Excerpts of the Final Report to the Ontario Government of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, that Relate to the Needs of Students with Disabilities
On march 1, 2022, the Ontario Government publicly posted the final report of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. That advisory committee was assigned the task of making recommendations to The Government on the barriers in ,Ontario’s schools and school boards that need to be torn down to make our education system fully accessible to students with disabilities.
Several of the recommendations in the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s final report bear on the needs of students with vision loss, and the need to improve the training for and supply of teachers of the visually impaired in Ontario. OPVIC strongly supports these recommendations and calls on the Ontario Government to act swiftly to implement all these recommendations.
Here are the key passages from that report:
Barrier: Vision loss is a “low incidence” disability among school-age children. When students with vision loss (students who are blind, low vision, deafblind, or have vision loss and another disability) reach school, the indispensable school board employee who is vital to their acquiring literacy and other key learning skills is the expert teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). At school boards, they are itinerant teachers. They go from school to school, providing the direct training to individual students with vision loss, one at a time, in specialized areas like braille reading and writing. They also teach students with vision loss how to use rapidly evolving adaptive technology, such as screen-reading and print-enlarging programs. These apps enable students with vision loss to use a computer, tablet or smart phone.
The itinerant TVI is also the indispensable expert who educates and supports a student’s classroom teacher, educational assistant, and other teaching staff on how to effectively teach that student with vision loss. Most of the time that students with vision loss spend in school is with general education or special education teaching staff who have no training in how to teach students with vision loss.
Ontario’s training requirements to qualify as a TVI are inadequate. They are unjustifiably much lower than in many other jurisdictions, including in much if not most of the rest of Canada. This is substantially lower than Ontario requirements to qualify as a teacher of the deaf.
To qualify as a TVI in Ontario, the Ontario College of Teachers and Ministry of Education regulations require a qualified teacher to merely undertake three 125 hour “Additional Qualification” (AQ) courses in the blind/low vision field. In practice, a teacher only needs to take the first of these AQ courses. They can then get a job as a TVI at an Ontario school board and work directly teaching students with vision loss.
The Ministry of Education and the Ontario College of Teachers do not monitor or enforce the requirement for a teacher to take the second and third of those AQ courses once they start to work as a TVI. The existing “requirement” of three TVI AQ courses is only a requirement on paper, not in practice.
Even if a teacher takes all three basic TVI AQ courses, the courses are far too short and their content insufficient to cover all the content that a TVI needs to learn. In those courses, a teacher need never work with a student with vision loss, or observe a properly trained TVI effectively working with a student with vision loss, or meet a student with vision loss.
No Ontario university offers a proper post-graduate degree training program to train to work as TVIs, unlike BC and Nova Scotia. In contrast, Ontario commendably provides a post-graduate one-year program at a Faculty of Education to qualify as a teacher of the deaf. Ontario fully funds that program.
In contrast, to become a TVI in at least five other Canadian provinces, in much of the US as well as in the UK and New Zealand, a teacher must complete a more extensive one year (at least) university-taught graduate degree on teaching students with vision loss that includes a properly-supervised practicum.
It is therefore recommended that:
- The mandatory Ontario requirements to qualify as a TVI should be substantially increased. A qualified teacher should be required to successfully complete a one-year graduate masters program delivered by a university’s Faculty of Education, dedicated to training TVIs and that includes a substantial practicum requirement.
- A graduate-level university program should be established in Ontario, and fully provincially funded.
- To address a serious shortage, the Ontario Government should incentivize teachers to train as TVIs, and should finance the training of a surge of teachers to undertake this new TVI training, in order to substantially increase the pool of available TVIs in Ontario. After that, a regular flow of new TVIs should be funded through this training to ensure a long-term sufficient supply of qualified TVIs in Ontario.
- A provincially-funded program should be established to “retrofit” or upgrade the skills and training of those who are already working as TVIs in Ontario and who did not undertake a graduate-level program in teaching students with vision loss. This should include, for example, effective training in the new adaptive technology that students with vision loss can use as part of their education and activities of daily living.
- The Ministry of Education and the Ontario College of Teachers should review and where needed, strengthen the training requirements for teachers with other disability-related specializations. The implementation of the recommendations above regarding training for teachers of the visually impaired should not be delayed pending this review.
Timeline: eighteen months
17 All learners, including students with disabilities, are ensured every opportunity to fully access and participate in meaningful, challenging learning opportunities and curriculum engagement. This includes the timely access, use and the benefits of curriculum materials, goods and services. Instructional learning materials need to be fully accessible through Universal Design for Learning that uses many differing, alternative methods of engaging, representing, expressing and communicating learning. This requires:
17.1 ministry and Boards will ensure the design of instructional materials that are fully accessible on a timely basis for students with disabilities, including for example, materials that are accessible to those with vision and hearing loss, full captioned digital, visual accommodations, and non-verbal formats.
