Towards Developing Professional Standards of Service

A Report on Support for Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education in Canada

Prepared by: The Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Postsecondary Education. © 1999

1 Introduction

This discussion paper comes at a very active and exciting time for Canadians working in the field of service provision for students with disabilities in postsecondary education. The Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Postsecondary Education (CADSPPE) will mark the second anniversary of its founding in June of 1999. During the same period, a number of related activities have been initiated by parallel organizations, and three are particularly relevant to the development of CADSPPE. In summer 1999 the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) will release a major study proposing a set of best practices for the provision of supports to postsecondary students with disabilities in Canada. Recently, our colleagues in the United States have engaged in the process of developing professional standards and a code of ethics for their profession (Shaw, 1997). In 1998, in Australia, a Code of Practice for services to students with disabilities was promulgated by the National Government (O’Connor, Watson, Power, & Hartley, 1998). Members of CADSPPE have been involved with all of these activities. At the same time, many have engaged in additional research and professional development activities. All of these events have combined to bring CADSPPE to a point where the organization perceives a need to begin a discussion on standards of practice in Canada.

This brief discussion paper will seek to highlight the findings of the efforts referred to above, along with a good deal of other supplementary information. It has been commissioned by the CADSPPE Board of Directors, with the support of Human Resource Development Canada, as a tool to facilitate discussion over the coming months amongst Canadian Service providers. This paper, therefore, is designed to serve as a first step on the road to developing a Canadian approach to the key issues. As such, the present work should be read as a supplement to the many other - more detailed - works cited throughout the body of the paper.

The preparation of this paper involved a review of the literature published in the field over the past 20 years. Particular attention was given to literature related to the three initiatives noted above. In the case of the forthcoming NEADS study the writer was given a draft copy of many sections of the final study, since the final document was not yet complete.

Drafts of this discussion paper have been shared with members of the CADSPPE Board of Directors and the paper has benefited greatly from their feedback.

Because this document is designed to facilitate discussion, it is structured along specific themes identified in the literature as central to the development of a comprehensive perspective on issues related to service provision for students with disabilities in postsecondary education. These theme areas are:

  • Policy development
  • Models of service delivery
  • Training and accreditation of service providers
  • Funding issues
  • The role of students in policy and program development
  • Gaps in currently existing models of service provision

Discussion on these areas will be preceded by a brief overview, or environmental scan, of the situation in Canada as it relates to access and service provision at postsecondary institutions for students with disabilities. This overview is set within the context of the legal and social environment in Canada, and particular attention is given to the increased participation of people with disabilities in Canadian society.

Before turning to the task at hand, a brief word on the importance of postsecondary education for people with disabilities is in order. Fichten (1995) puts it quite clearly:

... research indicates college education is more important for people who have a disability. For example, while the employment figure for University graduates with disabilities is somewhat lower than their nondisabled peers, it is still substantially greater than that of students who did not complete university, who, in turn fare better than those who never went to college (p. 16).

Fichten makes a clear and compelling case for the importance of a continued effort to assist people with disabilities access postsecondary education. Education is not an end in itself, but is rather one way to support the goal of an independent and productive life, a goal espoused by people with disabilities the world over!

2 Background

2.1 Participation Rates of Students with Disabilities in Postsecondary Education

Statistics Canada (1997) estimates that there are 77 universities and 216 community colleges and CEGEPs across the country. These institutions range in size from under 1,000 to over 50,000 students, with a nation-wide student enrollment of 1.3 million. Each institution exercises some degree of self-governance. This, coupled with the fact that they are provincially regulated, makes it very difficult to develop one single picture of postsecondary education in the country, to say nothing of the status of students with disabilities within this system.

A key issue here is the attempt to develop a reasonable estimate of the numbers of students with disabilities enrolled across Canada. Issues of size and governance will be discussed below with reference to policy development and models of service delivery.

Two different approaches have been employed to gather participation-rate data. First, the 1991 HALS data (Health and Activity Limitation Survey, a national post-censal conducted last after the 1991 Canadian Census) has been used to construct population estimates of people with disabilities in Canada, and subsequent estimates for postsecondary students with disabilities. HALS estimates that in 1991 there were approximately 2.2 million Canadian household-residents (as opposed to those in institutions) between the ages of 15 and 64 who had a disability. This is roughly 13 percent of working age adults in Canada. HALS go on to estimate that of this population, approximately 112,000 people with disabilities were enrolled in postsecondary education. This represents 7 percent of the entire population enrolled in post-secondary education in 1991.

Unfortunately, no follow-up to the 1991 survey has been attempted. This results in very dated estimates; an important fact when considered against the second method of reporting available here, evidence from Offices for Students with Disabilities (OSDs).

OSD reporting suggests a significant increase in postsecondary attendance by students with disabilities (Wilchesky, 1986; Wolforth, 1997). These reports describe an increase in enrollment figures of students with disabilities at specific postsecondary institutions in Canada. The following table summarizes these figures. It is important to note that this is by no means a scientific census, since it is based upon self-identification and reporting to Offices for Students with Disabilities (OSDs). It does, however, suggest an increase in participation rates of students with disabilities in postsecondary education over time.

SOURCES: Wilchesky 1986; Wolforth 1998.

Evidence of this increase is further substantiated by reports from the United States. Henderson (1995) noted very substantial increases in college freshmen that report having a disability. In 1978 2.6 percent of college freshmen reported having a disability, as compared to 9.2 percent in 1994.

