Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue 2 - Evidence - April 15, 2010
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 15, 2010
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology met
this day at 10:29 a.m. to give consideration to the issue of the accessibility
of post-secondary education in Canada.
Senator Art Eggleton (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs,
Science and Technology.
We continue with our examination today of accessibility to post-secondary
education in Canada. Our particular theme today is students with disabilities.
I want to welcome two of our colleagues who are here in substitute
capacities, Senator Dawson and Senator Plett.
Welcome to the witnesses that we will hear from today. First let me introduce
Yolanda Muñoz, Coordinator, Quebec Association of Post-Secondary Students with
Disabilities. She works with the Quebec Association of Post- Secondary Students
with Disabilities, which advocates for post-secondary education accessibility
for all students. She has worked as a professor at McGill University on gender
and disability issues.
Yolaine Ruel, Past President, and Gordon Dionne, Secretary Treasurer, are
from the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary
Education — very specific to the topic. It is a national group of professionals
committed to the ongoing creation of accessible, equitable and inclusive
post-secondary learning environments for students with disabilities.
Ms. Ruel has worked at the University of Ottawa since 1988, and Mr. Dionne is
an access service adviser in the Office of Students with Disabilities, OSD, at
McGill. He is a psychologist and has also been an advisor in the OSD for five
Welcome, also, to Claudette Larocque, Director of Public Policy and Programs
for the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. It is a national voice for
persons with listening disabilities and those who support them. Their membership
is about 10,000. She is also a member of several federal advisory committees and
consults with provincial and territorial learning disabilities associations.
Our final group is our public servants — Nancy Milroy-Swainson, Director
General, Office for Disability Issues, and Glennie Graham, Senior Director,
Canada Student Loans Program at Human Resources and Skills Development Canada,
HRSDC. Ms. Graham is here in a supporting role and the seven minutes will be
taken up by Ms. Milroy- Swainson.
That is it. Welcome to all of you. It would be appreciated if you could keep
as close to seven minutes as possible in your opening remarks. I will go in the
same order unless you prefer another order. I will start with Ms. Muñoz.
Yolanda Muñoz, Coordinator, Quebec Association of Post-Secondary Students
with Disabilities: Honourable Senators, on March 11, 2010, when Canada
ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, it
demonstrated its responsibility towards citizens with disabilities. The
ratification of this convention addresses the fact that, here as elsewhere,
there is still a long way to go to ensure dignity and equal opportunities for
persons with disabilities. In Quebec, post-secondary students with disabilities
face many challenges in spite of the efforts of schools, the government and
other bodies to support equal opportunities in education.
At present, the reasonable accommodation model dominates the everyday life of
students with disabilities. This means that disabilities are still considered
individual ``problems'' and are resolved retroactively and temporarily on a
case-by-case basis. This vision of persons with disabilities is highly
medicalized, requiring that students undergo medical examinations —at their own
or their families' expense — to determine whether they should receive the
necessary accommodations to pursue their studies. Finally, since accommodations
are granted individually, students find themselves isolated through special
treatment, or forced to use facilities or access routes reserved for persons
However, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has handed
Canada a new challenge: to implement an approach encompassing ``universal
design'' and inclusive education so that accommodations may become a solution of
last resort, and above all, to ensure equality among emerging client groups,
meaning students with learning disabilities.
At present, several measures have been taken to guarantee equal opportunities
in education for persons with learning disabilities, but access to services is
complicated and costly. Moreover, the Quebec Association of Post- secondary
Students with Disabilities, or QAPSD, has found that target groups generally
don't know about assistance programs that support post-secondary students with
disabilities and promote equal opportunities in relation to students without
The Convention defines the ``universal design'' model as ``. . . the design
of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all people,
to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized
design. `Universal design' shall not exclude assistive devices for particular
groups of persons with disabilities where this is needed.'' As such, the
``patient'' is the environment and not the individual; solutions are useful for
everyone, not just for one person, and are therefore permanent. This way of
understanding and resolving issues related to functional diversity is a
proactive social project that aims to stop accessibility problems before they
The reasonable accommodation means that each student is considered as an
individual case. However, this also means that each individual student has to
deal with several issues simultaneously: transportation, housing, negotiating
with each professor, et cetera. This situation involves enormous effort,
something that students without disabilities don't have to face, of course.
Quebec's Loans and Bursaries Program is a great help for students with
disabilities, as is the Allowance for Special Needs Program. Nevertheless, the
latter program has become a problem for university students, who all of a sudden
become employers. This means that they have to find trustworthy employees, know
how to defend themselves against abuse, or simply have the disposition to
terminate a working relationship that does not serve their interests.
Previously, offices serving disabled students managed financial resources, hired
staff and, if necessary, assisted students in the event of conflicts.
The QAPSD conducted a survey of its members in June 2009 which found that
post-secondary students with disabilities are very isolated from other students.
They don't often participate in extracurricular activities (study groups,
parties, sports groups, et cetera), and obstacles related to transportation and
accessibility make their inclusion in the school environment more difficult.
Survey participants said that prejudice is the greatest hurdle they face. In
fact, disability awareness is not a part of students' general education at the
primary, secondary or even post-secondary levels.
Quebec universities do not offer programs of study on disability, such as
exist elsewhere in Canada. Courses concerning disability are peripheral, and
most research activities are related to medicine rather than human rights.
Ignorance and indifference are the most obvious results of this serious flaw in
the education of Quebec's new generations. As such, when we speak of
``diversity,'' we think of religion, culture, ethnic groups, political opinion,
et cetera. Functional diversity, however, is not mentioned as an important part
of the wealth of a society built on the ideals of equal opportunities and
To implement the ``universal design'' model, changes need to be made at all
levels of the education system. We must help students and teachers without
disabilities understand that equal opportunity measures are not privileges but
essential conditions to guarantee access to education to all members of society.
What we propose is a profound transformation of society, in which people with
or without disabilities clearly understand the value of functional diversity as
an indisputable expression of the human condition. We must share the
responsibility of building an environment for everyone. As long as society in
general and the education system in particular refuse to accept this profound
transformation, the situation of persons with disabilities in Quebec will lag
behind that of other provinces. It is our hope that the commitment Canada has
made by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will
serve as the first step in ensuring equal opportunities in education throughout
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We will now proceed to the two witnesses who will split their time. They are
both from the Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in
Yolaine Ruel, Past President, Canadian Association of Disability Service
Providers in Post-secondary Education: Our association represents
post-secondary institutions, career colleges and universities. I do not think
that I need to repeat the previous comments. They accurately reflect the
Over the past few years, we have noted a significant increase in the number
of people with one or more disabilities in our post-secondary institutions. This
is very good news.
However, it does have an impact on the resources available for the provision
of services. These resources are often fragmented. Allow me to summarize the
situation for the benefit of you all. In some provinces, financial assistance is
given directly to the individuals themselves rather than to the entity providing
the program to the student. Eligibility rules governing specific programs mean
that one disabled student will be able to access the services while another in
the same program and university will not.
This is worrying, especially in light of the fact that the type of
disabilities our student population now comes to us with has changed. In the
past, we mainly dealt with students with mobility or sensory disabilities. Now
we are witnessing a major increase in the number of students with learning
difficulties. They now make up one of the largest groups. For the first time
this year, British Columbia is seeing more students with mental health issues.
