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Read Our Article on the BSWD/CSG-PDSE published in Action Speaks Louder!!

“Barriers Related to Disability Related Educational Supports: Mapping Funding Discrepancies Across the Province”

by Fady Shanouda and Nadia Kanani

published in Action Speaks Louder, Winter 2016 Edition (re-printed below)

The Bursary for Students with Disabilities and the Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment for Persons with Permanent Disabilities (BSWD/CSG-PDSE) is a provincial and federal bursary administered by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.  The provincial/federal split is reflected financially in a 20/80% division, respectively. This means that out of the possible $10,000 of funding disabled students can apply for annually, $2,000 is provincially funded (BSWD), while $8,000 is federally funded (CSG-PDSE).

To be eligible for the BSWD-CSG/PDSE students must: have a permanent disability; qualify for OSAP ($1.00 minimum); be a Canadian citizen; and be enrolled in full-time studies (40% workload for disabled students). Even when students do meet all of this criteria, they still face various obstacles in accessing the bursary that often go unrecognized and that, in turn, limit their access to funding and support. To eliminate these barriers to access, the Ministry, along with universities and colleges, should make information about the bursary, including how funding is allocated and the process through which funding decisions are made, easily available and accessible to students. We have yet to see this level of transparency concerning the bursary and, as a result, Students for Barrier-free Access (SBA) has initiated action to learn more about the administration of the bursary.

Copies of the manuals that outline the management of the bursary are not available to students. Students have been denied access to the manuals when we have requested copies. Counselors and staff deny our requests for information arguing that the documents are government issued and, therefore, that they have no legal right to distribute them without the government’s approval.

This lack of transparency, and the idiosyncratic decision-making that is part of this process, could no longer go uninvestigated. Therefore, on May 27, 2015, SBA filed two Freedom of Information (FOI) requests: one with the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities; and, the other with the University of Toronto’s internal information and privacy office. The University denied our FOI request, suggesting that they did not have to comply with the request because the Ministry developed the documents and, therefore, owned the copyright. The Ministry, however, did comply with our request, and SBA received copies of 15 manuals spanning the same number of years, from 2000-2001 to 2014-2015 (SBA has since filed for and received the manual for 2015-2016).

With only a few months since the request was received, SBA has not yet completed a full and in-depth  analysis of the manuals. We are diligently working our way through each manual to determine how the bursary operates at the Ministry level, and the changes that have been introduced and implemented over time. Still, our preliminary analysis has lead to one significant and astonishing finding. We have discovered that each university or college can set internal caps or maximum funds for each specific disability support that are different from the Ministry’s caps, as long as they are below the Ministry’s caps. For example, note-taking services are covered under the bursary. The Ministry cap for note-taking for the 2015-2016 year could be set at $250 per course. However, York University could choose to set a cap of $200 per course for note-taking while the University of Toronto’s cap could be set at $150. As long as both caps do not exceed the maximum set by the Ministry they would be in compliance with Ministry guidelines. Thus, in effect, disabled students in different parts of the province could be receiving different levels of funding for the same service. What this amounts to is an inequitable distribution of funding for services for disabled students across the province.

The fact that each University or college could set their own internal caps or maximum funds also leads us to think that there must be internal manuals at each university and college that governs the internal operations of the bursary and sets these internal caps for services. Therefore, there may be two sets of manuals, those developed and distributed by the Ministry to the universities and colleges and that set the maximums for the province, and another manual or guideline developed by universities and colleges and that govern the internal operations of both the disability office and financial aid office. Evidence of these internal manuals are still missing; and if no internal manuals or guidelines exist, then there is no clear sense of how disability and financial aid officers make decisions around the bursary. Having consulted with students in different parts of the province, we know that students are receiving significantly different information in regards to the maximum level of funding for particular education-related disability supports. Whether or not internal manuals exist, and there is still nothing to suggest that the internal manuals do not exist, officers in universities and colleges are making decisions at their discretion and disabled students, in different parts of the province, are still receiving different levels of funding for the same type of service.

Within this complex process, disabled students are expected to be compliant with the decision they receive and the funding level the university or college allocates to them, even if this limits the level of support and services they can receive (such as with the note-taking example above). This labyrinthian process excludes disabled students from making informed decisions since it remains unclear how decisions are made, who is responsible for making these decisions, and what appeal process, if any, exists.

SBA is moving forward by filing 20 FOI requests to every university in the province, asking for the internal manual or guidelines that governs the administration of the bursary. There are also plans to file similar FOI requests with every college in the province. SBA received files, this past week from a second FOI request for internal documents from the University of Toronto; the successful request included over a thousand pages. Analysis of these documents will take some time, but SBA plans to release its findings sometime in the new year. If you are interested in assisting us in this process, please consider joining our Advocacy Committee (contact:


view past issues of Action Speaks Louder at

Disabled Students’ Orientation

Join us for a student-run orientation for disabled students and allies. Whether you are full-time or part-time, new or returning, an international or transfer student, this orientation is for you!