Going back to the original intent of this section, to derive a valid estimate of participation rates for students with a disability in Canadian postsecondary institutions, it is clear that such a figure is somewhat elusive. Given the fact that the best nation-wide estimate is nearly 10 years old, and that some OSDs over that same period report a marked increase in participation, it may be fair to suggest a number larger than the HALS figure, but this must be seen as a speculation.

For this reason it may be safest to assume that the HALS estimate, which showed that 7 percent of postsecondary students in 1991 had disabilities, remains consistent. In this case, based upon the most recent attendance figures available (Statistics Canada, 1997), which show approximately 1.3 million (down from 1991) post-secondary students in Canada, the most current estimate of people with disabilities enrolled in postsecondary education in Canada was 96,000 for the 1997-98 academic year.

2.1.1. Discrepancy Issues

The number of students with a disability who have identified themselves to service providers or administration at Canadian postsecondary institutions has not been accurately calculated, but it is well below the 96,000 suggested above. A rough estimate based on an overview of the individual data reported on Web sites and documentation from a variety of OSDs would place that number between 25,000 - 30,000 students with disabilities.

This discrepancy is not surprising for several reasons. Students with disabilities only tend to self-identify if they need to do so in order to receive a disability-related service. Many of those who reported having a disability in the HALS survey would not require disability-related academic accommodations, and would, therefore, not have any reason to disclose their disability to the institution.

For example, an individual who uses a wheelchair for mobility, attending an institution that is relatively accessible would not necessarily self-identify. The effort on the part of service providers to reduce systemic barriers, such as architectural barriers, plays an important role in making education accessible to students with disabilities, and thus reduces the need for self-identification. Similarly, many people with disabilities who enter a postsecondary institution will have already developed ways of adapting to their environment, and the ability to advocate on their own behalf. Many have learned to negotiate adaptations such as taping lectures, recruiting their own note-takers and negotiating essays instead of examinations. These negotiations are further eased in institutions where faculty awareness is high, and individual accommodations for similar disabilities have been granted in the past. Finally, some students will seek support services from the OSD during their first year or two of study, and thereby establish a rapport with their department and self-empowerment strategies, which reduce the need for formal accommodations in subsequent years of study.

For these reasons, it would appear reasonable to suggest that the actual number of postsecondary students with a disability falls somewhere between the figures reported by OSDs and those projected from the HALS data.

Granted, this is an extremely wide range, but in the absence of better data it appears to be the best available estimate at this time. However, it is clear that students with disabilities represent a significant cohort within the postsecondary student population, and as such they continue to command the attention of administrators, policy makers and coordinators of services for students with disabilities.

2.1.2 Disability Classifications

While no rigid classifications are in use in Canada today, service providers have tended to group students with a disability into generally accepted categories. This issue is raised because it is important to point out that while classifications have been generally accepted, there is no guarantee that they will be defined in the same way by different institutions (Cox & Walsh, 1998; Wolforth, 1998). This further complicates the issue of gathering data on participation rates from OSDs across the country. Having said this, the broad categories that have emerged over the past number of years are as follows:

  • Mobility Impairment
  • Learning Disability
  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Blind/Visual Impairment
  • Deaf/Hearing Impairment
  • Medical Disability
  • Psychiatric Disability

Arguably these classifications are useful in terms of the development of service expertise and general accommodation strategies, though it must be understood that accommodations appropriate for one individual may not be appropriate for another within the same disability classification. However, without a comprehensive definition of each disability type, and a general acceptance of that definition across the country, efforts to collect comparable data across institutions will remain extremely difficult.

Also worthy of note at this point is the fact that accommodations are affected by many variables, including the severity of the disability, the time of onset, the nature of the individual’s environment and the coping mechanisms that the individual has developed over time. The challenge for disability service providers is to identify appropriate accommodation on an individual basis, ensuring that the impact of the disability on the academic endeavor is neutralized, and that the student is neither disadvantaged nor given an unfair advantage in relation to the general student population.

2.2 Participation Rates of People with Disabilities in Society

Few would dispute the suggestion that the participation rate of people with disabilities has increased in most aspects of community life over the past two decades. Several authors (Oliver, 1990; Shapiro, 1993; Stainton, 1994; Wolforth, 1998) have written on this issue and we do not propose to detail their findings in this brief discussion paper.

What will be useful here is to sketch some highlights, which will help to provide a context for the increased participation of people with disabilities in postsecondary education in Canada. There are two important factors that should be noted in this discussion: models of disability and the evolving legal and policy framework.

2.2.1 Models of Disability

Traditional views of disability are generically referred to as the rehabilitation or medical model. This model sees disability as a personal circumstance. It, therefore, suggests that it is the responsibility of the individual to overcome the barriers that his or her physical functional limitations impose. This model vests the person with the disability with the responsibility for accommodating his or her self to the environment as it exists presently.

For some years now disability activists have argued for a new understanding of disability, which they refer to as the social model of disability. This new understanding was clearly articulated by Gerben DeJong (1979) who argued that disability is a societal construct, brought about by a disabling environment and the institutions created by society. The onus thus shifts from the functional limitations of the individual to society itself, and society becomes responsible to provide accommodation for the individual. The implications of this paradigm are far reaching, and have a clear impact upon how post_secondary institutions accommodate students with disabilities.

