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RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION:

SUMMARY REPORT A PROJECT FUNDED BY THE MINISTRY OF ADVANCED EDUCATION AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT AND THE ONTARIO COMMITTEE ON STUDENT AFFAIRS


THE PROJECT TEAM WOULD LIKE TO EXTEND A SPECIAL THANK YOU FOR THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE FOLLOWING: MEG HOUGHTON, DIRECTOR OF STUDENT ACCESS, WELLNESS & DEVELOPMENT AT HUMBER COLLEGE, FOR HER ROLE AS CAMPUS LIASON AND PROJECT ADVISOR GEORGE BROWN COLLEGE FOR HOSTING AND PARTICIPATING IN THE STAKEHOLDER WORKSHOP JIN (ALICE) CHEN, PROJECT ASSISTANT, FOR SUPPORT THROUGHOUT THE PROJECT ALL OF THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE WORKSHOPS WHO BROUGHT THEIR ENERGY AND EXPERIENCES INTO THE PROJECT.

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RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

INTRODUCTION Improvements in the K-12 educational sector, advances in human rights policy, and shifting societal attitudes have all meant that universities and colleges in Ontario are experiencing greater than ever participation rates among people with disabilities. This trend is a positive one for Ontario as access to higher education for people with disabilities increases their potential to move into successful careers and contribute meaningfully and economically to the province. This increase in participation rates is also met with increasing complexity in the administration aspects of providing academic accommodations. The fundamental service model for providing academic accommodations in higher education in Ontario remains unchanged. Students provide medical documentation and “register” with their campus Disability Service Office (DSO) in order to receive academic accommodations. Those accommodations range substantially in terms of cost and intensity – from the more procedural, such as extensions on assignments, extra time on exams, and relief from academic withdrawal deadlines, to the more material, such as alternative formats, note-taking or assistive technology. All of this involves administration and coordination that has put DSOs and faculty under considerable strain, and is resulting in unacceptable wait times for students. This project sought to reconsider how academic inclusion can be be achieved in Ontario’s postsecondary environment. Specifically, how the accommodation process can be modified for improvement while more scalable approaches to inclusive design are pursued. Over the course of two months, the project team used design and systems thinking frameworks to interrogate the challenges posed by the current delivery model, reframe them and ultimately ideate potential solutions or interventions to improve the systems of academic accommodation. SERVICE DELIVERY STAKEHOLDERS IN THE ACCOMMODATIONS PROCESS MINISTRY OF ADVANCED EDUCATION AND SKILLS TRAINING

DISABILITY SERVICES ADMINISTRATION INSTITUTIONAL ADMINISTRATION

REGISTRAR’S OFFICE

DELIV ER Y

POLIC Y

FUNDIN G

DISABILITY SERVICES COUNSELLORS FACULTY

FRONT LINE SUPPORT STAFF

PEERS STUDENT

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RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

METHODOLOGY This project utilized design and systems thinking methods to probe the challenge, reframe it and ultimately ideate potential solutions or interventions to improve the systems of academic accommodation. Taken together, design and systems thinking become a dynamic mode of thought that enables us to think at both the micro-level of the user experience and the macro level of the postsecondary education system. They help us interrogate the relationships and interactions between the two levels of experience. The first workshop was held on April 28, 2017 at the George Brown College School of Design and included participants from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, frontline registrarial and student financial assistance staff, Disability Service Office (DSO) staff, academic administrators, faculty and senior administrators from Humber College, George Brown College, OCAD University and the University of Toronto. The workshop was specifically designed to help participants reframe the issue and explore new possibilities by engaging in exercises that challenged their assumptions about academic accommodations policies and processes. The workshop emphasized a participatory and generative approach to designing solutions – that is, participants were designing solutions together in transdisciplinary teams based on their combined expertise. The research team then used their solutions as the starting point for our secondary workshop. A second workshop was held with students at the University of Toronto on May 15, 2017 to bring the insights generated from the first workshop for critique and refinement into tangible solutions by end users themselves. Students from participating institutions joined a handful of key student support staff to engage in an afternoon of activities designed to explore, test and refine potential solutions. Participants were divided into three separate groups, each with a facilitator and a scribe. The groups were intentionally created to maximize student participation, while DSO staff were present to prompt discussion, ask questions and provide clarification on policies, processes and programs when needed.