Topics covered at the orientation will include an overview of accessible space at University of Toronto’s St George Campus, a discussion on Accessibility Services and supports available to students, and an introduction to Students for Barrier-Free Access’ resources and services. Come meet other disabled students, as well as SBA board members, staff and volunteers.


Date: Wednesday October 14, 2015

Time: 2:00-4:00pm

Location: O.I.S.E., 252 Bloor Street West, Room 5150

Everyone welcome!

Wheelchair accessible. ASL and live-captioning will be available.

Accessible and gender-neutral washroom located on the same floor as the event room.

Please note that this will be a scent-free space.

Access is a practice, not a statement; A message to UTSU members ahead of the October 7th AGM

Access is a practice, not a statement;  A message to UTSU members ahead of the October 7th AGM


Published on

On October 7, 2015 at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the University of Toronto’s Students Union (UTSU), you will be deciding whether to make a substantial change to the democratic process at this institution: namely a change from paper ballot voting to computerized and online voting. The change to computerized and online voting is presented in the motion as “improving accessibility,” creating a “fairer system,” and removing barriers to participation in campus life. It is the opinion of Students for Barrier-free Access (SBA) that these claims misappropriate the discourse of disability in misleading ways. Accessibility is not a statement; accessibility is a practice. It requires a deliberate and meaningful engagement with, and involvement of, disabled people.

With respect to the voting process, we believe that paper ballots allow for accessibility needs to be met more efficiently than computerized and online voting. The process of holding a paper ballot vote requires the union to address the physical, attitudinal, and informational barriers that exist on campus through the active inclusion of disabled voters, thereby ensuring that the process is accessible to all students. Computerized voting at home, even if it sounds convenient to some, actually alienates persons with disabilities from participating fully in the voting process at U of T and relegates us to the margins of the electoral process.

In fact, we believe this proposed change will actually create additional barriers to accessibility. The motion does not clearly indicate how computerized and online voting systems will be made accessible. For example, if a student requires a screen-reader and uses Job Access With Speech (JAWS) software for blind people), or other accessible technology, will they be able to vote online or at a computerized voting booth on campus? How will accessibility features be incorporated into the computerized and online voting systems? These concerns should be addressed before members can make an informed decision on this issue. These questions must be answered before a new voting process is introduced.

Furthermore, we think that it is irresponsible that a new voting system that is purportedly “accessible” is being voted on without first consulting representatives of students with disabilities on campus, like SBA. Again, accessibility is a practice, and one of its primary tenets is the inclusion of disabled people in the decision-making process. This lack of consultation creates barriers that will need to be addressed retroactively. Not only is this unnecessary, the issues behind this change are unavoidable.

Sometimes, accessibility sometimes means using materials that are characterized as wasteful or unsustainable. Although paper balloting can be inaccessible for some disabled people, this inaccessibility can often be remedied by having trained staff willing to help disabled people fill in their ballots. This offers disabled students the opportunity to engage in the process of voting similar to their peers. Finally, we do not discount that the voting process uses “enormous” amounts of paper; however, we do not think that sustainability can or should be used as an argument for reducing access or creating barriers. Paper is surely more sustainable as a recyclable product than a system that contributes electronic waste from the eventual disposal of laptops, iPads, tablets, and other devices.

It is SBA’s opinion that members of the UTSU should vote down the motion on computerized voting as it fails to outline a truly accessible voting process, was not proposed in consultation with disabled students, contains no qualified accountability measures, and does not sufficiently meet the needs of students at this institution. As disabled students, we want to vote alongside our peers. We want to meet you in line and discuss the issues. We want the opportunity to check-off a box and we want to slide our paper ballots into the slot – hoping that our opinions are respected, encouraged and counted. Voting is essential to the democratic process and hasty and unorganized changes, as those proposed in this motion, will affect this process. Please vote down this motion and encourage UTSU to continue with the paper ballot system.


SBA Votes!

SBA Votes!

The University of Toronto Students’ Union will hold its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Wednesday October 7, 2015 from 5:30-10:00PM at the OISE Auditorium (G162).

These elections are really important and the issues that will be voted on affect SBA members, such as changes to voting practices that may impact access to the electoral process. Help SBA get out the vote!

Join us at 4:00pm on Wednesday October 7, 2015 in the SBA office to talk about the issues being voted on in the AGM, or come by and relax with a cup of tea. We can all head over together to the AGM.