Debate about the relative merits of each of these models continues, but there is an increasing amount of support for the social model of disability. This can be seen, for example, in legislation and policy development in Canada since the early 1980s. Stainton (1994) has written about the impact of the social model on legal and policy development as it pertained to people with developmental disabilities in Ontario during the 1980s. He states:

Also significant is the coalition of groups which came together to coordinate strategy regarding the advocacy review and follow-up; for the first time there was a broad coalition of groups, spearheaded by the Advocacy Resource Centre for the Handicapped (ARCH) sharing common cause rather than promoting discreet interest related to a particular categorization . This group contained a range of consumer and advocacy groups concerned with mental, physical and psychiatric disabilities and seniors. Though far from unanimous in their views, it represents a significant change in both the nature of the interest groups, now being defined by shared need rather than a discreet problem of label, and the emergence of a strong self-advocacy component as opposed to concerned others (pp. 151-152).

Clearly the application of a social model was key to the coalition described above. It has also been important in the evolution and development of a good deal of other disability related policy and law in Canada over the past two decades.

2.2.2 The Legal and Policy Framework

Canada is the only western country to have enshrined rights of people with disabilities in its Constitution (Stainton, 1994). The 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 15(1)) protects people with disabilities from discrimination, based upon their disability. This right is echoed in provincial Human Rights legislation across the country.

The provincial protection is particularly relevant to post-secondary institutions, most of which come under provincial jurisdiction.

Post-secondary institutions clearly have an obligation in law to refrain from discrimination of students with disabilities. This obligation has been put to the test on at least two occasions. Both cases involved the University of British Columbia, and had to do with discrimination towards students with disabilities. These cases are well documented elsewhere (Berg v. UBC, 1993; Howard v. UBC, 1993), and there is no need to go into the facts here. Suffice it to say that they make clear the legal obligation of post-secondary institutions to accommodate students with disabilities, and to refrain from discrimination based upon disability.

3 Discussion Areas

Against the background of increased participation of students with disabilities (as reported by CADSPPE members) and the evolving social/legal context, it has become important for CADSPPE to begin consideration of mutually agreeable standards for the provision of service to students with disabilities across Canada. This is so because of the ever-increasing complexity of the service provision task. This has been brought about by larger numbers of students, presenting an increasing variety of disabling conditions, and with increased expectations that institutions will meet their needs.

3.1 Policy Considerations

For over a decade authors and advocates for people with disabilities (Hill, 1992; Lepofsky, 1991; Wesley, 1988) have called for the adoption of disability-related policies at Canada’s post-secondary institutions. They have argued that policies are the way to safeguard rights of students with disabilities. Fichten (1995) goes so far as to call the lack of disability policy a form of passive discrimination. She states:

Instead of developing new structures or policies on student rights, some administrators urge proceeding on a case-by-case basis. Of course, certain student’s needs will always have to be dealt with on an individual basis. In the long run, however, services, facilities and equipment will have to be integrated into the regular service delivery system of the organization (p.

Many Canadian post-secondary institutions have adopted this approach. Hill (1994) reports that in 1992, 30 percent of Canadian post-secondary institutions had disability related policies, while another 15 percent were developing such documents. By 1994 this figure had risen to over 65 percent, and by 1997, 75 percent of Canadian universities reported disability-related policy development and analysis activities (Cox & Walsh, 1998). Clearly policy development has become an important activity across the country and efforts to develop comprehensive policy statements remain a priority for most Canadian post-secondary institutions.

In their review Cox and Walsh consider the development of disability-related policy at Canadian universities in recent years. One of the key conclusions of the review is that institutional autonomy, along with the fact that these institutions are bound only by provincial statutes, makes it difficult to develop an enforceable national approach to policy for provision of services to students with disabilities. With this in mind, they developed a list of 11 variables for consideration when developing disability policy at Canadian post-secondary institutions. These variables will, of course, be dealt with in different ways at different institutions, but the need to address them remains constant.

SOURCE: (Cox & Walsh 1998, p. 54)

Cox and Walsh also report on another interesting variable; the institutional body that approved the disability-related policy. They identify four categories (or levels of certification): working policies, Senate approved policies, Board of Governor approved policies, and those policies approved by both the Senate and Board of Governors. The reasons for the different levels of certification are likely to be as varied as the institutions themselves. It would not necessarily follow, for example, that a working policy at Institution A was less useful than a Senate approved policy at Institution B. Much will depend on the environmental conditions peculiar to each campus.

From this brief overview, it is clear that most Canadian post-secondary institutions have developed, or are developing, policies to respond to the needs of students who have a disability. It is also clear that certain key areas must be addressed by these policies, and the most effective way to enforce them must also be found within the culture and climate of the specific institution. Therefore, the challenge for service providers is clear: ensure that institutions are as attentive to the details of policy making as they have been to the concept itself. In this way, service providers will be able to develop policies that address key areas and ensure that they are promulgated by the appropriate body within their institution.

3.2 Models of Service Delivery
Previous discussion in this paper has referred to both the medical and the social models of disability. The discussion suggested that the model used to frame one’s understanding of disability predisposes an institution to adopt a specific approach to barrier removal or inclusion. Similarly, the model used for service delivery will guide the approach used to deliver services to students with disabilities. For this reason, it is important to have a clear understanding of the various models used to deliver these services.

