Often students who are deaf or hard of hearing feel pressured to keep the costs down for the sake of budgetary restrictions or simply don't ask for accommodation because there is a cost in securing accommodation at any college or university. This can have a devastating effect on students who require communication and information access in classrooms and out-of-classroom assignments.
Students need to understand that as part of the duty to accommodate, colleges/universities are responsible for taking steps to provide accommodation needs of students identified through accommodation assessment. Accommodation assessment usually involves collecting and analyzing data on students with hearing loss to ensure that their policies and practices do not have an adverse effect on them.
Colleges and universities are required to have an accessibility plan setting out a their specific commitments to provide equal access to post-secondary education (PSE) for all students. Accessibility plans normally set goals, identify steps being taken and report on achievements made by the colleges/universities with respect to adhering to:
- the principles of inclusion by design
- barrier removal
- most appropriate, next best or interim accommodation of remaining needs
- confidentiality and shared responsibilities in the accommodation process report on policies, procedures and mechanisms for implementation
- education and training
- dispute resolution and accountability include timelines, performance measures and accountability structures
- respect the dignity and the right to inclusion and participation of students with hearing loss in the process of planning for and implementing accessibility
Individual accommodation plans
Each student with hearing loss who needs post-secondary education accommodation should expect an individual accommodation plan catering his or her needs and preferences. An accommodation plan should at least include:
- A statement of the student’s individual limitations and needs as they relate to accessing the service of post-secondary education (i.e. a document from High School or audiologist)
- Arrangement for assessments by a professional service agency familiar with appropriate accommodation
- A statement of specific services and supports required by the student (i.e. assistive communication devices, communication access to real-time translation, etc.)
- Budget and allocate funds for established accommodation needs
- Ordering any necessary products or services
- clear timelines for the various stages of the accommodation process specific steps to be taken to meet annual goals
- criteria, procedure and schedule to determine whether the accommodation is facilitating the student’s educational goals
- a mechanism for review to determine whether the student’s accommodation needs are being met
- an accountability mechanism (i.e. if not implemented effectively or in a timely fashion, what are the steps to deal with them)
Undue hardship standard
Students with hearing loss are occasionally faced with questions on high costs for access needs (i.e. real time captioning services or sign language interpreter). Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, every student with a hearing loss is entitled to accommodation up to the point of undue hardship. The Code sets out three elements that are considered in assessing whether an accommodation would cause undue hardship:
- outside sources of funding, if any
- health and safety requirements, if any
To claim an accommodation for a person with hearing loss causes undue hardship, the college or university has the onus of proof. The student requesting accommodation does not have to prove that the accommodation can be accomplished without undue hardship. The nature of the evidence required to prove undue hardship must be objective, real, direct and, in the case of cost, quantifiable.
In determining whether a cost affects the ability of the college or university to offer accommodation, consideration will be given to:
- The size of the institution – what might prove to be a cost amounting to undue hardship for a small college/university will not likely be one for a larger college/university
- Can the costs be recovered in the normal course of operation?
- Can other divisions, departments, etc. of the college or university help to absorb part of the costs?
- Can the costs be phased in – a certain amount per year?
- Can the college or university set aside a certain percentage of money per year to be placed in a reserve fund to be used for accommodation issues?
- Will the educational programs and services for all students be substantially and permanently altered? For example, will a college or university be forced to cancel its science programs to fund an accommodation?
Costs of accommodation must be distributed as widely as possible within the college or university responsible for accommodation so that no single school or academic department is disproportionately burdened with the costs of accommodation.
Health and safety requirements
Occasionally, students with hearing loss are challenged with health and safety issues. These health and safety issues have the potential to affect individual students with hearing loss, other students, and college/university staff in the classroom or in external learning activities. Where a health and safety requirement creates a barrier for a student with hearing loss, the college or university should assess whether accommodation can be made, or whether the requirement can be modified or waived. Modifying or waiving health and safety requirements need to be weighed against the student's right to equality vs risks.
An education provider can determine whether modifying or waiving a health or safety requirement creates a significant risk by considering the following:
- Is the student willing to assume the risk in circumstances where the risk is solely to his or her own health or safety?
- Would changing or waiving the requirement be reasonably likely to result in a serious risk to the health or safety of other students, educators or school staff?
- What other types of risks are assumed within the institution or sector, and what types of risks are tolerated within society as a whole?
- In evaluating the seriousness or significance of risk, the following factors may be considered:
- The nature of the risk: What could happen that would be harmful?
- The severity of the risk: How serious would the harm be if it occurred?
- The probability of the risk: Is it a real risk, or merely hypothetical or speculative?
- The scope of the risk: Who will be affected by the event if it occurs?
A claim of undue hardship must stem from a genuine interest in maintaining a safe learning environment for all students, rather than as a punitive action. Awareness and being open to various possible solutions including appropriate supports for the student may resolve the issue. The accommodation process must be fully explored without bias, to the point of undue hardship.
The Canadian Hearing Society
Guidelines on accessible education (Ontario Human Rights Commission)
Policy and Guidelines on disability and the duty to accommodate (Ontario Human Rights Commission)
The Opportunity to Succeed – Achieving barrier-free education for students with disabilities (Ontario Human Rights Commission)
Making accommodations for persons with disabilities: Creating win-win opportunities for success at the workplace
Equity and inclusive education in Ontario schools – Guideline for policy development and implementation