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Accommodating and Employing Students With Disabilities

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: Terri Hulett is a former student activist who lives in Toronto, Ontario.

According to the Government of Canada's "Knowledge Matters: Canada's Innovation Strategy" paper, 70% of new jobs created will require a post-secondary education. In addition, 25% of new jobs will require a university degree.

These are alarming proportions considering the 1991 and 1996 Canada Census report that college/trade students with disabilities have a participation rate of 23% and 26% compared to 29% and 32% of their non-disabled peers. Furthermore, only 6% and 7% of students with disabilities obtain a university degree, compared with 14% and 17% of their non-disabled counterparts. Even lower, the 1996 census reports that Aboriginal students with disabilities' college/trade participation proportions are 23% and their university participation rate is 2%.

The barriers experienced by students with disabilities at the post-secondary level are similar to the barriers experienced when people with disabilities seek or work to maintain employment.

Attitudinal barriers are still largely the reason why students with disabilities are not encouraged to enroll, drop out before the completion of their degree or decide not to continue into a masters or doctoral program.

Negative attitudes such as the perception that students with disabilities are incapable or intellectually inferior influence their academic participation and faculties' ability to evaluate students with disabilities fairly.

Moreover, accommodations are still viewed by some faculty members and university administrators as unfair privileges or advantages given to students with disabilities that water down our educational system.

These attitudes affect university service delivery, student eligibility for "special" accommodations and university policies, which are in many cases rigid and exclusionary. All too often, educational services include exclusionary policies and practices, which do not include many people- not just people with disabilities.

The weak attachment of youth with disabilities to the labour force in comparison with non-disabled youth, 58% and 86% respectively, is in large part due to the fact that youth with disabilities experience similar attitudinal barriers when seeking summer, part-time and full-time employment.

Employers may be more reluctant to hire students with disabilities because of the perception that there will be increased responsibilities and costs when employing students with disabilities. In some cases where students with disabilities require workplace accommodations, such as job modification, job flexibility, assistive devices and adaptive technology, employers have no incentive to hire students with disabilities for summer or part-time work.

Accommodations for supplementary income and part-time work experience for students with disabilities are rarely available. Students with disabilities who require accommodations for a summer position are burdened with limited resources and time constraints for locating financial support in the cases where employers cannot or are reluctant to pay for workplace accommodations.

Students get caught in the middle of who is responsible to pay for workplace accommodations for determinate positions - disability-related programs funded by the government or the employer.

Students with disabilities are not the only ones who find themselves in this precarious position. As the number of contract positions increase, job seekers with disabilities experience greater instability, because some employers hold negative attitudes and/or do not want to make soft and hard accommodations during the contractual period.

There is less legislative protection for persons with disabilities regarding contract positions, because it can be harder to prove discrimination during the hiring process. Moreover, persons with disabilities may find it difficult to see the benefit of filing a Human Rights complaint - over a course of two years - when the employment position is contractual.

The Innovation Strategy paper for the future, Knowledge Matters, emphasizes the link between accessible post-secondary education and future employment trends. However, for persons with disabilities, access to higher education and employment depends largely on awareness surrounding disability issues, financial initiatives supporting accommodations, inclusive policies and practices, as well as legislation to secure citizenship rights.


  • Government of Canada. (2002). Knowledge Matters: Canada's Innovation Strategy.

  • HRDC. (2002). "Advancing the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities". A Government of Canada Report. ISBN 0-662-33225-3.

  • The Roeher Institute. (1996). Building Bridges: Inclusive Post-Secondary Education for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

  • The Roeher Institute. (1996). Disability, Community and Society: Exploring the Links.

  • The Roeher Institute. (1995). Inclusion of Individuals with Disabilities in Post-Secondary Education: A Review of the Literature.

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