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DESIGN THINKING Design thinking is a way of interrogating problems or challenges by engaging in exercises that encourage divergent and lateral thinking with diverse stakeholder voices. By taking time and effort to seriously consider user needs, desires and experiences, designers are able to develop more effective, attractive and enjoyable products and services for their clients.

SYSTEMS THINKING

Systems thinking highlights the interdependency of policies, events, services, stakeholders, cultures and institutions. When considering the challenge of academic accommodations, systems thinking would look at institutional policies, government funding models, campus infrastructure and even our cultural understandings of disability and the nature of higher education. By considering the system as a whole, designers are able to identify the feedback loops that encourage systemwide behaviours and identify potential leverage points for positive change.


RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

KEY INSIGHTS FRAMING THE CHALLENGE Using a variety of exercises, stakeholders explored how academic inclusion can be be achieved in Ontario’s PSE environment – specifically, how the accommodation process can be modified for improvement while more scalable approaches to inclusive design are pursued. The process delivered the following key insights and framing questions for further exploration and ideation.

1.1

A Catch-22: There are no accommodations for the accommodations process. Despite the rising numbers of students requesting accommodations each year, there are still many students who are unable to traverse the necessary processes in order to register with their disability service office (DSO). Ironically, these processes serve as a barrier to the students most in need of support. Even those who manage to successfully register frequently voice their frustrations at the challenges they face getting the support they need. How might we design a system for registering and administering accommodations that allows for a much easier and more empowered user experience?

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RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

1.2

Transitions are critical: Support needs to coalesce around key points from orientation through graduation and beyond. Students need tools and resources to succeed in higher education and beyond. From initial communications and orientation, through skills-building, to preparing students for the world of work, the expectations on our institutions are changing. How might we support students with disabilities as they are onboarded into PSE, thrive within PSE, and transition out into the professional world?

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This is primarily a teaching and learning conversation: We need to shift focus to curriculum, assessment & inclusive design. Much research has been done in recent years to support the idea that integrating inclusive design can significantly improve student experience and meet the needs of many students from the start. Faculty sometimes struggle to keep up with the demands on their time due to the increase of students with accommodations, further challenging their ability to integrate inclusive practices into their pedagogical practices. There are many challenges in implementing inclusive design in meaningful and efficient ways. Faculty require significant resources in order to redesign their curricula and develop new teaching strategies, while maintaining academic standards and rigour (both real and perceived.) However, if inclusive design can be successfully integrated into our pedagogical approaches, the benefits can have extensive reach for all students, not just those with accessible learning requirements. How might we encourage and support our faculty to integrate inclusive design into their curricula?

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RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

1.4

Today’s students are learning in a system that was not built for them. Many of the fundamental elements of our educational process reflect a time when institutions, particularly universities, were intentionally exclusionary and elitist. The shift to mass higher education over the last several decades has not been met by a shift in practice that reflects the learning needs of an incredibly diverse population. Concepts such as the three-hour exam, for example, remain a standard despite burgeoning numbers of students who require accommodations in order to participate in this form of assessment. How might we reimagine our post-secondary institutions into more flexible, agile organizations? How might we reimagine the structure of our programs to allow for a more responsive form of education to meet our diverse student body? How might we ensure that our institutions are not reinforcing histories and structures of privilege?

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Institutional culture matters. The ideas outlined in this document reflect significant change, and institutional evolution is a complicated prospect. Change needs to be carefully cultivated by creating the conditions in which it can thrive. This can be particularly difficult in situations where there is an entrenched institutional history and culture. However, this history can be leveraged in a productive way, and does not need to be an impediment to evolution. How might we support meaningful cultural change in our post-secondary institutions? .

