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The issue of accessible education for persons with disabilities has generated much attention in recent years. When the Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) conducted its 1999 consultation on disability and the duty to accommodate, as part of the development of its Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, it heard many concerns from consultees specifically relating to the education system.

In its 2001 Annual Report, the Office of the Provincial Auditor noted several issues of concern related to special education programs and services.[1]

Parents, students, educators and community groups have continued to stress that there are serious problems in the special education system, problems which, in effect, are limiting the access of students with disabilities to educational services. Increasingly, individuals are turning to the Commission’s complaints procedure for redress.

Pursuant to its function to inquire into and promote an understanding of human rights matters, the Commission decided to launch a public consultation on disability issues in Ontario’s education system. The consultation was initiated in July 2002 with the release of a Consultation Paper entitled Education and Disability: Human Rights Issues in Ontario’s Education System. The Consultation Paper identified a number of issues regarding students with disabilities in Ontario and invited interested parties to make written submissions on these and other human rights issues relating to disability and education.

Information about the consultation process was sent to more than 300 stakeholders, posted on the Commission’s Web site and advertised in newspapers. In total, we received approximately 125 written submissions. Those who made submissions included community organizations, school boards, Special Education Advisory Committees, parents[2], students with disabilities, educators, colleges, universities, consultants, unions, and advocacy groups. In addition, a panel chaired by Chief Commissioner Keith Norton gathered further information over two weeks of public consultation sessions in November 2002. Over fifty individuals and organizations made presentations in North Bay, Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto.

The Commission would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to this process. We wish to acknowledge the substantial time and effort that individuals and organizations took to prepare written submissions and to participate in the public consultation sessions. We would also like to express our sincere appreciation to the parents who came forward, often with great difficulty, to share their experiences and the experiences of their children in the education system. The feedback we received was highly informative and invaluable in the preparation of this Report and will continue to be crucial in the future work that the Commission will undertake in the area of disability and education.

It is our intention and hope that the Commission’s work in this area promotes a shared understanding of the roles and responsibilities of individuals and institutions involved in Ontario’s school systems to respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right of students with disabilities to enjoy an accessible education. We also hope that this Report will promote dialogue amongst the parties involved in the accommodation process and encourage timely dispute resolution in an informal manner at a local level.

[1] Office of the Provincial Auditor of the Province of Ontario, 2001 Annual Report, Section 3.06, “Special Education Grants to School Boards”.
[2] In this Report, “parent(s)” includes parent(s) and guardians.

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