O’Connor and Watson (1994) propose that disability service delivery models in post-secondary education can be conceptualized on a continuum between specialist and generic. That is to say, at one extreme, all services are delivered by a specialized OSD; while at the other, services are delivered through the institutional unit responsible for the activity in question. For example, in a purely specialized approach, the OSD would be responsible for the provision of academic materials in alternate format. In contrast, in a generic approach, the same materials would be arranged for and provided by the faculty, with advice and support from the OSD when required.

A parallel between the medical/social dichotomy discussed in general disability theory seems obvious here. If, for example, one adopts the medical approach, then it seems reasonable to establish a specialist centre and to expect people with disabilities to access all the supports they require from that unit. In this way the overall environment remains essentially the same, and the responsibility for adaptation remains with the person who has the disability. If, on the other hand, one proceeds from the social model, it would be expected that the overall environment would be adapted to reduce the need for accommodation, and when still necessary, accommodations would be delivered by the unit responsible for the activity in question.

O’Connor and Watson favor the generic approach, saying that it offers a positive focus to service delivery because it concentrates on positive human attributes. They suggest that having to access all disability-related services through a specialized unit, brings a negative connotation in terms of responsibility for adaptation being on the person with the disability, as opposed to in the mainstream. It is more natural, they argue, that accommodation of a disability simply be one of the myriad of tasks that all units in a post-secondary institution perform each day.

A similar distinction has been made by the American author, Van Meter (1993), who proposes what she calls an integrated access model, which parallels the generic approach, identified by O’Connor and Watson (1994). Van Meter also points out that this approach is consistent with current organizational theory, which stresses integrated, boundary-less forms in which each person is expected to be more knowledgeable about the whole, that is, more flexible. She goes on to note that this approach is different from previous organizational theories with high levels of differentiation where no one saw the big picture, nor their relationship to the entire organization.

Both the integrated access model and the generic model are offered as ideal forms, to which OSDs may aspire over time. All of these authors recognize that the every-day reality of service delivery does not always correspond to the ideals that they present. Van Meter (1993), therefore, goes on to describe a series of steps which can be implemented to move an institution towards the, so-called, integrated access model. Briefly, these steps can be summarized as follows:

  1. Work to ensure that the entire institution is viewed as responsible for access. For example, faculty members would, as a matter of course, provide written material in large print, the financial aid office would be knowledgeable about disability related funding mechanisms, and the computer labs would all contain adapted equipment.
  2. Work with faculty so that they know how to respond to requests from students with disabilities. This can be done through workshops and presentations at faculty meetings.
  3. Find the best place for a service to reside outside the OSD wherever possible. For example, faculty members would deal with testing accommodations, and the physical plant would ensure access to any new buildings, and implement a plan to retrofit currently inaccessible buildings.
  4. Become politically involved in the institution’s long-term planning to ensure that disability issues are placed on the agenda.
  5. Encourage senior administrators to strongly, and publicly, endorse their commitment to access.
  6. Enable students with disabilities to become strong and effective advocates, by helping them to understand their rights and responsibilities.

This approach would obviously take a long time to implement, and it would require a good deal of expertise from service providers, who would become advisors to the whole institution, as it moved to integrate access considerations into all aspects of its activities. However, it is presented here as a discussion point for those interested in pursuing the model outlined by Van Meter.

Having proposed these two models, from authors in the United States and Australia, as a context for discussion, it is time to turn to the situation in Canada. Wolforth (1998) describes Canadian practice as moving toward the generic or integrated access model, but recognizes that the educational expertise, and potential consequent levels of attitudinal change towards students with disabilities which would be necessary throughout entire institutions may not yet have been achieved (p. 54).

Prior to the implementation of this specialist approach, many institutions allocated responsibility for disability supports to a part-time staff person, who already had other responsibilities, and in many cases, no disability-related expertise. Wesley (1986) estimated that over half of the service providers in Ontario in the mid-1980s were working only part-time to deliver services to students with disabilities. This situation prompted the Ontario Provincial Council on University Affairs to commission a study of the situation of access and disability support services at the province’s postsecondary institutions. The report contained several recommendations to improve access and provision of services. As a response to the report the Ontario Government established a $3 Million fund to support the improvement of services to students with disabilities at provincial postsecondary institutions. With this new funding many colleges and universities did develop centres to serve students with disabilities (Wesley, 1986).

In fact the creation of OSDs has become a common way to deliver services at the majority of Canadian post-secondary institutions (NEADS, 1999). However, it should be noted that the likelihood that an OSD will exist increases with an increase in the size of the institution.

Despite the creation over the past number of years of specialist centres across the country, a recognition has evolved that truly sustainable support services are best delivered along the lines of the generic or integrated access model discussed above. In this way, many OSDs have begun to develop locally appropriate ways to get the larger campus community to begin to accept responsibility for the delivery of various support services.

While things have been evolving towards a more generic model, as Wolforth (1998) points out, they have not reached a point where this model is fully in place at any Canadian institution. There is also a danger that, in their desire for fiscal restraint, senior administrators will seize upon the generic model as a way to reduce expenditures on disability supports, through the reduction of OSD budgets and staffing compliments.

This is a particularly worrisome development. For, as was demonstrated above, the process of moving an institution towards a generic approach to the delivery of disabilityrelated supports is a long-term and complex process. It is not something that will be accomplished by simply reducing the size of the OSD, without the very necessary work at cultural change on the campus in question. Albert and Fairweather (1990) discuss the pitfalls of doing just this, based on their own observations at the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1980s. They recommend:

It seems that effective midlevel professional managers assisted by sufficient numbers of staff are crucial to effective operation of decentralized programs that combine general and specialized services for students with disabilities (p. 452).

With this in mind it is important for Canadian service providers to make it clear that moves toward generic models of service delivery, while laudable in many regards, do not represent an effective way of reducing expenditures on the provision of support services for students with disabilities. This may be the end result of such movement, but if it functions instead as the motivating force behind the move, then surely the experiment will fail, at least from the perspective of students with disabilities.

3.3 Participation of Students with Disabilities

Fichten (1995) notes that student organizations on a campus can offer a good deal of support to service providers. She says that student groups can support the efforts for policy development and lobby for increased funding and services. Moreover, she argues students can lobby and voice their concerns in ways that service providers, as employees, cannot. Even before Fichten’s observations, Lepofsky (1991) called for the establishment of committees (including students) at Canadian law schools, in order to identify barriers and recommend ways to overcome them. Finally, Wolforth (1998) notes the establishment of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) in 1986, and the establishment of campus-based student organizations since that time. These groups, she says, have played a role in the development of support services and increased access at Canadian post-secondary institutions.

Hill (1994) conducted a survey in which over 60 percent of students reported little or no knowledge about institutional disability-related policy. The same study noted that 87.5 percent of students with disabilities said that disability-related policy was very important. There is a seeming paradox here, between the observation that few students are aware of the policy situation at their school; while at the same time, there is a general recognition that student involvement can be quite helpful to the work of the OSD.

Continuing on the theme of student involvement and awareness in disability policy and service provision, the recent NEADS (1999) study divides campus-based student activity into two separate forms: independent student groups and access advisory committees.

NEADS reports that less than half of Canadian post-secondary institutions have independent student groups, while a larger number have advisory committees.

Numbers and percentages of institutions with and without independent student group organized by and for students with disabilities by full-time student population

Source: (NEADS, 1999, p. 41)

Numbers and percentages of institutions with and without an Access Committee by full-time student population

Source: (NEADS, 1999, p. 43)

From this data it is clear that there is room to improve student participation rates in both their own organizations and in access advisory committee forms. While the burden for student self-organizing falls upon students themselves, it may be useful for Canadian OSDs to make better use of the access advisory committees on their campuses; and to be sure to include student representation on these committees.

3.4 Training and Accreditation of Service Providers

Much of the development of disability-related services at Canadian post-secondary institutions has evolved as a response to specific situations, including the demand for services, the availability of resources, and institutional size. Because of the ad-hoc nature of this evolution, many service providers find themselves in their positions without any formal training in the field. Indeed, no specialized accreditation for the job exists in Canada today. Hill (1992) surveyed Canadian service providers and reported a number of interesting facts which are summarized in the table below:

As this discussion paper has attempted to point out, there has been a tremendous amount of growth in the field in Canada over the past ten years. For this reason it is clearly time to update the information summarized in the above table. This, it is suggested, should be the first step to developing a useful training and accreditation plan for Canadian service providers.

Recent efforts in the United States have been directed at just this sort of data gathering. Shaw, McGuire, and Madaus (1997) report on the type of training most members of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) bring to their profession. With 26 percent reporting training in counseling, followed by other (17 percent, for example in law and social work) and 7-16 percent in special education, rehabilitation counseling, higher education, psychology and elementary or secondary education.

Work completed by Dukes and Shaw (1998) has been used in the development of recommended program standards that have been adopted by the AHEAD Board of Directors. These standards are published in the June 1999 edition of Alert , and will be formally adopted after a membership vote (Shaw, personal communication, April 23, 1999). CADSPPE should look closely at the AHEAD program standards, and consider embarking upon a similar process, the first step of which should be the collection of data to update the information reported by Hill (1992).

3.5 Funding Issues

Since the mid-1990s funding for post-secondary education in Canada has undergone significant changes. These changes have resulted from the Federal Government’s decision to end the flow of traditional Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) dollars, and replace them with the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST). This has happened within the overall context of reduced dollars and the devolution of spending powers to the provinces and territories. Analysis of this situation is beyond the scope of this paper.

However, three particular initiatives relate directly to funding post-secondary education for people with disabilities, and as such, should be mentioned here. These initiatives are: the launch of Special Opportunity Grants, the emergence of a new funding mechanism, called Employment Assistance for Persons with Disabilities (EAPD), and the pending launch of the Canada Millennium Scholarship Fund. The first two of these initiatives have already had a significant impact on the ability of people with disabilities to access post-secondary education, and the new Millennium Scholarship Fund could play an equally significant (and perhaps more positive) role.

Before moving to a discussion of the specific programs, it should be pointed out that, funding for post-secondary education of students with disabilities is now almost exclusively administered by the provinces and territories. As such, this situation may well impose significant limitations on those wishing to study in a province other than the one in which they are a permanent resident. This issue, of portability has been a central concern of people with disabilities as they watch provinces and territories take over the management of disability-related supports from Ottawa. As such it is an area that CADSPPE may wish to monitor, in order to ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunity to study where they choose as do their able-bodied counterparts.

3.5.1 Special Opportunity Grants (SOG)

In 1996 the Government of Canada introduced Special Opportunity Grants for under-represented groups in post-secondary education, including students with disabilities. This program provided grants of up to $3,000 per year to students with disabilities, to offset their disability-related costs.[This amount was raised to $5,000 per year as of August 1998 (HRDC, 1998, p.1)] In most provinces the student is required to access a student loan before applying for the SOG.

