Accessibility in Learning and Teaching

by Michael Dick

Many of us are already familiar with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Indeed, if you’ve worked in a client-facing position in Ontario, including at the university, it’s likely you’ve been required to take training on the AODA already. As a brief reminder, the AODA became law in June 2005, with the overall goal of making Ontario fully accessible by 2025. The AODA comprises a series of integrated regulations that touch on every aspect of accessibility in our daily lives: Information and Communication Standards; Employment Standards; Transportation Standards; Design of Public Spaces Standards; and Customer Service Standards. The latter is most relevant to teaching and learning, and has therefore been the focal point of the university’s AODA training initiatives.

While we don’t like to view our students as customers, these standards are undeniably important: a student has a legal right to bring a service animal to class, just as they would on public transit or at the movie theater. Similarly, a member of the public has a right to expect notice of an elevator outage in a campus building, along with an accessible alternative, just as they would in a shopping mall. It’s also important to remember that a university must comply with multiple AODA standards: in addition to providing a service, the institution is also an employer and the owner and/or operator of campus facilities. While the latter standards aren’t discussed in this module, they demonstrate the extent to which the AODA interacts with multiple facets of our lives, serving as a guide for access and not just rules.

Several of the items we’re discussing in these modules ultimately support the university’s efforts in meeting or exceeding AODA requirements, but they’re also focused on modes of accessible teaching and learning that are not explicitly defined in the AODA, namely flexible learning and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Bridging this gap is the goal of these modules: going beyond laws, policies, and procedures to adopting pedagogical approaches that promote accessibility for all in ways that could never be envisaged by any particular legislative act.

This resource is focused on provincially-regulated industries, such as Ontario universities, that must comply with both the AODA and the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), which prohibits discrimination and harassment on the basis of disability and therefore establishes the need for accessibility and accommodation. It’s also important to note upfront that other provinces and territories have similar legislation, as do federally-regulated workplaces and service providers. For example, the Canadian Human Rights Act applies to banks and airlines. Finally, nothing in this module should be construed as legal advice. The appropriate campus offices can advise further on the various resources available to faculty, staff, and students.


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