17.2 ministry and Boards will establish procurement procedures requiring any new instructional materials be fully accessible, in timely, quality alternative formats and/or conversion ready.
17.3 ministry and Boards will require that procurement procedures for approved educational resources meet accessibility, barrier-free standards, be transparent, with quality design requiring ongoing timely review, monitoring and communication.
17.4 accountability for compliance of barrier-free accessibility is the responsibility of the individual supplier or vendor.
17.5 procurement practises and use of board or school developed instructional learning materials should include ongoing data gathering on students with disabilities who require accessible instructional materials. This includes data from students, their educators and families, that provides front-line experiences and feedback on timely access to required materials, and potential gaps needing attention. This includes school board procedures for ensuring ongoing surveys and feedback mechanisms from students and their families and educators on their experiences accessing timely instructional materials and input on what is working and required for ongoing individual student learning.
17.6 the ministry and Boards establish dedicated shared resources within and among school boards, to assist efficient and effective, timely conversion ready materials that are in accessible format, where needed. This includes ensuring a board lead for oversight, coordination and response.
Timeline: one year
Alternative programs, expanded curriculum and pathways recommendations
“Alternative expectations are developed to help students acquire knowledge and skills that are not represented in the Ontario curriculum. They either are not derived from a provincial curriculum policy document or are modified so extensively that the Ontario curriculum expectations no longer form the basis of the student’s educational program. Because they are not part of a subject or course outlined in the provincial curriculum documents, alternative expectations are considered to constitute alternative programs or alternative courses.
Examples of alternative programs include speech remediation, social skill programs, orientation/mobility training, and personal care programs. For the vast majority of students, these programs would be given in addition to modified or regular grade–level expectations from the Ontario curriculum.” (Ministry of Education, 2017)
At some point in the discussion on curriculum assessment and instruction the terms alternative, expanded or supplementary curriculum and programming are used. Based on helpful public feedback received we wish to clarify that by the use of the terms we do not mean any reduction in the curriculum requirements to be provided or expected of any students with disabilities.
The terms such as expanded curriculum or supplemental are used to describe meaningful expansion of learning skills not necessarily found within the core curriculum. They are developed to teach specific skills that some students need to access the learning expectations in the core curriculum and as such benefit from education. Similarly, the terms alternative expectations and programs from the ministry definitions include knowledge and skills that a student needs to engage in meaningful rigorous learning that is responsive to student need.
Individual boards provide a variety of different supports in programming, in specialized learning centers and regular class placements for students with disabilities. They develop enhanced and personalized resources to address individual knowledge and skill development.
Educators engage in careful deliberation as to why alternative or supplemental programs are introduced in a student’s learning plan. To be sure, an alternative expectation or alternative program is a rigorous program for a student with a disability to meet their disability related needs and support full access to the Ontario curriculum. For example, an evidence-based program that supports the development of skills, such as self-regulation, proficiency skills such as Orientation and Mobility Training for students with low vision and the support of a communication facilitator for a student who is deaf and/or hard of hearing are essential to students learning and ongoing access to the core curriculum.
Furthermore, expanded core curriculum that address essential skills for some students are limited and lacking provincially regulated application. For example, some students with low incidence disabilities with vision loss access the Expanded Core Curriculum and Canadian National Standards for the Education of Children and Youth Who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including Those With Additional Disabilities, available at https://apsea.ca/assets/files/bvi/canadian-national-standards-doc.pdf Such resources require standardization and regulatory use across all boards in the province.
Additionally, students who participate in specialized, alternative and expanded programs require fair and impartial assessment practices. Instructional designs need to be inclusive and accommodate the needs of students with disabilities ensuring they have every opportunity to meet diploma and specialize certification requirements (e.g., apprenticeship programs, Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM)).
Curriculum and instruction recommendation:
33. The Ministry of Education review, develop and provide alternative and expanded curriculum and learning expectations that support the specific learning needs of students with disabilities in access and use of learning resources.
33.1 this includes the requirement of specific curriculum, and/or recommended resources for students with disabilities, that address or are tailored to the needs arising from the student’s disability or combination of disabilities.
33.2 for students with vision loss, resources including the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) and Canadian National Standards for the Education of Children and Youth Who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including Those with Additional Disabilities be adopted for required use across each board.
33.3 the ministry upon review and development of any new provincial curriculum and/or resources address the need for specialized, expanded, and alternative programs that respond to the needs arising from a specific disability or combination of disabilities including students with low incident and highly complex needs. For example, evidence-based program resources supporting students with learning needs such as, low-incidence, episodic, invisible disabilities, and other differing and developing disabilities such as traumatic brain injury, autism, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neurodiverse types of disability. …
…33.6 boards ensure alternative, expanded curriculum and learning expectations be supported by educators (classroom and special education teachers) and other professionals who interact with the student, and that adequate time and resources be given for professional learning, planning and delivery of these curriculum.