The grant ceiling of the SOG limits its use for many disability-related accommodations, such as sign language interpretation or attendant care, both of which cost much more than the sum available per year. In contradistinction to this fact, it is interesting to note that the SOG monies have not been fully expended in either year for which figures are available. In 1996-97 only 63.0 percent of the funds were expended, and in 1997-98, the figure was 64.9 percent (HRDC, 1998). This raises a question about the implementation of the fund, and the possibility that increases in the ceiling limit should be considered.

Another related question has to do with the administration of the SOG. The fund is administered quite differently from one province to the next. For example, some provinces fund services by providing dollars to the post-secondary institution, whereas other provinces fund the individual student. For example, Nova Scotia administers the fund centrally, while Ontario has devolved the money to the institutions. Provinces also use different definitions of disability, so that a student may qualify for a SOG in one part of the country and not in another.

Given the under-utilization of the SOG nationally, and the uneven application of the program between the provinces, there may be areas where CADSPPE can assist the administrators of the SOG. For instance, it would be useful to develop a comprehensive national profile of the SOG implementation and usage. CADSPPE may also wish to consider working with both NEADS and the National Advisory Group on Student Assistance to broaden the parameters of the fund’s application so that all disability-related costs can be addressed.

3.5.2 Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities (EAPD)

Since 1997 most provinces have eliminated their Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Persons (VRDP) programs in favor of a new program called Employability Assistance for Persons with Disabilities (EAPD). During 1997 and 1998 all the provinces and territories (except Québec) signed EAPD agreements with the Federal Government. These agreements call for a three-year implementation phase. Details of the EAPD programs are to be worked out between Ottawa and each jurisdiction individually during this implementation phase.

At this time a key issue, from a post-secondary perspective, is the de-emphasis, and in some provinces outright abandonment, of funding for post-secondary education by the new program. The old VRDP program was a major source of financial support for people with disabilities wishing to access post-secondary education. Many have argued that the VRDP program has effectively been replaced by the Canada Student Loan Program (CSLP), particularly since it is supplemented by the SOG. There is, then, considerable reason to think that the EAPD agreements, once finalized, will avoid support of post-secondary education. However, given that EAPD negotiations are ongoing, there may be an opportunity for CADSPPE to participate in some fashion and to encourage the reconsideration of opting out of support for post-secondary education.

Nevertheless, over the past two years, a significant shift has taken place in the way that students with disabilities fund their education in many provinces. Before 1997, a student with a disability could expect to receive VRDP grants sufficient to cover the costs of an undergraduate education. This may no longer be the case in many provinces, which seem intent upon limiting EAPD to other activities more closely tied to the labour market, such as short-term HRDC funded training programs.

In these provinces post-secondary students with disabilities must now borrow money through the Canada Student Loans Program to finance their education. While it is true that the SOGs offset the disability-related costs of getting an education, or at least part of them, students are left to bear the majority of the debt-burden. The difficulty with this approach, some may argue, is that it does not recognize issues of substantive discrimination faced by people with disabilities; nor does it provide incentive to access post-secondary education. It is as a result of this substantive discrimination that people with disabilities are less likely than able-bodied people to access post-secondary education (HALS, 1991). Therefore, programs should be constructed in such a way as to encourage their participation, and reduce the impact of discrimination.

With the de-emphasis of post-secondary education by EAPD agreements and the expectation of self-financing inherent in the SOG programs, students with disabilities face many challenges in terms of funding their education. With this in mind, some have pointed to the new Canada Millennium Scholarship Fund as a possible source of support to fill the gaps left by the current funding regime.

3.5.3 Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation

The Government of Canada announced this $2.5 billion scholarship fund in its 1998 budget speech. Since then, work has been underway to define the scope and parameters of the fund, which will begin issuing grants in the year 2000. In 1998, the Foundation’s Board of Directors commissioned a study to examine key questions for the delivery of the fund. They stated that the study was intended:

... to undertake informal consultations across Canada with stakeholders from the post-secondary education community and relevant provincial authorities to gather ideas and suggestions on policy issues and options that will be of use to the Chair and Board of Directors of the Foundation in framing the program design and delivery of the Canada Millennium Scholarships (CMS) (Smith, 1998, p.5).

The report describes the consultation process as follows (Smith, 1998, p. 5):

In early August 1998, letters were sent to the executive heads of universities, colleges and community colleges in Canada. The letters solicited views on the program and asked that this invitation be extended within institutions to student and faculty leaders and to staff familiar with policies affecting student assistance. Letters were also sent to the heads of major Canadian post-secondary federations and associations, which represent students, faculty, staff and institutions.

The letters invited comments on key questions within the context of the legislation that established the CMS and the Foundation. Five questions were listed as arising from the legislated requirement that scholarships be granted on the basis of need and merit, though respondents were asked to suggest and comment on others. The five questions were:

  1. How should need be determined? Should reliance be placed on current provincially administered needs assessment criteria? Are modifications required in the case of the CMS?
  2. What are your views on how the merit provision should be applied in the terms of the CMS and what mechanisms could be used to incorporate it?
  3. Since the Foundation may grant up to five percent of the annual funds to persons who demonstrate exceptional merit, how would you propose the Foundation asses candidates for exceptional merit?
  4. Should special consideration be given to other criteria for awarding any portion of the scholarships to certain sectors, or categories of students?
  5. How is portability of the CMS between provinces best accomplished?