If you cannot make the AGM and would like to vote by proxy contact


Date: October 7, 2015

Time: 4:00pm

Location: SBA Centre, Room 924, 215 Huron Street

Accessible and gender-neutral washroom located on the same floor as the SBA Centre.

For more information about the UTSU AGM please visit

Disability, Madness and Sexual Violence; An Anti-Colonial BIPOC discussion

Please join us for a discussion on sexual violence, disability, and madness as BIPOC students and the barriers we face from in the university. We will talk about the challenges of working through the colonial and settler colonial practices that structure university classroom, bureaucracy and “best practices”. What are the gaps we fall through as disabled and mad BIPOC survivors as a consequence of disabling university practices? From potentially losing housing, to being required to constantly advocate for ourselves at the risk of being pushed out of the university if we don’t. We want to create and hold a space to start a dialogue on our struggles as BIPOC student survivors.

Please note that this session is only for self-identified Black and Indigenous People, and People of Colour (BIPOC)
Date: Friday September 25, 2015
Time: 12:15p.m.-1:15p.m.
Location: Health Sciences Building, 155 College Street, Room 108

Wheelchair accessible. Accessible and gender-neutral washroom located on the same floor as event room.

Please note that this will be a scent-free space.


This session will be a part of the Ryled Up Counter Conference.

For more information and a schedule of events please visit the Ryled Up Conference Facebook page at the link below


Fall Advocacy Committee Meeting and Report-Back

Come join Students for Barrier-Free Access for our Fall Advocacy Committee Meeting and Report-Back. At this meeting you will find out more about our 2014-2015 advocacy initiatives and learn about our upcoming campaigns, such as our work around Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD). This meeting is your opportunity to help shape our advocacy goals for the new academic year and we would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Come find out how you can get involved with SBA and our advocacy committee.

Date: Wednesday September 30, 2015
Time: 2:00-4:00pm
Location: O.I.S.E. 252 Bloor Street West, Room 5150, 5th floor

Everyone welcome!
Wheelchair accessible. ASL and live-captioning will be available. Accessible and gender-neutral washroom located on the same floor as event room.

Please note that this will be a scent-free space.

POSTPONED: Panel – Queer & Trans BIPOC Disability Activisms

Due to unforeseen circumstances this panel discussion will be postponed. We are committed to making sure that this panel takes place and will announce a new date as soon as we can. Thank you all for your support and interest and we hope that you will join us then.


Queer & Trans BIPOC Disability Activisms


Queer and Trans Black, Indigenous and People of Colour’s (QTBIPOC) perspectives are commonly missing from mainstream accounts of disability activism and organizing in Toronto, despite being a critical and driving force in disability movements. This panel will centre the voices and experiences of disabled QTBIPOC community organizers and activists. Speakers on this panel will discuss the ways in which ableism is complicit with anti-black racism, settler colonialism, homophobia and transphobia, racism and imperialism. They will also discuss their experiences with disability activism and how these intersecting structural oppressions are being challenged through community organizing.


Date: Monday September 21st

Time: 6:00-9:00PM

Location: Health Sciences Building, 155 College Street, Room 108


Everyone welcome!

Wheelchair accessible. ASL and live-captioning will be available.

Accessible and gender-neutral washroom located on the same floor as the event room.

Please note that this will be a scent-free space.

ASL 101 Classes – Sign Up Now!

Students for Barrier-Free Access will be hosting ASL (American Sign Language) 101 this fall. If you want to learn a new language and interested in learning more about Deaf culture, sign up today! Classes will run weekly  starting on  Tuesday September 22nd from 6pm-9pm and run until November 24th, 2015. Classes are Free and open to all student, staff, and faculty and UofT community members!
Space is limited so if you are interested, or have questions and/or access requests email . If you are interested in taking ASL classes but cannot commit to Tuesdasys from 6pm-9pm, SBA offers ASL bursaries where you can be reimbursed for up to $100 of the cost of classes outside of UofT. For more information, check out:

SBA Open House

SBA invites all students, alumni, and community members to join us at our Open House. Come by and check out office, resource library, lounge, computer lab, and study room that are all free to use during our regular office hours. Come meet our awesome coordinators and our amazing and dedicated board members!

Hang out, eat some yummy food, and learn about our new advocacy campaigns and upcoming events!

Find out how you can get involved by becoming an SBA volunteer!

When: Monday September 28, 11am – 5:30pm

Where: 215 Huron Street, Room 924, 9th floor

Free!! Everyone welcome!!

Wheelchair accessible. Gender-Neutral Washroom located on the same floor. Vegan and Gluten-Free food options will be provided.

Please note that SBA strives to create a scent-free space.