Indeed, the Ontario College Health Association has issued a report, which
while not alarmist, does deal with the issue in a very serious manner. The
report calls for concerted action in the post-secondary sector to tackle the
issue at source. The Association points to the devastating impact of mental
health on the post-secondary population. Often mental health issues manifest
themselves in early adulthood and our institutions are not currently equipped to
accommodate and properly support these students.
Failure by health services, disabled-student assistance entities and Federal
and Provincial programs to co-ordinate action results in students who have been
let down by the support system, have failed to complete their studies, in whom a
significant amount of money has been invested to get them to university and who
ultimately often become a burden. This situation is replicated within the family
and employment setting, which leads to significant health care costs. These
peoples' lives will quite possibly be a bit more miserable than they would have
been had more been invested in diagnosis and strategies. The recent report,
which came out in December 2009, clearly states that needs must be identified
earlier. The focus must be on tightening up the system and on co-operation.
I would like to deal with one last issue before I give the floor to my
colleague. One of the most harmful aspects of the current systems — and this
does not only apply to universities and governments — is fragmentation. It costs
the same — but is a lot less effective — to provide resources in a fragmented,
piecemeal fashion as it does to pool them together to tackle the issues in a
more comprehensive manner. What is required is a change in culture and an end to
handouts and this piecemeal approach. While this might often look good, it is
not sustainable in the long term and does not result in students finishing their
studies. They end up floundering about in the system and there is no return on
the investment in them.
Gordon Dionne, Secretary Treasurer, Canadian Association of Disability
Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education: I will talk about three
specific issues we have come across in our work. They seem to perpetuate year
Across Canada, the various provinces, through legislation and charters, can
all agree on what constitutes a disability. However, when we get into the
provincial funding that is given to students with disabilities, each province
has a different definition of what constitutes a disability and what level of
funding that individual may receive.
That reduces mobility of students across the country. If they were to change
residences, then of course a student from B.C. may not necessarily be recognized
as having a learning disability if he or she comes to Quebec, because there is
no funding for students with learning disabilities at present; they are not
recognized for funding purposes in Quebec, for example.
That is one of the issues we face across the country. As we work with
different students from different provinces, they all fall under different
regulations and jurisdictions.
The population has also changed. More and more students are entering into
master's, doctoral and post-doctoral degrees and they have disabilities. Often,
because they have taken reduced course loads throughout their undergraduate
degree, they have less money available for them for their master's and doctoral
degrees, or they run out of funding halfway through because they have run out of
semesters of eligibility for money. Therefore, they get halfway through a
program and have to take part-time jobs or abandon their degree for a couple of
years and try to come back. That is another issue currently facing students with
disabilities with regard to higher levels of education.
Currently, there are difficulties with access to skilled service providers
across the country. There is a large problem with the availability of sign
language interpreters, for example. Every province is decrying that they do not
have enough. It is difficult to find interpreters for students who have hearing
impairments and require sign language interpretation, or it might be difficult
to get them to move or to come to your campus.
For that issue, it must be brought about that sign language interpretation is
a viable career; it is a useful occupation, and training programs should be
encouraged and brought forward.
Finally, there is the issue with regard to access to print materials.
Students with print disabilities include those with vision impairment, reading
disabilities and other learning disabilities. Currently, access to print
materials is done on an ad hoc basis, campus by campus. They are adapting
materials for students by essentially turning them into digital text. The
students can use a computer which will read materials to them via a voice
There is a lack of coordination between publishers and campuses. Some
provinces have a sort of provincial repository for these digital texts, but not
all. There is a lack of resources, a lot of wasted time and a doubling of
efforts. The same textbook might be adapted in four different universities in
three different provinces, and that sort of thing. There needs to be some
The Chair: Thank you both very much. Now we will go to Claudette
Larocque from the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada.
Claudette Larocque, Director of Public Policy and Programs, Learning
Disabilities Association of Canada: Good morning, honourable senators,
witnesses and members of the audience. The Learning Disabilities Association of
Canada is pleased to be a witness at this Senate committee. Our presentation
will relate to barriers for post-secondary students with learning disabilities.
The Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, LDAC, is the country's
oldest not-for-profit organization that provides a national voice for persons
with learning disabilities. We are membership based and represent a diverse
mixture of individuals, families, professionals, and provincial, territorial and
community-based learning disability, LD, organizations.
You have copies of my presentation, so I will not go into detail as to what a
learning disability is. I will say that, as the name implies, a learning
disability interferes with the ability to learn and often results in a person
performing below his or her ability level.
Learning disabilities are invisible; they are lifelong and they may run in
families. Learning disabilities can occur with other disorders — mental health
conditions, attention deficit disorder or any other mobility as well. Learning
disabilities are not the same as mental retardation, autism, deafness,
blindness, behavioural disorders or laziness. Learning disabilities are not the
result of economic disadvantage, environmental factors or cultural differences.
Living with a learning disability can have an ongoing impact on friendships,
school, work, self-esteem and daily life. People with learning disabilities can
succeed when solid coping skills, accommodations and strategies are developed.
Currently, according to the 2006 participation and activity limitation survey
of Statistics Canada, PALS, learning disabilities underwent a large increase
between 2001 and 2006, not only for children but for adults with learning
disabilities as well. Among children ages five to fourteen, learning
disabilities joined chronic conditions as the most common form of disability.
According to PALS 2006, of all the children with disabilities in this
country, more than half have a learning disability. In terms of post-secondary
students with learning disabilities, 13.9 per cent of people have learning
limitations. According to the PALS definition, a learning disability is
difficulty learning because of a condition such as dyslexia and attention or
hyperactivity problems. People with learning limitations ages 15 to 64,
regardless of severity, were enrolled in a school or university with 81.8 per
cent attending on a full-time basis. Three-quarters of them in school were
between the ages of 15 and 24. PALS 2006 also reported that 14.7 per cent held a
college or non-university certificate or diploma, 10.6 per cent held a trade or
registered apprenticeship certificate, 4.4 per cent had a bachelor degree, and 4
per cent had obtained education above a bachelor's degree.
Ontario is the only known province where statistics are recorded by
disability service offices, DSOs, on students with disabilities at
post-secondary institutions. It is reported that in 2008, at the college level,
7,785 students with learning disabilities were registered with their disability
service offices — triple the number from any other disabilities. This is an
increase of 10.1 per cent over a five-year period. At the Ontario university
level, for the year 2008, 5,546 students with learning disabilities were
registered with their disability service office, double the number from any
other disabilities. This is an increase of 17.9 per cent over a five-year
Regarding current barriers to sources of funding for students with learning
disabilities, an amount of support received from one funding source is
frequently determined by a student's eligibility and amount received from
another source. For example, in Ontario, students with disabilities who are not
eligible to receive support through the Ontario student assistance program,
OSAP, may not be eligible to receive disability-related support such as the
Ontario disability support program, the Canada study grant for the accommodation
of students with permanent disabilities, the Canada access grant for students
with permanent disabilities, the OSAP bursary for students with disabilities, or
the Ontario special bursary plan.
This practice places students with significantly different expenses, due
partly to their disability, at a disadvantage in terms of addressing their
educational-related expenses. Funds to pay for disability-related accommodations
are often difficult to find once a student is deemed ineligible for federal and
provincial financial aid packages. For graduate students, scholarship and grant
applications do not permit taking into account disability-related expenses or
the reduced course load by students with learning disabilities.
Students with learning disabilities have to put extraordinary efforts into
school work, leaving them little or no time for part-time employment to
supplement their income as most post-secondary students do. If they choose to
work, it is often to the detriment of their studies, highlighting the risk of
burnout and poor academic performance. Expectations that students with
disabilities work to supplement their costs must be reduced.
Typical accommodations and services required for students with learning
disabilities are an up-to-date assessment for learning disabilities, extended
time, tutoring services, note-taking services, learning strategies workshops,
audio textbooks, prolonged program due to their disability, and adaptive
technology. This may include laptops, speech recognition software, text to
speech software, organizational software, talking calculators, electronic
dictionaries, et cetera.
Due to this invisible disability, students with learning disabilities must
get an up-to-date assessment that must be no more than three years old to prove
their disability. This is unlike the more visible disabilities that are not
required to provide the same level of documentation.
Students can access the Canada study grant for up to 75 per cent of the costs
for an assessment up to a maximum of $1,200. It is some help, but not the full
cost of assessment, which can be in excess of $3,000 in some areas. The student
has to pay for the assessment, which is a barrier, and can be reimbursed only if
they are confirmed to have a learning disability. Any other diagnosis is invalid
for reimbursement, which is also another barrier.
Service providers struggle with this because the Canada study grant is linked
to the student assistance program and requires parents to use whatever resources
they have available, including their RRSPs. This linkage eliminates students
every year from having assessments covered.
According to PALS 2006, individuals with learning disabilities used far more
assistive devices than any other type of disability. The average was 3.8
different types of assistive technology per person.
The issue of costs associated with the prolonged program is compounded by the
definition of `part-time' and `full- time' studies for students with
disabilities. There are certain policies for students with disabilities where a
full course load is less than that of the overall student population.
A student with a disability taking a reduced course load of 40 per cent will
take 10 years to complete a standard four-year university undergraduate program.
This is six years longer than his or her non-disabled peers taking a regular
100-per-cent course load. This is a concern for LDAC as it is an issue of equity
of access for students with disabilities.
The Chair: May I ask you to go to your recommendations. We are well
past the seven minutes allocated.
Ms. Larocque: Regarding financial aid and debt repayment, we recommend
balance and more grant aid than loan aid to students with disabilities.
Students with disabilities are often required to take reduced course loads
for full-time status, thus prolonging their time in school and their debt.
Consider extending access to financial assistance over a longer period of time
with an incremental reduction in loans and an increase in grants as they
continue to work satisfactorily towards their degree.
Reconsider requirements for financial aid specific to students with
disabilities, even if they are not eligible for basic provincial or federal
Adjust funding formulas for students with multiple disabilities that require
separate and distinct accommodations and assistive aid instead of basing funding
on the assumption of a singular disability.
Consider including longer grace periods for loan repayment, partial loan
forgiveness for this population, income tax breaks on direct loan payments from
paycheques, loan interest reduction or elimination options, income and/or
employment contingency loan payment scales.
Regarding assessment of disabilities, the recommendation is to build a
subsidized amount, non-loan, into their financial aid package. For institutions
that conduct disability assessments for their students, provide a government
grant to fully or partially subsidize the costs associated with the assessments
and any infrastructure cost, such as personnel, equipment, instrumentation, et
Provide a tax break for a considerable portion or all of the cost for a
disability assessment if the assessment determines a disability and not just a
The Chair: Thank you very much. We will now hear from our officials
from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
Nancy Milroy-Swainson, Director General, Office for Disability Issues,
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada: Good morning, and thank you
for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I am accompanied by my colleague Glennie Graham, Acting Director of the
Canada Student Loans Program at the Department of Human Resources and Skills
The office for disability issues works with key stakeholders to promote the
participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life,
including education. The Canada student loans program, which Ms. Graham
represents, provides financial aid to students, including students with
You have already heard from many other witnesses, and I am sure you are aware
that the issue is complex in terms of supporting students with disabilities.
Students with disabilities face a number of barriers and challenges while
attending college and university, including financial barriers, accessibility
and accommodation barriers, and barriers to social inclusion. They also face
employment and income disparities after graduation, which may pose a challenge
for students who need to repay loans.
Student financial assistance is the main tool available to the federal
government's in promoting access to education and the elimination of financial
The Canada student loans program has a mandate to improve access to
post-secondary education by removing financial barriers. The program provides
both loans and grants to students with a demonstrated financial need.
The program assists groups that are underrepresented in post-secondary
education establishments, such as students with permanent disabilities, students
from low and middle-income families and those with children.
In the last two years, there have been significant changes to the Canada
student loans program, including the introduction of the new Canada student
grants program and the new repayment assistance plan.
Under the Canada student grants program, the federal government provides
predictable, broad-based grants to targeted groups of students, including
students with permanent disabilities, students from low and middle income, and
students with children.
The Permanent Disability Repayment Assistance Plan enables borrowers to make
reasonable repayments based on income and size of family. The Canada Student
Loans Program pays the interest and capital not covered by the borrower's
reasonable monthly instalments — even if they are zero — to ensure that the
repayment period does not exceed ten years.
The office for disability issues is also exploring ways it can help make
post-secondary education more accessible to current and future students with
disabilities in order to improve participation and completion rates, as well as
enhance their social and academic experiences.
For example, to that end, the office for disability issues is considering the
creation of an accessibility guide for use by post-secondary institutions. The
guide will serve as an information, awareness and planning tool to promote
campus and education accessibility for students with disabilities across Canada.
It will also help to provide guidance to service providers who are looking to
create or improve disability policies and services at their institutions.
I would like to conclude by emphasizing the fact that the federal government
is aware that students with disabilities face additional barriers. As a result,
specific steps have to be taken to help them access post-secondary education and
to increase the number who graduate. The government is using the mechanisms
available to it within its jurisdiction to eliminate barriers and to provide
equal opportunities for all.
This concludes my opening remarks. Ms. Graham and I will be happy to answer
the questions that the committee has. If you wish, before questions, Ms. Graham
could provide you with more detail on the programs.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
We have heard from some of the experts who have appeared before us previously
that more than just financial barriers are involved in limiting access to
post-secondary education. There has been a fair bit of emphasis on things like
parental education and motivation, or their preparation in secondary level for
As you have said today, and as others have said, people with disabilities
experience unique barriers. Living expenses would probably be higher for them,
for example, or it might take a longer period of time to complete their
education. Getting summer or part-time jobs is not as easy for people with
disabilities. Specialized supports that they need may not always be readily
available. Perhaps, also, a lack of institutional sensitivity can be a factor in
whether they stay and complete their post-secondary education. I am sure there
are others, but these are amongst the unique barriers.
You also talked about the financial barriers. Are the financial barriers
bigger than perhaps they are in some other sectors of the population?
Since we have federal officials here at the other end of the table, the
second part of my question is what do you think the federal government can do to
deal with the immediate priorities, the most difficult challenges that you would
say disabled people possess with respect to getting into post-secondary
Ms. Muñoz: As I said before, it is important to put an end to, and
overcome, all the cultural prejudices against people with disabilities. It is
very important to work with non-disabled, people without disabilities who have
still not acquired disability, to learn that they are equal. The equalization of
opportunities is not a privilege. Most of the other students make them feel a
little bit isolated. Why does this person have more time to take examinations?
Why do they have more time to deliver their papers? They do not understand that
it is a matter of social justice. They do not see it like that. That is in
In financial terms, from what I have heard so far and what we have heard as
an organization of students with disability, and I am talking on behalf of them,
is that they have a really hard time tracking how to have access to the
available programs. The programs are there, but they sometimes do not know that
they exist. Our work is to inform them, but it is a huge labyrinth for them to
have access to the rights that have been put in place.