Timeline: six months
Ensuring availability of specialized professionals who support students with disabilities
For a substantial number of students with disabilities, the classroom teacher and educational assistants are not trained to address all of the student’s disability-related learning needs. Depending on their disability, the student may also need the support of other specific highly specialized professionals. Several such professions have developed over the years to meet these disability-related learning needs.
As one important illustration of barriers that now exist, we first point to the situation of students with vision loss, a low-incidence disability. After that, we also then make more general recommendations.
For students with vision loss, it is vital to learn how to read if they cannot see regular print, and how to safely get around on their own. These are vital life skills.
For these skills, two professions exist to support the classroom teacher and education assistant for students who are blind, low vision or deafblind. These are the teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) (Also addressed in this report’s training recommendations on training and on Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, above) and the Orientation and Mobility Specialist (O&M specialist). The TVI can teach students with vision loss to learn braille and adaptive technology such as screen-reading programs for using a computer. The O&M specialist teaches students with vision loss how to get around independently, e.g. by using a white cane.
In the school system, TVIs and O&M instructors are itinerant. They travel from school to school, working with one student after the next. Each student with vision loss needs to have access to the number of hours per week of TVI and O&M support that is tailored to their individual needs. This can vary during their progress through the school system.
Many students with vision loss in Ontario are not receiving the hours per week of TVI and O&M support that they need causing them to fall behind in their education. Ontario now has a serious shortage of TVIs and O&M specialists. The Ontario government has no plan to replenish this supply.
Ontario has no program for training O&M specialists. The Ontario government’s Mohawk College used to provide an O&M training course for these instructors. However, this government program was eliminated some years ago, despite the ongoing pressing need for it.
As the Awareness and Training recommendations address earlier in this report, Ontario’s training requirements for TVIs are too low, much lower than in much of the rest of Canada. We add here that no Ontario university offers a master’s degree in TVI work, unlike in BC and Nova Scotia.
In addition, it is now left to each school board to decide how many hours per week each student with vision loss will receive from a TVI and/or from an O&M specialist. There are no provincial standards for assessing this, and no provincial requirements that each student receive what they need. The Ontario government does not track how many hours per week of these supports students with vision loss receive, or how many TVIs and O&M specialists each school board employs.
The hours per week each student receives varies wildly and arbitrarily around the province. When an organization of parents/guardians of students with vision loss asked all school boards for such information, most school boards did not answer.
Some of the community-based professionals who can assist the school in understanding how to effectively meet the needs of students with disabilities are not employed by the school board itself. They may be engaged by the student’s family/care giver privately, or as part of a government program. A barrier exists if a school board has a rule or practice that bars such community-based professionals from attending at the school, even if their involvement is carefully designed to assist and support the school’s teaching staff. Practices in this context vary around Ontario.
It is therefore recommended that:
- The Education Accessibility Standard should set and make public minimum standards that ensure that each student with vision loss who needs it receives the hours per week of direct orientation and mobility instruction by a qualified Orientation and Mobility specialist. This would ensure that the student can become safely and independently mobile and the number of hours of direct teaching by a qualified teacher of the visually impaired that they require.
- Each school board should be required to record, make public, and report to the Ministry of Education the number of full-time qualified teachers of the visually impaired and the number of Orientation and Mobility specialists or full-time equivalents that they employ or contract for per year. The ministry should be required to make this information public on a board-by-board basis, and to put in place a provincial plan to ensure that each school board has a sufficient supply of teachers of the visually impaired Orientation and Mobility specialists to meet the needs of their students with vision loss.
- The Ontario government should be required to restore and maintain a post-secondary program in Ontario for training a sufficient supply of qualified Orientation and Mobility specialists and to establish and fund a graduate-level Master of Education in teaching students with vision loss, akin to those offered by the University of British Columbia and by Mount St. Vincent University.
70. The K-12 Education Accessibility Standards should require the following of any school board and of the Ministry of Education where it operates schools:
70.1 Collect data on students with all types of disability as defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 using individual education plans, or the identification, placement, and review committee, and such other methods that the ministry and, school boards devise, rather than only collecting data on students with an “exceptionality” as defined under current Ontario special education laws.
- data should be collected about students with disabilities that is consistent and comparable across the province according to the parameters below.
- data collection should accurately report the numbers of students with each kind of disability. Where a student has more than one disability, each disability would be separately counted.
70.2 data should also be collected on the accommodations, including modified curriculum and/or alternative curriculum, as well as programs and services that are being provided to the student…
…70.6 collect information on the numbers of staff with specialized expertise relating to students with disabilities such as:
- teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing
- teachers of the visually impaired…
Timeline: one year
Ministry of Education shall:
70.8 collect all of the above data form each school board and:
- publicly report on the data referred to above, as an aggregate and on a school board by school board basis.
- identify changes over previous year(s) and any gaps or deficits or areas for improvement.
- develop a provincial action plan to resolve gaps or unmet needs.