Graduate Students’ Union
U n i v e r s i t y o f T o r o n t o
Local 19, Canadian Federation of Students
To: GSU Council
Date: April 20, 2003
Graduate Accessibility Committee Year-End Report &
GSU Accessibility Policy Recommendations
Since its creation in November 2002, the Graduate Accessibility Committee (GAC) has met
around issues that affect graduate students with disabilities. We have developed a
comprehensive list of issues facing graduate students with disabilities; created a list of
short- and long-term priorities for the committee to research and take action on; offered
recommendations to the Office of Accessibility Services and the School of Graduate
Studies; and finally, we present in this document a set of comprehensive recommendations
on accessibility policy for the consideration of this Council.
We also include for the information of the Council point form summaries of issues facing
graduate students with disabilities, the Committee’s priority lists, and updates made to the
Accessibility Issues web page (www.gsu.utoronto.ca/studentissues/accessibility.html).
Some of our research efforts and discussions were presented at the Excellence Through
Equity Conference at the University of Toronto, March 21-23, in Session #23: Eliminating
Barriers for Students with Disabilities (panel discussion, presentation “Making a PACT:
Surviving in graduate school with a disability”). There was much positive feedback from that
session, enough to warrant consideration of a U of T conference dedicated to disability
issues. This is an idea that has garnered some interest in the disabled student community
of U of T, and will be actively pursued over the summer and in the new academic year.
Please do not hesitate to contact me for further information, or to suggest changes to the
recommended policies contained herein.
We look forward to a favourable decision on accessibility policy by the Council.
Mahadeo A. Sukhai
GSU Secretary & Chair,
Graduate Accessibility Committee
GSU Vice-President Internal Elect
1 6 B A N C R O F T A V E N U E , T O R O N T O O N T A R I O , M5 S 1 C 1
TELEPHONE AND TDD: 416-978-2391 FAX: 416-971-2362 E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org WEBSITE:www.gsu.utoronto.ca
October 28, 2011
Introduction and Definition of Terms
Although persons with disabilities are traditionally underrepresented in graduate programs,
an increasing number of students with disabilities are entering university, and choosing to
pursue graduate studies, as few opportunities are available to them in the workforce.
Additionally, technological improvements have better enabled graduate students with
disabilities to manage in their learning environments. Thus, we are seeing a growing
number of students who, in addition to facing the traditional problems besetting new
graduate students, have to deal with all of the attitudinal, financial, physical, social and
technological complications that come out of these problems due to their impairments.
There are currently many definitions of “disability” that are in use, most of which are social
in nature. That is, a person is considered “disabled” if he or she is unable to meet society’s
definition of able-bodied. Divisions of the Federal and Provincial governments each use
their own specialized definitions. For example, the Ministry of Training, Universities and
Colleges uses a definition specific for OSAP applications, while the provincial transportation
ministry defines a physical disability as a condition which “prevents a person from walking
200 metres or more without serious possibility of physical harm to themselves or another
person.” There are at least three different definitions in use by the government at this time.
For the purposes of this document, we shall use the World Health Organization definitions,
presented online (www.who.int/icf; document links available through the Accessibility
Issues page on the GSU site).
The WHO model presents the “medical model” and “societal model” of disability. In the
medical model, the disability is an inherent condition – caused by disease, genetics or other
factors intrinsic to the individual – that can be medically treated. The societal model calls for
a disability to be imposed on the individual by societal preconceptions and perceived
limitations. The reality is somewhere in the middle – physiological and/or psychological
conditions may indeed lead to disability, but the degree of disability experienced by the
individual depends on his or her circumstances and societal environment. Thus, it becomes
entirely possible for two people with the same physiological conditions to have very
different levels of “disability” and coping techniques.
We also feel that it is important to recognize that there are a number of impairments that
one would not consider as “disabilities” that ultimately do contribute to the inability to do
certain things or participate in certain activities. Thus, sensitivity is certainly an issue –
these individuals may not consider themselves “disabled” and may not know that services
and accommodations are available for them.
Thus, societal perceptions play a large role in dealing with disabilities. Indeed, these
perceptions may lead to admissions committees or potential supervisors playing the role of
“gatekeepers” to departments and faculties. In other words, otherwise capable, competent
and intelligent graduate and professional students may be denied admission because of
These are attitudinal barriers, but they are just as damaging, in their way, as physical
barriers are. Far more so than the removal of physical barriers, the removal of attitudinal
barriers requires constant vigilance and work by all. It is the belief of the Committee that the
GSU should take an active role in this campaign, and lead by its own example.