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RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

USER-INFORMED, DESIGN-BASED SOLUTIONS Using, as a foundation, the key insights derived from the stakeholder workshop, students and key disability service staff from the participating institutions then developed and presented ideas that would move the sector towards systems change. The ideas for change range from short-term, relatively simple improvements with immediate impact at the institutional level to longer term or larger scale changes in practice that would shift the landscape significantly.

1. CREATE A LIVING DOCUMENT OF ACCOMMODATIONS AND SUPPORTS THAT CAN FOLLOW A STUDENT THROUGH THEIR EDUCATIONAL CAREER, CO-CREATED BY THE STUDENT, FACULTY, AND STAFF, WHICH OUTLINES INDIVIDUALIZED BEST PRACTICES AND LEARNING STRATEGIES. Students who transfer, move from diploma-to-degree or vice versa, or move from undergraduate to graduate level study find they have to re-initiate accommodations, re-substantiate their disability and re-familiarize DSO staff and faculty with their needs at each institution. This “groundhog day” like experience often means that what has been tried, learned and proven effective at one institution does not transfer with the student to the next. A living document or learner profile for students with disabilities would identify strengths and abilities to gain a better understanding of the how the disability impacts learning. This document could then be supplied by the student to their subsequent institution(s), or even employers, as the basis for accommodations and supports upon which to build. In time, students imagined that this intervention could shift the maintenance of accommodation-related documentation from the institutional to the provincial level (as with OSAP.) 8


RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

2. ALLOW STUDENTS WITH TEMPORARY OR EPISODIC DISABILITIES TO SELF-ASSESS THEIR FUNCTIONAL LIMITATIONS. In keeping with recent recommendations from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), institutions now generally provide interim or bridging accommodations while students are in the process of securing documentation by a regulated health professional. In many cases, however, this documentation is simply a reflection of the student’s selfreported functional impact. Rather than require a two-step process, disability service offices could eliminate the need for medical documentation to access certain types of accommodations (eg. short extensions on assignments) by incorporating a selfassessment into the process. This would address the OHRC’s continuing concerns that some institutions refuse interim accommodation until “interim” medical documentation is provided and only accept documentation from a specialist, or a family physician who is familiar with the student’s circumstances (See “With Learning in Mind”, 2017: 6).

3. CREATE UNIVERSAL DOCUMENTATION, REGISTRATION AND ACCOMMODATION DELIVERY PRACTICES. Build on the work of the Condra report (2015) in standardizing documentation requirements to develop a consistent approach to the accommodations process more broadly across the sector (e.g. universal diagnostic statement and functional limitations scale). This could include approaches to test and exam accommodations, notetaking, alternative format services, and other accommodations and services that vary from institution to institution. Standards could be developed that encourage institutions to “level up” to meet turnaround times on requests, for example, or that substantially automate some processes.

4. STREAMLINE THE FUNDING PROCESS BY SHIFTING THE ADMINISTRATIVE BURDEN OF BSWD APPLICATION TO THE BACK END. The administration of the Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD) comes with its own set of inherent challenges for both students and DSOs. Moving the process online and moving to a system of student declaration of expenses rather than the requirement for submission of receipts (similar to many health care benefits providers), for example, would eliminate a great deal of manual processes from the program. The re-engineering and streamlining of the BSWD could benefit from a service design approach and could be taken up as a separate project.

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RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

5. RETHINK WHEN, WHERE AND HOW WE COMMUNICATE ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY OPTIONS. Communication emerged as a key challenge from students and DSO staff. Students recommended that information about how to register with DSOs be backed up to the recruitment and admissions stage as well as the development of a transition course for academic credit for students with disabilities that would incorporate academic success strategies in the context of their new learning learning environment and discipline. At the same time, communication with faculty and/or through the classroom is critical to reaching students who did not arrive at college or university with knowledge of their own disability and who will be unfamiliar with the language of disability, accommodations and accessibility. Institutions should ask faculty to verbally highlight inclusive syllabus statements on the first day of class to communicate to students with disabilities that a class will be accessible to them and to place information about accessibility at the top of the syllabus, rather than the bottom so that students know supports are available and faculty want them to succeed.