The Chair: Tracking and cultural change are two excellent points.
Ms. Ruel: When I refer to a change of culture, I am talking about the
way people perceive disability. I have made numerous presentations recently on
the new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. People really only
think about this issue when it affects them and continue to consider disability
as something that only happens to others. However, in actual fact, it can happen
to any one of us. By the age of 65, 47 per cent of Canadians have a disability.
For instance, I might trip on the rug on my way out and I will be one of the 47
per cent. Then of course death affects 100 per cent of Canadians. No one escapes
that. We have to recognize everyone's abilities.
A culture change means that we have to start seeing disability as diversity.
We are all people and students with different ways of learning, reading and
living. If we recognize our differences we accept that some people will do more,
others less and some will do things differently. However, they all represent the
complex nature of our society. This new approach will better equip us to deal
with the increasingly complex nature of life. Changing culture goes well beyond
any one system.
The Chair: How can the federal government help in some of these areas
that you are identifying?
Mr. Dionne: There is a framework that comes out of disability studies
called the social model of disability that talks about disability as a
difference, and it just becomes part of diversity at that point as opposed to
being ``less than'' in some ways. It becomes part of the mosaic of Canada.
It is more about promoting that in that way and getting away as much as
possible from the charity model, which is somewhat that these poor people need
this extra money and cannot survive without it, as opposed to that they have a
right to it. It is a switch in that way.
The Chair: A switch in the approach.
Ms. Larocque: I agree with what Ms. Muñoz and Ms. Ruel said about
cultural differences. Public education and attitudinal change are what is
needed. Also, there is great difficulty separating educational-related needs and
disabilities-related needs. That is where the confusion starts. Unless you have
that understanding of the barriers and the impact that they have, it is very
difficult to move forward.
The Chair: Ms. Milroy-Swainson and Ms. Graham, how can the federal
government help with culture, tracking, and getting the information to people
who do not seem able to get it?
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: I will speak to a couple of things we are doing
on the non-financial side and then Ms. Graham can speak to the financial side.
The government's and Canada's recent ratification of the UN convention is an
important step and will help create a culture that is more inclusive and will
We also manage a program called the social development partnership program,
disability component. That program has as an objective supporting both
organizations' capacity and projects that are intended to address and remove
barriers to social inclusion. So we do support a number of organizations that
work directly, both with people in the disability community and outside the
disability community to foster awareness, acceptance and social inclusion.
The Chair: What about the communications aspect? Ms. Muñoz was saying
that people just do not know how to get a handle on what is available and
possible. Perhaps Canada student loans is part of it.
Glennie Graham, Senior Director, Canada Student Loans Program, Human
Resources and Skills Development Canada: I want to give the committee a
sense of some of the new measures that were put in place in September 2009 that
address some of the concerns people have put on the table.
First, we have a grant for students with disabilities in the amount of $2,000
per school year. Second, we have a secondary grant for students with permanent
disabilities that is up to $8,000 to help with the costs of the equipment and
services they need to help them with their studies.
So far this year, we have given 16,700 students a grant for a total of about
$30 million a year. Ms. Milroy-Swainson touched on our new grants for low- and
middle-income students. Those grants are available for each year of undergrad
studies, so it is about access and ensuring they have the resources needed to
complete their studies. Our data shows that 67 per cent of the students who
receive grants for permanent disabilities also received the grants for low and
That is a positive step in that it is non-repayable finance and it is for
each year of study. The grant for low-income students is $250 per month over an
eight-month study period, and the middle-income grants are about $100 a month
for a regular eight-month period. That is a big improvement in the amount of
non-repayable student assistance that they have. That also reduces the amount of
loans they need to acquire.
We are very interested in giving students with disabilities and students in
general money up front to help them access, but we know that they also have
trouble in repayment, so repayment is a big part of what we are interested in
assisting students with.
This year we have put in place a stronger safety net than has ever been in
place for students in general, and for students with permanent disabilities in
particular. It is a two-part program. The first part is a permanent disability
grant. Once a student who has a permanent disability that prevents them from
working or further study is out of school, they can apply to have their loans
forgiven. This year, I believe that over 900 students with a disability have had
their loans forgiven.
The repayment assistance program for persons with disabilities is an
additional program. We also have a repayment assistance program for students
without disabilities, and it is somewhat income contingent.
We assume that many students with disabilities go into the workforce and are
able to pay back their student loans. We know that their incomes are often lower
and they may not work full time, so we have adjusted the repayment assistance
program for persons with disabilities to ensure that they never pay more than 20
per cent of their monthly income on a student loan. If their income is less than
$20,000 a year, they have a zero payment and the government will begin
immediately to pay down the interest and the principal. The loans of students
with disabilities will never take more than 10 years to pay off. For students
without disabilities, it will never take longer than 15 years. In our view, that
is a very innovative and important program.
We are also interested in non-financial barriers from a program point of
view. We have put in place two projects. One is giving students entering into
the Canada student loans program an entrance module which we take them through.
It gives them information about their loans because, often, students do not
understand the complexities. They do not really understand that they have to pay
their student loans back, so it is an educative process.
We also do exit interviews to help them with their payments so that they know
what is available to them should they get into trouble.
The second interesting thing we are doing with respect to non-financial
barriers is embarking on an experiment with the Province of British Columbia,
wherein we are choosing a number of high schools in lower socioeconomic areas
and doing a hands-on intervention with the students. We are talking to them
about student financial assistance, what is available to them, helping them
hands on, taking them through websites to show them the careers that are
available, the assistance that is available, and helping them to apply for both
financial assistance and university.
This is a two-year program. We are starting in the fall, and we want to see
whether the groups that we do the interventions with are in school a year later
and how they are doing. We have a control group as well, and we will see whether
it makes a difference.
We are very concerned about the non-financial barrier aspect as well.
Senator Eaton: My question is easy and basic: Are we talking about
learning disabilities or physical disabilities or both?
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: We are talking about both.
Senator Eaton: Are there numbers for learning disabilities and
physical disabilities across Canada? Do we know what percentages there are even
in the student body?
Ms. Muñoz: No, and as a matter of fact, this is an issue that shows
the lack of interest in this population. The last census that I found through a
lot of research is from 1997. It is a lot of time. There is a huge gap in the
information available regarding the population.
Senator Eaton: It seems you can hardly proceed if you do not have the
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: We have a little information. We know data about
the number of people in the population with disabilities, which is 14.3 per
cent, up from 12 per cent five years ago.
Senator Eaton: Regarding that 14 per cent, what percentage is of an
age that would be looking to access higher education?
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: That is of the whole Canadian population, so I
would say the population between 15 and I am not sure what the upper end is in
terms of looking for education.
Senator Eaton: Would half of that be the potential population?
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: I do not have those figures. I know that, in
2009, 8 per cent of university students reported having a disability, and 11 per
cent of college students reported having a disability. In 2009, 2 per cent of
university students had a learning disability, and 3 per cent had a mental
health disability. That is over half of all students in universities that report
having a disability.
Senator Eaton: Do we know how many university students there are? Can
we figure it out roughly? Do we know what we are dealing with?
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: I do not have those figures with me.
Ms. Graham: I have more of a breakdown in terms of ages 15 to 24. The
rate was 4.7 per cent. That is about 195,000 Canadians. When you use 15 to 64,
the rate rises to 11.5 per cent.
Ms. Ruel: Across Canada, it is more or less 3 per cent, depending on
Senator Eaton: In the student population?