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We are advocating for an environment where, regardless of whether or not one has an
impairment, disability or handicap, they will be able to participate in educational, co-
curricular and extra-curricular activities. Such an environment, accessible to all, is based on
the principles of universal design.
Thus, our recommendations are based on the idea that “barrier-free access” is a term that
refers to more than just the removal of physical barriers to access. It also refers to the
removal of attitudinal, financial, social and technological barriers. We feel that the removal
of attitudinal and physical barriers are the most important: Students with disabilities must a)
be physically able to attend the University and b) find a social atmosphere willing to
embrace them and their abilities. They must not feel ghetto-ized, shunned, separated or
Creation of such an atmosphere is the responsibility of all members of the University
community, from the Governing Council to the registrar’s offices; from the student
governments to individual professors and even other students.
With these points in mind, we present the following recommendations for policy to the
Council. An explanation of each recommendation is presented immediately preceding the
Recommendation #1: GSU involvement in creating a universal and barrier-free
While there are many issues that are common between graduate and undergraduate
students with disabilities, we must recognize that graduate students with disabilities have
their own subset of issues that are important. It is also important to recognize that there are
many types of disability, each with its own unique and distinctive problems, and what may
be applicable to one may not be applicable to all. The accommodations needs for graduate
students with disabilities are often complex and specialized, dependent on department
enrolled, field of study, disability and personality of the student.
Thus, graduate students with disabilities are often unwilling pioneers – the first in their
departments, and in many cases, the first in their chosen fields. If there are others, the
current state of affairs ensures that that information is never revealed, learned from or built
upon until it is too late for the student.
Who, therefore, can the graduate student with a disability turn to? Accessibility Services is
the obvious choice, but there are some things AS is not equipped to handle, and more
where they best function in collaboration with others. However, the University of Toronto
and the School of Graduate Studies do not have comprehensive accessibility policies, and
will often refer the student to the department they are enrolled in. The department in turn
will refer them back to the University, for precisely the same reason. Thus, the student is
often lost, feeling alone and bereft of aid, and intimidated by the circumstances in which he
Finally, it is important to recognize that when most people think of “barrier-free access” they
think of physical access. However, the removal of barriers can also be applied to social
attitudes, financial concerns, technological challenges and many more. What can the GSU
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do against all that? We can set a positive example. By taking a leadership position, we can
then challenge others to follow.
Recognizing these issues, and that graduate students with disabilities are entitled to an
education free of the distractions that these issues represent:
BIRT the Graduate Students’ Union takes an active role in creating
and maintaining an accessible and inclusive environment for
graduate students with disabilities at the University of Toronto.
BIFRT the GSU encourage the development and implementation of
continuing programs to enhance awareness of barrier-free
accessibility issues in the university community.
Passage of the first motion would ensure that the GSU has a commitment to taking a
leadership role in building a universally accessible environment here at U of T, and serve
as precedent for the other student governments and administration to follow. Passage of
the second motion allows us to begin to build that universal environment.
Recommendation #2: University and departmental accessibility policy
The University of Toronto’s Statement of Institutional Purpose make the following
“The University of Toronto is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which
the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection of
human rights and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity.”
Under the section entitled “Teaching” the Statement reads:
“In all its teaching programs, the University is committed to…responding to the
needs of a diverse student population…[and] enriching the experience of students
by cooperating with and assisting them in the realization of their educational goals,
especially as these involve…their needs, including special or temporary ones.”
In these two paragraphs, the University of Toronto makes a commitment to provide for
students with disabilities, and thus some can argue that this institution has an accessibility
policy. However, this is not enough – a clear statement of inclusiveness, and clear
definition of procedures are necessary. The “ideal” outline of what such a policy statement
should state is outlined in the Access to Graduate and Professional Education committee
report, published in 1998 and freely available on the Web at www.yorku.ca/chrey.
Provincial legislation passed in September, 2002 calls for all public institutions to create
and implement accessibility plans prior to September 30, 2003. The need for the University
to have these plans in place cannot be stressed enough. Without them, the University may
never be able to attract the best and brightest of the disabled population to learn, teach,
work or do research here.
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Therefore, the Graduate Accessibility Committee recommends:
BIRT the GSU support accessibility policy at the University of
Are inclusive of and promote equal rights for students with
disabilities in graduate and professional programs.
