Post-Secondary Students With Disabilities Face Devastating Impact of Ontario Provincial Government Cuts

Press release collaboration with NEADS Canada

(Ottawa, February 20, 2019)

University and college students with disabilities in Ontario and their on-campus groups are reacting with great concern over recent announcements by Merrillee Fullerton, Minister of Colleges and Universities. The result will be significant cuts and changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and massive opting out of student fees vital to students’ associations, which will seriously hurt disabled students.

“Students with disabilities generally and disabled student leaders in our community are telling us that the government’s cuts will hit marginalized students the hardest and that especially includes the thousands of disabled students that we represent in Ontario. I would like to meet with Minister Fullerton to tell her how these changes directly impact our community,” says Roxana Jahani Aval, Chairperson and Ontario Director of the National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS) and Secretary on the Council of Canadians With Disabilities (CCD). Roxana is a student at York University, with a psychology degree currently pursuing a BA in Human Rights and Equity Studies.

Hilary Zorgdrager, Coordinator of Maccess at McMaster University in Hamilton — a busy service centre that operates with funding and support from the McMaster Students’ Union — is very worried about the impact of the cuts on students that Maccess serves: 

“Maccess provides a number of essential services including peer support and advocacy. Groups like Maccess are necessary to hold the university to account on issues of accessibility through proactive and affirmative advocacy,” stresses Hilary. “Peer support — and more broadly speaking non-medical peer-led alternatives — act as an essential complement and a valid alternative to traditional biomedical interventions. With news of mental health crises on campus and growing precarity across the province, the defunding of services for students with disabilities, by students with disabilities like Maccess will be devastating to current and future students who will be left with an under-funded student wellness centre and three month wait times.”  

Nadia Kanani, Advocacy Coordinator at Students for Barrier-free Access (SBA) at the University of Toronto, a non-profit, student levy organization – known for its innovative and supportive programming — says she fears that the essential services SBA provides, such as peer support, student advocacy, and skills building workshops, will be impacted drastically: “Student led service groups benefit our communities in many ways; they provide essential community space, offer leadership and learning opportunities that prepare students for employment, and advocate for structural changes that benefit the entire university community.” She also points out that Students for Barrier-free Access is deeply concerned about, changes and cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program:

“Students for Barrier-free Access rejects the claim that the Government of Ontario’s recent changes to the OSAP program and 10% cut to tuition fees increases the accessibility of post-secondary education. Students with disabilities, and their families, incur disproportionate expenses related to increasing the accessibility of education, including, but not limited to, the cost of adaptive technologies, tutors, therapy (including occupational & physical therapy), accessible transportation, and paramedical expenses. Lowering the eligible household income for OSAP grants fails to take into account these financial burdens. While a tuition fee cut of 10% may seem like an advantage for all students, increasing reliance on student loans rather than grants will make post-secondary education even more inaccessible for students with disabilities.”

Brett Babcock, of the Carleton Disability Awareness Centre (CDAC) highlights the many ways his centre serves disabled students at the university, located in Ottawa:

“As the programming coordinator of the Carleton Disability Awareness Centre, I am concerned about what’s at stake for students with disabilities, both physically and academically. CDAC is an essential service for students with disabilities. The Ontario government’s decision to allow college and university students to opt out of student association fees will have grave impacts on the quantity and quality of services that student service centres like CDAC offer. Moreover, if centers like CDAC lose funding altogether, there will be no party to hold institutions accountable for the decisions they make regarding accessibility.

For decades, Carleton University students with disabilities were paying annual gym membership fees for inaccessible exercise facilities. In 2015, CDAC successfully advocated for the installment of 2 accessible door openers and 4 pieces of wheelchair accessible gym equipment in Carleton’s athletics complex. Additionally, in response to Ottawa’s accessible housing crisis and the increasing number of Carleton University students with disabilities dropping out of school for financial purposes, CDAC launched its first ever Accessible Housing Bursary to support students in crisis in 2018.

Students with disabilities have fewer opportunities to get involved on University campuses, which is why student service centres like CDAC are crucial. In addition to our regular operating hours where we tend to the everyday needs of students with disabilities by offering services like peer support, assistance with eating, and free year-round mobility devices rentals (i.e., wheelchairs, crutches, white canes), CDAC fosters significant social opportunities for students with and without disabilities.”

Students’ association funded service centres like Maccess, CDAC and SBA — along with many other critical service centres, student run council offices, newspapers, radio stations and businesses — provide excellent volunteer and paid employment opportunities for countless disabled students at colleges and universities across the province. Cutting fees to democratically elected student governments will impact job-ready skills these students gain while in post-secondary studies, because of the existence of these student run centres and businesses. These skills are needed for the very competitive employment market university and college students face after graduation.

Jewelles Smith, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians With Disabilities and Advisor to the National Educational Association of Disabled Students says the Ontario government’s attacks on funding and services at Ontario’s colleges and universities are unacceptable: “I want students with disabilities in Ontario to know that the national disability movement stands with them in solidarity. We will fight these changes and cuts vigorously.”

For further information contact:

Hilary Zorgdrager, Maccess, McMaster University, tel. (905) 525-9140, ext. 26575
Nadia Kanani, Students for Barrier-free Access, University of Toronto, tel. (416) 967-7322
Brett Babcock, Carleton Disability Awareness Centre, Carleton University, tel. (613) 520-2600, ext. 6618
Roxana Jahani Aval, National Educational Association of Disabled Students, tel. (613) 380-8065, ext. ext 265
Jewelles Smith, Council of Canadians With Disabilities, tel. (204) 947-0303

https://www.neads.ca/en/about/media/index.php?id=739

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