Ms. Ruel: The student body on campus. For example, the University of
Ottawa has roughly 38,000 students. More than 1,000 students are registered with
access services. More than 50 per cent of them have learning difficulties. If
you include those with mental health issues and attention deficit disorders,
then you are talking about three quarters of them. In other words, 750 of the
1,000 on a campus of 30,000.
If financial assistance is on an individual basis, it means that all of those
1,000 students have to make applications. They all have to fill out one, two,
three forms each to access the services. The bodies authorized to help them fill
out the forms are completely overwhelmed because funding has not kept pace with
demand for services. Of course, I represent those services on campus. Now that
we are dealing with students with mental health issues, we are totally
ill-equipped to accommodate and support these students or to apply for medical
The huge amount of red tape involved means that we are able to spend less
time on developing strategies and raising awareness on campus. A shortage of
time and resources make these initiatives very difficult. Universities are in
deficit at the moment and are not providing the extra funding which would enable
us to take on skilled staff and to provide adequate services to keep up with
On the other hand, money is available. Do not misunderstand me, support is
available but for each student, we have to make several applications. It goes
without saying that we advocate a systemic approach and greater investment in
support services to ensure that more time is actually spent properly supporting
students instead of filling out individual forms for each service required.
Senator Eaton: You are talking about universities. Does it also
include colleges and trade schools?
Ms. Ruel: Absolutely, and colleges and trade schools have a higher
Senator Eaton: Would it be possible to have one registry in Canada?
You are talking about an Internet system where people look at the trade school
or university and see what is available.
Would there ever be a registry for people with disabilities? For instance, if
I have a disability in X and I apply to the University of Ottawa, I just give
them my reference number. Meanwhile, I have gone to the main registry and I am
accepted as a person with disabilities. It would go for drivers' licences and
educational help. It would be a national registry, so all the universities would
not have to go through and verify everything. Has anybody thought of doing
something like that? Is that a possibility?
Mr. Dionne: I will go back to your statistics question briefly. I can
speak for Quebec, and at the Quebec association of universities, which I think
has 18 members, we do statistics yearly, so we have statistics on the breakdown
of different disabilities of students who have registered with our offices. We
have been doing that for the past five years. We have those numbers, at least in
Quebec. I am sure other provincial associations do similar things.
With respect to the national registry, the difficulty is that, given that at
least for educational purposes every province defines things differently, it
becomes difficult, and every school has different levels of requirement as well.
It will make it difficult to do that, especially for the more hidden
disabilities and complex things.
Senator Eaton: Like what, for example?
Mr. Dionne: Like learning disabilities and/or mental health conditions
that can be chronic in nature but episodic in crises. It could make it more
difficult in that a student may be fine except for the two weeks of final exams,
for example. It becomes more difficult to know what the needs are, and that is
why they list them out, that they require these things on a daily basis and that
sort of thing.
Ms. Larocque: I agree with Mr. Dionne. It would be more difficult to
track those students. You also find across the country that a lot of the
disability service offices that universities and colleges have are asking
students to present themselves to their offices so they can provide the
documentation that says they have a legitimate disability.
Senator Eaton: Would they not trust a national registry that had
pre-vetted them? I am thinking of the myriad of paperwork that must follow a
person with disabilities all through their life, whether it is getting a
driver's licence or a home loan. One could simplify the whole thing, like your
driver's licence, so that you go in, you present it, and you are accepted. It is
a bona fide passport.
Ms. Larocque: Many people with disabilities do not need accommodations
at the university. Many people who have disabilities do not present themselves
at the disability service offices.
For those people, they would have a hard time saying that they have a
disability at the university level.
Senator Eaton: I have a child with a learning disability and he has
been tested. The results of that test would go into a national registry and be
available whenever he needed or wanted it, instead of going through a second,
third, fourth time of being vetted.
Ms. Graham: I was going to go back to a parochial point on what we
know about how many people with disabilities are at university. Our program
services about 365,000 students and 4.3 per cent, I believe, of our clientele
who get Canada student loans are people with permanent disabilities. Our data is
not great, but one thing we want to look at is perhaps figuring out what kind of
disabilities and get a better sense of who those students are. It is a small
piece but, certainly, from our perspective it is important to get a sense of who
the students with disabilities are and their needs.
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: Certainly, there have been discussions about
whether or not the federal government could issue a national identity card for
people with disabilities. We have looked at that and had discussions with
stakeholders. The issue is the one that was first raised. Because different
programs both at the federal and provincial levels have different criteria,
there is no one definition of disability and that is a challenge in trying to
have a registry or an identity card. Until there is more harmonization on that
front, I think it would be a challenge.
Senator Seidman: We can see how difficult it is to define disability
to begin with, to say nothing of the type of disability and then to quantify
them. It is clear another issue along this line of discussion would be there
would be many who would not want to be stigmatized by a label and be in a
registry, so that just adds a further complication.
We know that in defining ``disability' a lot depends on medical
classification systems and the like, so we are into a whole morass of
multidisciplinary issues. I would like to focus on the situation, Ms. Muñoz,
that you described in Quebec, where post-secondary students with disabilities
face many challenges that are not being met and which seriously restrict their
access and participation. You presented a rather powerful description of so many
basic inadequacies from the perspective of the students themselves, which is
what I am interested in.
You did a survey in 2009 and I am curious about your membership, the number
in this association, the Quebec Association of Post-Secondary Students with
Disabilities, and what regions of Quebec they might come from.
If we look a bit at the socio-demographic breakdown, do they all have the
same problems with access or are there different issues? We talk about access
issues for people with disabilities and I am thinking it is just not with
disabilities; there are a whole series of subgroups of people with disabilities.
Are there different issues in the cities, perhaps in the regions, in the
linguistic communities in Quebec, for example? Are there different issues among
different age categories?
Then — and you may have already touched on this with Senator Eggleton's
question — do you have recommendations to increase access and normalize, rather
than isolate students from the students' perspective themselves, and perhaps
just a couple of really pragmatic items that might be especially relevant from
the vantage of the federal government?
Ms. Muñoz: Thank you for that interesting question and the opportunity
to speak about it.
We have a very limited membership now because we are a small association. We
do not have many members. We have about 120 members. However, we have the
capacity to go before the ministry of education to advocate for the rights of
students with disabilities. We network with other associations. We make
enquiries as to whether someone is a student, and ask whether there is a problem
and inform them of their rights. We try to let everyone know in all the small
associations with whom we network that there are many programs available for
financial support and counselling. As well, we try to empower them to disclose
their disability because sometimes it is stigmatized and they do not really want
to speak about it. They are afraid that they will be mistreated. There is a lot
of hate speech related to disability in general — labels such as ``retard'' and
Of course they are afraid, and this is mainly people with psychiatric
conditions that they really do not want to disclose. I agree with Ms. Ruel and
Mr. Dionne that it is very important to make a shift of paradigm, to work more
on universal access than on reasonable accommodation alone, first, because it is
more cost effective. If you adapt a new building from the beginning, the price
would be 1 per cent of the entire cost of building. These are formulas created
by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, where I also had a
chance to work. It is much cheaper to plan everything in order to make it
accessible for all than to make accommodations.