Promote the participation of students with disabilities in all
aspects of graduate and professional student life.
Provide for reasonable accommodation, confidentiality,
disclosure and documentation.
Provide for an appeals and adjudication process.
BIFRT the GSU encourage the creation of accessibility policies
meeting the above criteria in departments, divisions, faculties and
units that do not already have such policies
BIFRT the GSU strongly oppose all attempts by graduate and
professional faculty to serve as gatekeepers against students with
Recommendation #3: Universal instruction in teaching programs
The concepts of “universal design” can be applied to new and existing buildings,
technology and products, but can also be applied to the instruction of courses and the
development of programs at the graduate and undergraduate levels.
“Universal course design” asks that the course coordinator consider such things as Web
access to lecture materials; alternative formats for handouts; flexibility in test and exam
formats; and methods of presentation of lectures when designing the course syllabus, and
that the coordinator then develop a course of instruction that is accessible to all, including
those students who might have disabilities in a classroom.
This principle would also serve to encourage graduate departments and supervisors to
consider the principles of universal design in the development of graduate programs of
York University’s Faculty for Environmental Studies has recently undertaken a pilot project
in developing a universally-designed curriculum, and created a set of recommendations
based on workshop, focus group and interview research. We recommend their work as a
template for consideration.
Thus, we recommend:
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October 28, 2011
BIRT the GSU encourage the University of Toronto to educate all
teaching staff and faculty about universal syllabus design, and
ensure that all courses are universally accessible.
Recommendation #4: Physical accessibility of the University
We applaud the University’s efforts in the creation of a Barrier-Free Campus, and the
various groups that have laboured in support of this goal – including the Students’
Administrative Council Wheelchair Access Committee (SACWAC), and the pan-University
Retrofit Accessibility Working Group (2000-2001). We also applaud the University’s action
in response to the RAWG report “U of T: Barrier-Free” to create the AFD Standing
Committee on Barrier-Free Access. The Chair of the GAC is a member of this Committee,
which is expected to meet for the first time in the near future.
The “U of T: Barrier-Free” report, published in 2001, encouraged the University to commit
to accessibility retrofitting of all buildings on campus within a 10 year period, and suggested
a list of buildings for consideration. Recently the University won a corporate award from the
Canadian Foundation for Physically Disabled Persons in recognition of improvement in
physical access on campus over the last decade. In the week following that presentation,
the Independent Weekly led with the headline “51 Buildings, Zero Ramps: University wins
access award; students want to know why.”
In the GSU’s letter of congratulation to the University, we wrote:
“The GSU would furthermore like to strongly encourage all members of the University to
recognize that, while receipt of this award is great, there is still a long way to go in
transforming the University of Toronto into a completely barrier-free institution for people
with disabilities. We should not rest on our laurels – there are many buildings on campus still
needing accessibility renovations.”
It is absolutely essential to remember that there are dozens of buildings on campus still
needing accessibility renovations. It is also essential to remember that lecture halls,
classrooms and laboratories also need to be made accessible as well. A plan to complete
such a comprehensive retrofit needs to be put in place as soon as possible.
The “U of T: Barrier-Free” report, published in May 2001, contained recommendations for
an ongoing physical accessibility process on the St. George Campus, the establishment of
building “user committees,” prioritization of “immediate” retrofitting projects, and a timeline
for completion of the whole campus.
We wholeheartedly support these recommendations, and add our voice to theirs in calling
A new and thorough accessibility audit of the St. George Campus;
A recognition that physical accessibility is not limited to ramps, elevators and lifts –
the most expensive, and therefore, most obvious renovations – but also includes
lighting, signage, Braille signs, visual as well as auditory indicators, automatic door
openers, etc. In other words, physical accessibility should not be limited to
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October 28, 2011
improvements for the mobility impaired, but should also include improvements for
those with sensory and other disabilities.
Prioritization of urgent accessibility projects on campus;
Development of a new funding model for capital accessibility projects at the
University of Toronto; and
Development of a timeline to complete accessibility renovations of all buildings,
classrooms, lecture halls and laboratories in a 5 year period, and the development of
a funding model to meet this goal.