6. ENSURE THAT INCOMING FACULTY ARE APPROPRIATELY TRAINED ON THE STANDARDS AND EXPECTATIONS AROUND ACCESSIBILITY REQUESTS. As the number of students requiring accommodation grows, it becomes even more critical to shift the focus to the implementation end – which rests largely with faculty. All new faculty should be encouraged to attend an accessibility orientation within their first year of hire to ensure they are aware of institutional disability-related academic accommodation practices. Policies and practices should be reviewed with all faculty and staff on a regular basis.

7. CREATE AN ONLINE “SELF-SERVE” PORTAL WHERE STUDENTS CAN MANAGE THEIR OWN ACCOMMODATIONS INTEGRATED INTO EXISTING LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS. Students clearly articulated a vision for technology-based solutions that would strip away many of the tedious, repetitive aspects of managing accommodations. Students talked about, for example, the challenges of emailing faculty to request specific accommodations (eg. an extension) and feeling like they needed to disclose health details in order to “justify” the request. Moving to an online self-serve model would allow students to reactivate registration 10


RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

and update accommodations. Technology has the potential to serve as an intermediary between student and faculty member, reducing the potential for inappropriate levels of disclosure or negotiation.

8. INCENTIVIZE FACULTY TO DESIGN CURRICULA WITH AN INCLUSIVE DESIGN FOR LEARNING FRAMEWORK. Participants developed a number of potential tools for moving the needle on the development of inclusive design: •

Add accessibility as a criteria for institutional teaching awards.

Include a question on academic accommodation in the course evaluation process to gauge whether the instructor creates an atmosphere conducive to accommodating the needs of students with disabilities.

Include prompts to consider academic accommodations and inclusive design principles in templates that support the development and review of academic programs.

Establish a fund to enable faculty to develop new courses based on inclusive design principles, especially in the area of experiential or work-integrated learning.

Utilize teaching assistantships to support faculty in designing and delivering accessible lesson plans.

Create inclusive design instructional developer positions in centres for support and teaching to work with faculty on infusing inclusive pedagogy into existing or new courses.

Sponsor teaching and learning symposiums which help faculty understand how to create and sustain inclusive teaching strategies.

9. CREATE MULTIPLE PATHWAYS FOR ASSESSMENT. Both students and faculty provided examples of courses and teaching practices that provide options for students with disabilities to express their learning and competencies using methods that take advantage of their strengths. The ways this can be achieved included: •

Provide a range of assessments and allow students to choose, for example, five of six.

Include options for assessment in course syllabi and make syllabi electronically available to students as early as possible in course enrollment process so that students can select courses knowing the form of assessment in advance.

Provide a range of options for demonstrating participation (e.g. in class discussion, online discussion, leading a study group)

Provide two or more options for final assessment (e.g. presentation/exam) and allow students to select. 11


RETHINKING DISABILITY ACCOMMODATIONS IN HIGHER EDUCATION

NEXT STEPS: PROTOYPING AND TESTING SOLUTIONS The value in design thinking, arguably, rests as much in the process as it does in the solutions generated. Through a collaborative process of interrogation, reframing and co-constructing solutions, this project developed a sense of momentum and optimism that the system could change to reflect the needs of today’s learners. Within the time and resource constraints of this project, we were able to develop a set of nine tangible strategies that could reasonably move to the prototype stage. In some areas, solutions are already in development (e.g. the University of Ottawa’s Ventus application provides some of the self-serve functionality described above) or in practice in specific institutions and simply need to scale-up and out. In other areas (e.g. BSWD), a separate design process would be required in order to determine a new model. The project team looks forward to discussing next steps with MAESD, OCSA and institutions across the province.

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THANK YOU FROM THE PROJECT TEAM

PROJECT LEAD Deanne Fisher Heather Kelly

CONTACT P : 416 977 6000 x2850 416 978 3954

EMAIL dfisher@ocadu.ca heather.kelly@utoronto.ca

Rethinking Accommodations Summary Report  
Rethinking Accommodations Summary Report  
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