Question 4 obviously opens the door for consideration of students with disabilities as a particular sector which might be worthy of consideration by the Foundation’s Board of Directors. The report (Smith, 1998, pp. 12-13) describes reaction to this question as follows:

One of the questions posed in the letter used for consultations was whether special consideration should be given to other criteria for awarding any portion of the scholarships to certain sectors or categories of students. Two categories were most frequently addressed in the responses:

a) Special financial needs of disadvantaged groups; and

b) Special support for certain areas of study judged to be especially important for economic development.

a) Special categories of disadvantaged groups

In general, the consultations did not produce a high degree of support for identifying and providing additional CMS assistance to particular categories of students judged to have special disadvantages not reflected in the current needs assessment criteria. This response did not mean an absence of concerns about the adequacy of support to these groups.

Indeed, there was frequent mention of the need for improved support for those with a learning disability, mature students, aboriginal students and single parents with dependants. But it was noted in some responses that separate programs of support for these groups have been developing and should be the route through which further support is provided. For example, the Canada Study Grants, announced in early 1998 at the same time as the Millennium Scholarships and valued at $3,000, are to provide support to students in financial need who have children or other dependants, and whose needs are not fully met by scholarships and student loans.

The letter from York University captured well the best not, but if you do response. It stated that York University opposes setting aside funds in the CMS for special categories of students, but, in the event that approach is adopted, it would recommend three categories of students: those with learning disabilities; those who demonstrate artistic merit; and cases of hardship such as those that result from family breakdown and racial or ethnic discrimination.

The letter from CASFAA (the Canadian Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) noted that general improvements in needs based awards would particularly help some groups who have been disadvantaged: There are categories of students who cannot present the traditional credentials normally associated with merit. One such group is the mature students who have not demonstrated academic merit upon entrance into a post-secondary program of studies. If need is the primary focus in determining eligibility for the CMS awards, these students, who often have high levels of financial need, would then be eligible .

... In response to the issues raised by these two special categories of need, the Foundation might wish to establish two ear-marked funds supported by private donations. Under the legislation the Foundation may accept donations of money" with the qualification that "the Foundation shall not accept a donation of money that is made on the condition that the Foundation use the money or any income arising from the investment of the money for any purpose that is not within the objects and purposes of the Foundation . The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and other postsecondary institutions voiced concerns about this clause.

They believe it may encourage new competition with universities and colleges in fund raising. However, others believe it might lead to greater over-all support to students and the postsecondary sector. The Canada Scholarships Program, that began in 1988 and started to be phased out in 1995, had a special category of corporate awards supported by donations from industry. The minimum requirement for sponsorship was ten $1,000 awards each year for three years. A dozen of these Special Corporate Awards were donated spanning various fields in science, engineering and technology. Favorable reports were received about this approach.

Suggested Direction: Important arguments have been advanced to have the awards recognize special categories of disadvantaged students whose financial needs are not captured in the current needs assessment criteria.

Important arguments have also been advanced to recognize special categories of students studying in areas regarded as especially important for future employment needs. On the other hand, many responses pointed to the dangers of segmenting the CMS along these lines. And it seems advisable that the Foundation should avoid such segmenting with regard to the two types of its major awards. Nonetheless, the Foundation might wish to consider support for these categories through private donations, without entering into active competition with post-secondary institutions in fund raising. An earlier example of such an approach was the Special Corporate Awards under the Canada Scholarships Program.

Thus, it appears that the CMS Board of Directors is not receiving direction likely to encourage the development of targeted programming for students with disabilities. It is likely worthwhile for CADSPPE members to note that their CACUSS (Canadian Association of College and University Student Services) colleagues in CASFAA were consulted in this process and did recognize that some categories of students might not meet the merit credentials being suggested. For this reason CADSPPE may wish to contact CASFAA as a means of beginning a dialogue related to importance of programming for students with disabilities through the CMS. If the direction of the funding is to be moved towards the support of students with disabilities then it is clear that immediate steps must be taken to encourage this reorientation.

3.6 Gaps in Services

It should be clear from the preceding discussions that service requirements and expectations will differ from one institution to the next. These differences are based upon a number of variables, such as size, the role of the OSD (i.e. the specialist-generic service continuum discussed above) and other previously identified factors. Cox and Walsh (1998) make it clear that their own investigation suggests that one policy will not work for the entire country. This is so because of the high degree of institutional autonomy and variation in legislative and policy prescriptions - to say nothing of funding from one province to the next.

With this mosaic of service delivery environments in mind the final section of this discussion paper will present some guidelines for the delivery of services as articulated by American service providers at the July 1998 AHEAD Conference. As before, this is not done to promote the adoption of this approach, per se. Rather, the information is presented so that CADSPEE members will have the benefit of ideas presented by others who have had more time to consider the questions at hand. It is hoped that the following list of service components can be used as a starting point for discussions about similar initiatives here in Canada. This list is taken from a presentation made at the 1998 AHEAD Annual Conference, entitled Essential Service Delivery Components Offered Through OSDs (Dukes & Shaw, 1998).

1. Consultation/Collaboration/Awareness
Advocate for students with disabilities to ensure equal access.
Provide representation on relevant campus committees.

2. Information Dissemination• Disseminate information regarding disability services and how to access them through institutional publications.