What is happening now is that the solutions come after. A person must ask for
the accommodation for the accommodation to be provided in Quebec. That is how it
works now. If there is no one who needs a ramp, it will not be built. There is a
law that says every new building has to be accessible, but at some point there
is always something that will not be considered, and we always have these
Senator Seidman: I am just curious, to go back to your 150 members,
have you done any socio-demographic breakdown of these members in terms of where
they live in Quebec and what linguistic groups they are from? Then, I would like
to know if there is a difference among these different socio-demographic groups
in terms of their needs, in terms of their barriers to access?
Ms. Muñoz: Yes, most of our members are in urban areas because we have
more opportunity to reach them, but we are also trying to get to the Gaspésie.
However, we have a very limited budget. We function with $68,000 per year for
salaries, rent and everything, so we do not have the ability, but we are trying
to use new technologies to reach those populations because, obviously, the new
generation is more accustomed to virtual classrooms and such things to become
informed of their rights and how to navigate the system.
Also, I think Ms. Larocque as well has detected this. People with learning
disabilities have a hard time understanding what they have to do to have access,
because the process is so complicated. That is an important point.
Linguistically and from age, there is also a group that has been
underrepresented here — students that do not go to the CEGEP. They are adults as
well. This is post-secondary. In general, we have heard there are no persons
with disabilities there and that is not true. There are many people with
disabilities there, with few resources devoted to them. As well, we have many
immigrants and many people who have acquired a disability later in life who are
trying to acquire new skills to regain employment.
The Chair: Does anyone else want to weigh in on this?
Senator Martin: Thank you so much for your presentations today. We
have just scratched the surface. Other senators have alluded to the complexity
of this population of Canadians who have physical as well as learning
disabilities, and some of those hidden disabilities that we do not necessarily
like to talk about, such as mental illness.
As an educator in high schools and middle schools, I have come across many
students with such specific cases as well as home situations where they may have
a lot of support or very minimal support. You then also introduce language gaps
and cultural differences and it becomes very complex indeed.
I have one question to pose to you that makes us look at it from a different
perspective. We often look to our universities and colleges to take the lead,
and it is higher education. In my career in education, I started in high school
and then went to middle school. In terms of dealing with students with
disabilities, physical or learning or other, in an elementary school a student
with a learning disability may be in a class of nine with a team of two or three
teachers and aides who work with those students. Then you get to the middle
school and it may be 1 in 30, maybe 1 in 20, depending on the classes they are
in. In high school it may be 1 in 150. If it is that grade or even higher, the
ratio becomes much greater. I think there is an even greater leap and gap when
you get to the university and college levels because we make these assumptions
that now they are adults when, really, certain dependencies and support must be
always in place for people with disabilities.
Have you as an organization or other representatives thought about looking at
the models that are in the elementary and high school lower levels? What is
being done to look at ways that this can be carried on? These gaps are too big.
We talk about access, but once they get there the support may not be there, and
then we are looking at many dropouts because the challenges increase.
Have you done any kind of bridging in that sense? I almost see you being the
advocate for these students because that does not exist in university and
colleges, as far as I know. What role do you see yourself playing? Could this
kind of communication help students access as well as be successful in
Ms. Ruel: I do not know what the ratio is, but it varies from one
institution to the other. Some institutions benefit from funding from students.
There is student dollar for the tuition fees, so some smaller institutions
benefit from funding from students because they would not be able to operate
properly. With my experience of 10 years as a manager of a service, I know that
professors need more training, that students need to access more money to pay
for assessments and for note-takers, and we try more and more to empower. There
is a good thing in empowerment because, if it is a permanent disability, it
allows the person to develop skills that will be useful in the workforce. It is
not always easy and not always feasible because they have at the same time to do
homework; on top of that, they have to advocate, to meet with the professors, to
fill the paper form. There is money and there is no doubt about it, but it is
always complicated. For any student it would be complicated. We are not talking
about it being complicated only for people with disabilities.
It is the same with accommodation. They have to register in advance to write
their examination with accommodation. Many, many students miss the deadline.
Some people say that they are not taking their responsibility. I always say
that, if you would ask the 35,000 other students to register in advance for
their final examination, half of them would fail the deadline. There are always
more things to do for students with disabilities. Some institutions invest more
in their accessibility or disability offices. I see the difference. There is
more education, more awareness done with professors. The environment is better
equipped to welcome people and there is less stigmatization as students do not
have to always ask, to always prove, and the pressure is always on the students.
If we have structures and services on campus that are fully staffed, skilled and
trained, much work could be done before, and when students come into the
classroom it would be much easier and success would be higher. The return on the
investment would come much faster.
Coming back to mental health, we ask what the campuses are doing about mental
health issues. We are talking about anxiety. When tuition fees are high, when
the workforce is difficult to enter, and when the environment is just not going
so well and there is not always good news, anxiety is the pressure. Being at
university is no longer a privilege. It is not just high-class, achieving
students from rich families. Now it is a necessity. If you are not going to
university, you will have a hard time accessing jobs for the rest of your life.
Opening the door and letting students with disabilities access university but
not being diagnosed, not being supported, not being equipped with all the
strategies that are necessary for the rest of their lives, they will be a burden
in the workforce. The social cost will just go on and on and on with children,
with education, et cetera.
Of course, I have a pro-systemic and a pro-environment approach. It is the
universal design principle, moving away from the medical model with medical
certification proving all the time that I deserve to have extra time instead of
just looking at different training. It was proven that, just for examinations,
students would not need extra time if you would say that, for the next five
questions, just answer three. Just having the choice and the empowerment would
change very much.
Senator Martin: In terms of the file that each student may have,
because it does follow them through the years, I am curious how accurately it
gets transferred to university professors that teach them. As a classroom
teacher, I would be able to go back and access these files and know what the
record showed. For certain students who cannot write but have to do oral
examinations, unless the teachers are aware, those things can get missed. How
accurately would those files follow these university students? That would make a
big difference in their success.
Ms. Ruel: At the post-secondary level, the files remain at the access
service. It is very important; it is crucial. All students are admitted based on
their marks. There is no admission based on charity or needing a certain number
of persons with disabilities in our campus. It does not work this way. Since
1982, in the human rights code, all students are admitted at an equal level. As
soon as they are admitted, we need to accommodate.
The point is that they are adults. It is neither a rehabilitation centre nor
a hospital. They are students with a disability. The accessibility or disability
office keeps the records. It is something that stays within the service; it
never goes to professors. A person might say, ``We need to know that there is a
diagnosis,'' but we are not obliged to know what that diagnosis is. However, we
need to know about the impact on the learning environment. That is the most
important thing. That is what we disclose, and that is what we hope the student
discloses to the professor by saying, ``I am allowed to have extra time. I have
a disability that is well documented.'' The information does not go to the
professor, but the student is welcome to discuss it with the professor.
Senator Martin: That is an important piece of information. I
understand they are adults, but it is only one summer between high school
graduation and first year of university. That is critical information to a
teacher with respect to how that student may be given certain considerations
with assignments, and tests, and so on. That could make quite a difference for
their success. It may involve educating the students who are in post-secondary
education institutions to ensure that they advocate for themselves, but, if they
cannot do so, organizations like yours and others could do that. That would be
The Chair: I need to move on. We have next Senator Callbeck from
Prince Edward Island.
Senator Callbeck: Welcome. Thank you for your presentations.
Mr. Dionne, you mentioned a lack of skilled service providers. How big is
that problem? Do you feel there are things that the federal government could be
doing here to improve the situation?
Mr. Dionne: Sensitizing or publicizing the availability of these kinds
of careers would be beneficial. One of the main shortages is in the area of
service providers in sign language. The federal government can assist by
supporting promotional campaigns through employment and the creation of training
programs or opportunities to engage in training programs at that level.
