Supporting students with disabilities

Introduction

The following section is designed to familiarize public services library staff with some of the challenges and barriers faced by students with disabilities at post-secondary institutions. It is our responsibility to be aware of these barriers and to assist students in overcoming them within our institutions.

What common barriers do students with disabilities face at post-secondary institutions in Ontario?

There are many challenges which new students face when entering studies at post- secondary institutions. Knowing where and how to obtain information about the available services and support systems can be a steep learning curve, especially for those users who experience additional daily barriers. Ensuring that information about diverse services is well promoted through a variety of channels is essential to making a student's journey through the university less complicated. Understanding user experience is key to knowing what, how and when services should be made available.

Library accessibility services can be promoted to students with disabilities through a variety of channels and accessible to all students, especially to those with a disability. Make sure that you are familiar with these associations/support groups at your institution and that your library takes full advantage of the supports which are available through these channels.

How do students with disabilities receive accommodation at OCUL institutions?

The current process of accommodation for students with disabilities is driven by self- identification. This necessitates that the student is aware that they are experiencing one or several learning barrier(s) and are aware of the causes (for instance, have medical paperwork to support their disability claim). If this is the case, the student can make an appointment with a disability counselor at their home institution, scheduling a time to talk about their medical history and to provide the required supporting paperwork.

What types of accommodation are available to users with disabilities at OCUL institutions?

Once students satisfy the paperwork requirements and discuss what desired accommodation can be arranged with their counselor, they may then take advantage of a

variety of services available to them at their institution. These services can include note taking, quiet study or exam areas, assistance with bursary applications to purchase assistive technologies, and the ability to request that reading material be made into accessible formats. Public services staff are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the services available to students on campus and which departments are responsible for what type of support work. In most cases there are a variety of services available to users with disabilities such as centres for students with disabilities, health and mental wellness services, library accessibility departments and others.

What are accessible texts?

Library users with disabilities can request a variety of accessible formats ranging from Microsoft Word to PDF and MP3 formats. This choice is dependent on the user’s study preferences as well as the assistive technologies they use.

Many PDFs have Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which permits users with a screen reader to access content freely. This means that the text on the screen is “selectable.” There are varying levels of accessibility even for an OCR’d PDF. If a document contains images, graphs, tables or any other visual information, these visual elements need to be “tagged.” This means that each image is manually given alternative text or “alt text” which describes an image in words so that a screen reader can relate it to the user.

For additional information about accessible PDFs, please refer to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)’s PDF Techniques for WCAG 2.0.

How does accessible text accommodation work across OCUL institutions?

The production of accessible texts varies from one institution to the next depending on the resources available. Accessible texts are generally produced or sourced through:

  • the Accessibility Services office, which is responsible for counseling students
  • the library via the library accessibility services office
  • the collaborative efforts of both departments

It is advisable that staff in public services be aware of these services at their institutions.

Do we need to create separate service models for users with disabilities?

Library public service staff need to offer all users diverse options for taking advantage of the services available. Community members need to be well informed about these options and should have the opportunity to choose the type of service they would prefer and the method that best meets their needs. Acquiring expertise in the area of accessibility enables service providers to gain a better understanding of the barriers that all library users can sometimes encounter.

What feedback channels should be made available to students with disabilities?

Under Section 11: Feedback of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), obligated organizations with a process for receiving and providing feedback shall ensure that the processes are accessible to persons with disabilities by providing or arranging for the provision of accessible formats and communication supports, upon request. Further, obligated organizations are required to notify the public about the availability of accessible formats and communication supports. By increasing the access points to feedback opportunities, more students are likely to take advantage of proving their input, thus helping the library staff to continue improving these services.

Please refer to the following examples for accessibility feedback templates: