In June 2021, the Ontario government published a report that contained 179 recommendations for Post-Secondary Education (PSE) Standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). These standards aim to identify, remove, and prevent accessibility gaps and barriers faced by students with disabilities in post-secondary education.
The government called for members of the public and organizations to submit a response to the recommendations before they are finalized by the PSE Standards Development Committee. As such, we have submitted our feedback, summarised below. Our recommendations are informed by research and consultation with Canadians living with sight loss. Thank you to everyone who participated and provided their feedback.
You can read our full detailed response to the Committee here. We have also provided a summary below of key points that we would like the Committee to address:
1) Accessible Academic Materials
Our research indicates that a majority of students do not receive course materials in accessible formats until after class has begun, with approximately a quarter of students sourcing their own accessible materials. CNIB supports Standards which strongly enforce the mandatory and timely availability of accessible format materials. All PDF documents should be made available from the beginning in an accessible format, and educators should be made aware of their schools' document remediation services. Further, we recommend that educators are given training in preparing accessible documents (such as Word documents, and PowerPoint presentations), including use of heading structures, and reading order so that documents are accessible to those using assistive technology.
2) Online Learning Environments
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the learning environment to an online virtual format; however, accessibility suffered as a result. We recommend online learning tools be tested with assistive technology before being implemented. Training materials for assistive technology users should also be available before any new online learning tool comes into use. We recommend courses include both reading material, and asynchronous video recordings. We also recommend that course websites follow a standard layout to make navigation, especially with a screen reader, easier. Finally, we recommend educator training on accessing materials from a non-sighted frame of reference, including audio description for videos, charts, and graphs.
3) Other Learning Environments
The Standards as written apply mostly to classroom learning environments; however, over 90% of students indicated they experience more than one learning environment, and that non-classroom learning environments were less accessible. Therefore, we recommend that these Standards be expanded to apply to other areas of post-secondary education including: work-integrated learning such as co-op placements and internships, research environments and laboratories, co-curricular activities, professional programs, continuing education, and certificate and micro-credential programs.
The Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility will be considering public input over the coming months and will incorporate that feedback into the final version of the AODA PSE Standards. The deadline to submit feedback was November 1, 2021.