Senator Callbeck: Do we have any statistics on that? Do we have any
idea how many more people we could use in the area of sign language?
Mr. Dionne: We did a survey and we designed an ad hoc committee for
sign language interpretation issues. I did not bring the statistics with me
today, but we can certainly forward them to the clerk for you.
Senator Callbeck: That would be great because I was wondering how
major this issue is.
You spoke about key government ministries coordinating their efforts. You
also talked about the definition of ``disability.'' Have there been efforts made
to do this? Has this ever been on the agenda of the Council of Ministers of
Education when they meet?
Mr. Dionne: I am not sure. I do not know that answer. I work at
McGill, which is an institution that takes information from all the provinces. I
often see different sorts of forms and have to fill in different kinds of
funding requests and deal with different definitions. I know that there are
different ones in existence across the country, but I do not know that there has
been a lot of pull together to say, ``Let us unify this system.'' The issue is
at the level of funding. All the provinces have a similar definition of
``disability'' as a person and as a society, but when you get into the funding
of them in post-secondary education, that is where the difficulties arise as to
how they are defined.
Senator Callbeck: Have there been discussions on this with officials
in the Canada Student Loans Program?
Ms. Graham: I was about to interject on that. We have been working
with our provincial colleagues on having a common definition for purposes of
student financial assistance. In fact, we have a fairly strong
federal-provincial committee that governs the Canada Student Loans Program,
because the provinces deliver the front end of our program. Reporting to that
committee is a special committee looking at issues of disability. One of the
things involved there is the definition and ensuring that there is consistency
across the country.
Senator Callbeck: Is that a committee that has been set up or has it
been in existence for some time?
Ms. Graham: The Canada Student Loans Program has been in existence
Senator Callbeck: I know that.
Ms. Graham: The committee on disability has been in place since about
2000 when we went to direct loan programs. An issue that is foremost for that
committee is all-around learning disabilities. It is a fairly new issue that we
are dealing with. The committee looks at a variety of issues centred on
Senator Callbeck: I was reading about the on-site support services at
universities, colleges and so on. I thought it said that they are only used by
30 per cent of university students with disabilities, although studies have
shown that the students who have used these services have benefited greatly from
Can you tell me why only 30 per cent would use them?
Ms. Ruel: The disability, by itself, is neutral. Having a disability
does not mean that you will have an obstacle or a barrier to education. Most
people in a wheelchair at the University of Ottawa campus find it to be 85 per
cent to 90 per cent accessible. Having a declared official disability does not
mean that you need special accommodation. In many cases, there is a spectrum of
disability. For example, someone with mental health issues can be safe for many
years if the environment prevents them from becoming more stressed, or if people
are better trained to avoid behaviour that would provoke or make more problems.
The person does not have to disclose or does not need any accommodation.
In addition, they are young adults; they have lived with the disability. With
technology, medication or the environment, sometimes there is no need to
disclose. There are also stigmas, but that is another problem.
Ms. Muñoz: There are other types of people, namely, people with
chronic illnesses, who are also starting to learn that they can have access to
the benefits of being part of the services because they need more time to sleep
or they need medicines, and so on. They are not aware that they can have access
to these services.
Senator Callbeck: How do you suggest that we make them aware?
Ms. Muñoz: We must think about education not only in terms of
disability and so on, but also in terms of thinking about disability as a social
issue and about not putting everything on the individual's shoulders. We must
understand that disability is a relationship between individual functions and
how the environment is conceived. That is why I insisted during my presentation
that we need to work more on disability studies.
In the United States, there are disability centre studies everywhere. Here,
disability studies are a marginal field of study that does not deserve a lot of
attention. We need to work harder in terms of constructing more disability
Senator Callbeck: I wanted to ask about the assessment fee because it
has been mentioned a couple of times. The student has to pay for the assessment.
Is that a barrier? How much money are we talking about?
Ms. Larocque: We are talking about a lot of money. For learning
disabilities, in order to get an assessment done, you need a psychologist who
specializes in the field. Assessments run anywhere between $1,200 and sometimes
up to $3,000.
Many of the students who come to the universities or colleges do not have the
assessment because the public education system in their province or territory
did not provide them with that assessment. They know they are a student at risk,
so they provide them with resources. In order to identify them with a diagnosis,
they would have to provide them with actual services. In order to not do that,
they only identify them as a student at risk.
Many of the students do come without the assessment at the college and
university and that is why there is such a huge influx of students requesting an
assessment at the college and university level.
The Chair: Does HRSDC provide funding for that assessment?
Ms. Graham: Through the program I am not exactly sure about that. I
know that, when they do apply for the programs for repayment on disability, they
do need a doctor's certificate or whatnot. I have not heard that as an issue in
my program, but I can certainly get back to the committee with that.
The Chair: If you could get back to the clerk, and we will provide
that information. That sounds like a fair barrier. Many of these people have
low-income levels, and to have to put out that kind of money is a barrier and
Senator Dawson: There have been comments about solutions. Just our
being here today and the broadcasting of this hearing is an opportunity to
educate members of Parliament, who are an important target audience. It is an
opportunity for them to send a message about an issue that is neither
exclusively federal nor provincial jurisdiction, but rather shared jurisdiction.
Unfortunately, despite post-secondary education being a shared jurisdiction,
nine times out of ten federal initiatives are not implemented in Quebec. Are the
Heritage Canada partnerships and programs implemented in Quebec? Is the
situation one where federal government funding is transferred to the Quebec
government and where co-operation and implementation to do not apply in the case
of Quebec? Can any of you answer that question?
Mr. Dionne: I can give you a very specific answer. Disabled students
wishing to take advantage of grants and financial assistance for services
require a medical certificate filled out by a physician. There are four possible
types of disabilities that students may have; visual, hearing, motor or organic.
Organic disabilities cover impairments to any part of the body other than the
As a result, students with mental health issues, attention deficits or
learning difficulties are not eligible for these grants or financial assistance
with services. Some of these students get help, while others do not. However,
the Act does not provide for mental health issues and the Quebec Ministry of
Education, which has been assessing the situation for some time now, considers
this to be an emerging constituency.
Senator Dawson: Therefore, Heritage Canada funding is not available to
Mr. Dionne: No, not for this segment of the student body. However,
assistance is available in other areas of the country. In Quebec, students are
not able to apply for this financial assistance.
Senator Dawson: Quebec universities, CEGEPS and associations provide
assistance but is there federal-provincial co-operation? Is there a forum for
the Quebec Ministry of Education to sit down with Heritage Canada or the other
provinces to look at how the various institutions can share best practices?
Are students who decide to ``cross the river'' to study out of province at
either the University of Ottawa or the Université du Québec à Gatineau faced
with even more impediments or are things made easier for them?
Ms. Ruel: Financial assistance is different in Ontario and Quebec. In
Ontario, out-of-province students are eligible for the same services as anyone
else. It is not the student's home province that matters but rather where they
are studying. As far as access is concerned, you would have to ask the ministry.
The forms are different as are the definitions and the ways of accessing
information. We currently have students from New Brunswick, Alberta, Western
Canada and of course Quebec. Each time the forms, definitions and financial
assistance available are all different.
In some provinces, no financial assistance is available for specific services
while in others money is no object. The issue now is whether the provinces are
talking about this situation. It would be desirable for them to do so because
the services are highly fragmented.
