Easing the transition to postsecondary for students with disabilities




This issue's featured resources column looks at the needs of students with disabilities as they prepare to leave secondary school. The Ontario Community College Committee on Disability Issues says 13,773 students with disabilities attended community colleges in Ontario last year - representing 10 per cent of total college attendance.

Joe Henry

Sheridan College student advisor Joe Henry suggests a few things students, their parents and teachers can do to ease the transition to postsecondary education for students with disabilities.

All students make choices in planning for further education. But students with disabilities must investigate not only academic requirements and admission standards, they also want to know how prospective institutions will meet other needs.

In Ontario, community colleges and public universities offer services that assist in providing fair and equitable accommodations for students with disabilities. But the services offered and process for accessing them may differ from one institution to another.

In some instances, students may find that the particulars will help them in choosing a college or university, but in all instances students will want to know what they can expect when they arrive on campus.

How it works

Under Ontario Human Rights legislation, all public postsecondary education institutions must accommodate students with disabilities, provided they have met the prerequisites for their chosen academic program. Currently, this includes students with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, mental health or emotional disorders and temporary medical conditions.

To access such services, students must self-identify to the office for students with disabilities operating on the campus of their chosen institution. This should be done as soon as possible after an offer of admission is made, so that appropriate transition programming and accommodations can be in place for the start of the academic year.

If a student has complex disabilities, a visit is recommended before an offer is accepted to ensure that staff will be able to make the correct accommodations and prepare appropriate orientation.

Students will need to provide documentation of their disability. Documentation may vary according to the type of disability, but common documents include:

  • psycho-educational assessments prepared by a registered psychologist or psychological associate outlining the type of learning disability and suggesting accommodation required; if the assessment is out of date, students will be asked to have a new assessment completed
  • medical documentation, prepared by a doctor or licensed medical practitioner outlining the diagnosis and limitations related to the specific disability, with recommendations for accommodations
  • Secondary School Individual Education Plan, outlining accommodations and modifications made each year during attendance at secondary school.

Accommodations will vary from one institution to another, so students must consult with their chosen institution to understand what to expect, but common accommodations include:

  • extended test times or alternative testing locations
  • note-taking assistance
  • tutoring and mentoring programs
  • access to adaptive technology
  • reduced program loads
  • digital or taped texts
  • access to specialized counseling and support services.

Financial assistance

Most required services are available free to students, but there may be some additional costs. These costs might include assistive devices, psycho-educational assessments, outside private tutoring and/or transportation costs. There is, however, a Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD) that can defray such costs. Students must apply for this bursary in conjunction with funding from the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP). Terms of eligibility are the same for both financial aid programs. For current information visit the OSAP web site.

In recent years additional funding has been available for students with specific learning disabilities. This may assist with the cost of a qualified learning strategist and assistive technologist or with developing tools that will enhance academic success and the overall postsecondary experience.

To qualify for this funding, students must have a documented learning disability - a recent psycho-educational assessment from a registered psychologist. (Limited funding may be available to complete a new assessment.)

Additional private or institutional bursaries and grants may also be offered. Information on such funding will be available through the financial aid office and/or the disability services office of each institution.

Joe Henry works full time at Sheridan and is an MEd student in Adult Education and Community Development at OISE/UT.

Tips for student advisors
  1. Encourage your students to ask questions and clarify problems. The old adage, "if you don't ask, you won't receive" is certainly true. Accommodations are available. You can help students identify the type of questions they will need to ask and practise with them so that they will be prepared to ask for the help they need.
  2. Have students practise explaining their disability or need. It is up to students to decide if they want to disclose their disability. If they choose to do so they may benefit from learning to explain it in a way that allows others (teachers or tutors) to understand. You can help students prepare to be their own advocates when they reach college or university. To encourage the understanding of others, students should be confident that they can explain their needs appropriately.
  3. Invite representatives from the disability services office at various institutions to speak to students before they apply to colleges, so they will understand what is available.
  4. Emphasize to students the need to keep information current. If there are changes to a disability or students have concerns about accommodations, they should visit the office for students with disabilities and let them know. The staff there may be able to help or explain things for you or your student.
  5. Check out transition programs. Most offices for students with disabilities offer a transition program before school begins. Students should be encouraged to attend.
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