Provide services that promote access to the campus community (TTY’s, alternative materials formatting, interpreter services, adaptive technology).
Provide referral information to students with disabilities regarding available campus and community resources.

3. Faculty/Staff Awareness

Provide consultation with faculty regarding academic accommodations, compliance with legal responsibilities, as well as instructional, programmatic, physical and curriculum modifications. • Provide consultation with administrators regarding academic accommodations, compliance with legal responsibilities, as well as instructional, programmatic, physical and curriculum modifications.
Provide individualized disability awareness training for campus constituencies (e.g., faculty, staff, and administrators).
Provide feedback to faculty regarding services rendered by the office that provides services to students with disabilities.

4. Academic Adjustments

Maintain records that document the plan for the provision of selected accommodations.
Determine in cooperation with students, appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids based on documentation.
Have final responsibility for determining academic accommodations

5. Instructional Interventions

Advocate for instruction in learning strategies (e.g., attention and memory strategies, planning, self-monitoring, time management, organization, problem solving).

6. Counseling and Advocacy

Assist students with disabilities to assume the role of self-advocates.

7. Policies and Procedures

Develop written policies and guidelines regarding procedures for determining and accessing reasonable accommodations .
Establish guidelines for institutional rights and responsibilities with respect to service provision (e.g., documentation of a disability, course substitution/waiver). • Establish guidelines for students’ rights and responsibilities with respect to service provision (e.g., documentation of a disability, course substitution/waiver). • Develop written policies and guidelines regarding confidentiality of disability information.
Encourage the development of policies and guidelines for settling a formal complaint regarding the determination of a reasonable accommodation .

8. Program Development and Evaluation

Report program evaluation data to administrators.
Provide services that are based on the institution’s mission or service philosophy.
Coordinate services for students with disabilities through a full-time professional.
Collect student feedback to measure satisfaction with disability services.
Collect data to monitor use of disability services.

9. Training and Professional Development

Provide disability service staff with ongoing opportunities for professional development (e.g., conferences, credit courses, membership in professional organizations).
Provide services by a professional with training and experience working with college students/adults with disabilities.
Adhere to the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) Code of Ethics.

4 Summary & Conclusions

This brief discussion paper has attempted to highlight issue areas for Canadian disability service providers in postsecondary educational institutions. The paper was designed to act as the next step towards developing a Canadian approach to the provision of services for students with disabilities across Canada. Several key issue areas, and possible courses of action for CADSPPE, have been discussed throughout the body of the paper. These were:

  1. Most Canadian postsecondary institutions have developed, or are developing, policies to respond to the needs of students with a disability. It is clear that certain key areas must be addressed by these policies, and the most effective way to enforce them must also be found within the culture and climate of the specific institution. Therefore, service providers must work to ensure that their institutions are attentive to the details of policy making.
  2. The increased emphasis on generic models of service delivery should not be used as a way to reduce expenditures on the provision of support services for students with disabilities. While this saving may occur as a corollary of implementation of the generic model, if it is used as the primary rationale behind the move, then the quality of services will no doubt suffer.
  3. There is room to improve student participation rates in policy development in both student organizations and in access advisory committee forums. While the burden for student self-organizing obviously falls upon students themselves, it may be useful for Canadian OSDs to make better use of the access advisory committees on their campuses, and to be sure that students are members of these committees.
  4. CADSPPE should look closely at the AHEAD program standards, to be published in the June 1999 edition of Alert , and consider embarking upon a similar process of development of standards for Canada.
  5. Given the under-utilization of the SOG nationally, and the uneven application of the program between the provinces, there may be areas where CADSPPE can assist the administrators of the SOG. The development of a comprehensive national profile of the SOG’s implementation, and usage of the fund’s resources, together with cooperation with both NEADS and the National Advisory Group on Student Assistance to broaden the parameters of the fund’s application, should have the goal of ensuring that all disability-related costs can be covered.
  6. Funding for postsecondary education of students with disabilities is now almost exclusively administered by the provinces and territories. This situation may impose significant limitations on those wishing to study in a province other than the one in which they are a permanent resident. As such it is an area that CADSPPE may wish to monitor, in order to ensure that students with disabilities have the same opportunity to study where they choose as do their able-bodied counterparts.
  7. Since EAPD negotiations are ongoing, during the three-year implementation phase, there may be an opportunity for CADSPPE to participate in some fashion, and to encourage continued support for postsecondary education funding for students with disabilities through the program.
  8. At this point the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation’s Board of Directors seems to have avoided targeted funding for students with disabilities. It may, therefore, be worthwhile for CADSPPE to work closely with their CACUSS colleagues, in CASFAA, to find ways to encourage the Board to reconsider this position. If the direction of the funding is to be moved toward the support of students with disabilities, immediate steps must be taken to encourage this reorientation.

Service requirements and expectations often differ from one institution to the next. The differences are based upon a number of variables, such as size, and the role of the OSD (i.e. where it fits on the specialist-generic continuum). Cox and Walsh (1998) make it clear that no one policy will work for the entire country. This is true because of the high degree of institutional autonomy and variation in funding practices, legislative frameworks and policy prescriptions from one province to the next. Yet there is ample discussion throughout the body of this paper to suggest a significant degree of similarity in the daily operations of OSDs across Canada. For this reason, the final section of the paper presented some suggested guidelines for the delivery of services. These were presented to serve as a starting point for discussions within CADSPPE about the development of useful guidelines for its membership.


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