Instead of dividing up the money, a better strategy would be to pool it and
to agree on a way of investing it to get more positive results. In my opinion,
this is a very important recommendation.
Ms. Graham: With respect to student financial assistance, the Province
of Quebec and the territories of NWT, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut do not
participate in our program but participate on the intergovernmental FPT,
federal-provincial-territorial, committee. They are there, and they interact in
terms of the issues around disability.
The Province of Quebec receives compensation in the form of an alternative
payment, in lieu of participating in the Canada Student Loans Program. Within
that context they have received in the past — and I assume they will continue to
receive in the future — compensation for our grants and programs for persons
with disabilities and for our loan program in general.
Senator Dawson: That is without any assurance that it will be used in
Ms. Graham: No, in our legislation there is a reference to the fact
that, in order to receive an alternative payment, the jurisdiction must provide
programming that has substantially the same effect as the federal programs. Each
year, there is a process that we embark on with the Province of Quebec and they
indicate their legislation, the kinds of programs they have, and we then look at
that and determine how much their alternative payment will be.
It is always after the school year. For example, for this school year,
2009-10, we have begun a process where we have written a letter to Quebec, they
will give us an assessment of their programs against ours, and then under
legislation we must pay them by January 2011.
The Chair: Getting people into post-secondary education starts with
them becoming graduates of high school. We are told that twice as many people
with disabilities have not completed high school as compared to those without
How do we get people through the secondary level so we have a better chance
of getting them into the post- secondary level? Is there a role for the federal
government? We know the further down the educational ladder we go, it is more
provincial jurisdiction. Who would like to comment on that?
Ms. Muñoz: The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities has created a common ground with respect to the
commitment the whole country has towards the international community and its
citizens regarding inclusive education, which is Article 24.
This is the first and the most important thing because, eventually, the
federal government will have to provide a report to the steering committee in
the United Nations, and you will have to work together to create these reports
for the steering committee. There might be alternate reports from the NGOs,
non-governmental organizations, regarding what is going on here.
The Chair: You are saying that, eventually, they will have to address
this high school graduation program because it is part of the reporting
Ms. Ruel: Yes, because Article 24 of the convention clearly talks
about improving the graduation level, so there is a concrete commitment.
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: That point underscores that education for
students with disabilities at any age is a complex matter, and requires not only
accessible and welcoming institutions but also communities which are accessible
and cultural environments that are appropriate.
The federal government has programs in place to support this broader
approach. For example, again, the social development partnerships program
provides three kinds of funding that support this. First, we provide funding on
an annual basis to 18 organizations representing people with disabilities, and
the goal of this funding is to support these organizations in identifying and
helping society respond to issues related to people with disabilities, so
creating more of a social inclusion, cultural awareness.
It also supports the community inclusion initiative, which specifically is
intended to support social inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities,
and really works hard to both raise awareness outside the disability community
about disabilities and improve attitudes. It also tries to encourage and support
the involvement of people with disabilities in various types of social,
educational, economic and sport activities.
The third part of that funding is project funding where we provide resources
to a broad range of organizations for initiatives specifically intended to
support inclusive education, support transition between school and work, and
create supports for people with disabilities. All of these help foster the
social inclusion of people with disabilities, which then in many ways creates
attitudes that support them, even wanting them to go forward on that front, so
that is an important program.
A second program is the enabling accessibility fund which was renewed in the
past budget. This program is eligible for various organizations, not actually
universities, but it helps ensure that the community is more accessible to
people with disabilities, whether it is information and communication
technology, physical accessibility or transportation accessibility. If you
cannot get to a school, it is hard to be part of that school community, so we
use those tools available to us to support that broader cultural inclusion.
The Chair: Those things you have just described you are saying are not
only applicable at the post-secondary level but also at the secondary and
post-secondary level, so they should help out to get more high school graduates?
Ms. Milroy-Swainson: As well, there are a number of programs that
target children and education in primary levels.
Ms. Graham: One other thing announced in the last budget is pathways
to education Canada, and it is specific to children with disabilities, students
with disabilities, but certainly for underrepresented individuals. That is
community based to get into the high schools, mentor them and so forth. Part of
that constituency will be students with disabilities.
Ms. Ruel: In Ontario for many years, there has been money for
transition programs, and the experience of transition programs is showing us
that, more and more now, we have students with learning disabilities at the
university level who mentor at the high school level to teach how to use the
We have a project with OCRI, Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation, with
the University of Ottawa, and we realize that the training of high school
teachers about learning technologies is not enough which impacts the students.
First of all, they have to be successful in high school to be admitted to
university, so if they do not have access to those technologies, they can hardly
make it at university. We now try to pair students from the university to work
with high school students, and they also work as role models, so we hope in the
future, by having the students talking to each other, it will improve at least
the perspective of those students.
Senator Callbeck: I have one question, Ms. Larocque, on your
recommendations that I would like you to clarify. Number 3 said to reconsider
requirements for financial aid specific to students with disabilities, even if
they are not eligible for basic provincial or federal assistance. Can you give
me an example of what you might be talking about?
Ms. Larocque: There was an example given in my presentation, I believe
on page 3, where, for instance in Ontario, a student did not qualify for a
Canada study grant for the accommodation of students with permanent
disabilities. Because they do not qualify for the Ontario student loan, they do
not qualify for the grant. You need to qualify for one in order to get access to
all the other ones, so it is very difficult for those who do not qualify for
that one program to be able to go to school and get the financial funding to
help with their expenses, both their disability and educational expenses.
Senator Callbeck: What is the main reason they do not qualify for
Ms. Larocque: They may not qualify because, when they make
application, their parents may be making too much money. There are different
reasons why they may not qualify, but it comes down to there is money there from
parents. They may not qualify because their parents make too much money, but the
parents do not have the money to provide them with all the educational
accommodations they need, especially with adaptive technology. Many parents are
left having to take money from their RRSPs in order to purchase the adaptive
technology for their child to attend university or college.
Ms. Graham: To qualify for the grant programs that I described, you
have to first qualify for a Canada student loan, and essentially you need to be
assessed on your financial need. The premise of the Canada Student Loans Program
is that it is to make up a shortfall in funds. We expect parents and students to
contribute to financing their education. Based on an assessment that is done at
the provincial level, it is determined whether you can access a loan based on
The Chair: Is it sufficiently sensitive to the concern that Ms.
Ms. Graham: You can appeal a decision, so you can go back to a
provincial government. We do not do the front- end assessments and applications,
but certainly provinces are willing to reassess based on information that maybe
was not provided, or exceptional circumstances, that sort of thing. There is a
bit of flexibility in that.
Senator Martin: Ms. Graham, you mentioned that you will be testing or
launching a program in British Columbia this September. With the success of
that, are there plans to continue in other schools in B.C. or perhaps across
Canada? That is a bridge that would fill a gap between high school and
Ms. Graham: We are excited about it. It is based on an experiment done
in the U.S. to great success. We are piloting it with the Province of B.C. which
allows us to go in the schools. Our contractors will go into the schools. We
will assess the outcome and evaluate that to see whether it makes a difference.
From our discussions with other provinces, there is a real interest in looking
at how and if and how much it would cost to implement that across the board.
Senator Martin: It sounds like a worthwhile program.
The Chair: That is it. We have reached the end of our meeting. Thank
you to all of you who have come today. You have provided us with valuable,
thought-provoking information that we will have to consider as we go down the
path towards recommendations. We still have many meetings to go and hope to have
a report out in the fall.
With that, I will officially adjourn this meeting.