In this video, the professor mentions that she is responsible for “academic integrity”.  Generally speaking academic integrity refers the values of honesty, trust and fairness in relation to academic activities.  From a human rights perspective, it can defined as “the maintenance of standards for curriculum, evaluation, and student achievement” The opportunity to succeed: Achieving barrier-free education for students with disabilities (Ontario Human Rights Commission)

The question that is sometimes asked is “does the provision of academic accommodations to some students disadvantage those students who do not receive them”?

In this context, it is important to make a distinction between “equality” (the same treatment for all) and “equity” (fairness). In the scenario depicted in the video, the professor’s view is that all students must fulfil the same requirements and thus must have the same deadline for handing in the assignment. However, from an equity perspective, the student with the academic accommodation for flexible deadlines was not competing from the same starting point as her peers in the course. The functional limitations associated with her disability had the potential to compromise her ability to complete the essay by the due date.  The option of a flexible deadline for submission was an appropriate accommodation for these limitations.

PERCEIVED DISABILITY (Video 8: Behaviour in an Examination)

According to the Commission’s (2014) policy, if a student demonstrates behaviour to indicate that they may be  “clearly unwell or perceived to have a mental health disability or addiction” then the institution has a responsibility for inquiring “ further to see if the person has needs related to a disability and offering assistance and accommodation” (OHRC, 2014, p. 49)  In this video, the professor offered the student the opportunity to complete his math exams in a quiet space; the student was not receptive to that offer.  From a procedural fairness perspective the university (represented in this case by the professor) offered an accommodation based on the student’s disruptive behaviour in the exam setting which the professor believed – rightly or wrongly – may have been caused by a disability.  The university has a responsibility to provide a calm environment for all students while they write exams.  Since the student has indicated that he does not wish to have an accommodation and plans to write the final examination with his classmates, arrangements are made to have campus security on hand to intervene in case the disruptive exam behaviour occurs again during the final exams.  The disability advisor points out the need to determine if the student’s behaviour in the math exam was a “one-time” occurrence, or if it had occurred in other exams.  If this was in fact the student’s typical behaviour in exams then the university would require the student to write exams separately from other students.  In this way, the university would fulfill its responsibility to provide a calm environment for completing exams to all students.