Finally, at the February 24 2003 Council meeting, a motion urging the University of Toronto
to fully fund all future accessibility projects was passed. We have taken this as an
encouraging sign, and take this motion as friendly. In order to complete accessibility
retrofitting of the campus, the University needs to develop a funding model to meet this
goal. We therefore present the following motion:
BIRT the Graduate Students’ Union demands that the University of
Toronto immediately acts on priority accessibility projects and
completes accessibility retrofitting of all buildings, lecture halls,
classrooms and laboratories within a 5 year period.
BIFRT the GSU calls for the creation of a pan-University committee
to develop and implement a funding model to fully fund all physical
accessibility projects on campus.
There is no shortage of buildings that can be considered “priority” – including the GSU
Building itself! Other symbolic choices would include Admissions & Awards (315 Bloor
Street). The Banting and Best Buildings on College Street are also inaccessible. However,
a survey of the wheelchair accessibility information available online at the Office of Space
Management (www.osm.utoronto.ca) does not tell the whole story. For example, access to
the Gerstein Science Information Centre by someone in a wheelchair requires staff
assistance, as does access to other than the mail level of Hart House. Furthermore, some
accessibility information is simply not provided by the Office of Space Management – for
example, whole OSM reports accurately that there are accessible washrooms in the Koffler
Institute for Pharmacy Management, it neglects to mention that there are no automatic door
openers for the doors to these washrooms. Finally, it is again worthwhile to note that
wheelchair accessibility does not automatically cover accessibility for persons with sensory
impairments. The Bahen Centre, for example, is very accessible to a person in a
wheelchair or scooter; however its visual accessibility leaves much to be desired.
Thus, while it would be nice to leave our statement at “51 buildings, no ramps – they’re all
priority buildings!” that is simply not enough. Other types of accessibility are just as
important as wheelchair access, deserve equal priority, are cheaper, but are not obvious to
those who don’t know. Thus, we cannot stress enough the need for building user
committees and a University-wide audit. We hope the newly formed AFD Standing
Committee on Barrier-Free Access will begin to address some of these issues.
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We also stress that a new funding model is essential – major accessibility renovations are
not cheap, but are feasible, and while we applaud the efforts of SACWAC in fundraising for
capital accessibility projects, this process operates to the exclusion of graduate and part-
time undergraduate students, and cannot come close to providing the resources necessary
to our goal.
Recommendation #5: GSU Events and Accessibility
We propose that, wherever possible, all GSU events – including, but not limited to, Council,
committee and coalition meetings and events, socials, executive meetings, etc. – be held in
accessible locations. We understand that in all cases, this is not practical or necessary, but
we encourage that it be a practice that is implemented at all events where a person with a
disability may attend. Therefore:
BIRT all GSU events, which persons with disabilities may attend,
are held in accessible locations.
Recommendation #6: Other Campus Groups and Accessibility
We do not present these as formal motions, but we couch these recommendations in the
strongest possible terms:
We recommend that the other student governments on campus follow our lead in the
creation of accessibility policy.
We recommend that a professional student coalition be formed to advocate on behalf of
professional students with disabilities.
We recommend the creation of a coalition consisting of the GSU’s Graduate Accessibility
Committee, SAC’s Equity Commission, APUS, the Students for Barrier-Free Access, and
all other disabled student and disability issues groups on campus, so that a united student
voice on these issues is created.
We feel that a unified student voice on disability issues will allow for stronger representation
of student disability issues to the administration and to the public. We also feel that,
currently, no one speaks in support or defence of professional students with disabilities.
These students are not represented by the GSU – they are represented by SAC, but due to
their own diversity, they are not being properly recognized.
During the next 12 months, the GAC will continue to work on these recommendations,
moving them from planning to implementation. We will continue to serve on and monitor
University response to the AFD Standing Committee on Barrier-Free Access and the
University’s ODA Advisory Committee. The next six months will be very important for
disability issues on campus, as the University must have an accessibility plan, mandated by
provincial legislation, in place prior to October 01, 2003. We look forward to the continued
support of the GSU Council.
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Education is a right, not a privilege. We do not fight for the rights of disabled persons to
attend graduate school – to say that is our challenge is to admit that somehow, persons
with disabilities do not have the same rights as everyone else. We hold these truths to be
self-evident – all people are created equal. We therefore see this as a fight for equal
opportunities – something that, even with equal rights, we may not have.
It is our belief that every recommendation contained in this report will help create those
equal opportunities. With the support of the GSU Council, we intend to succeed in our fight
for a universally accessible University of Toronto.
The Graduate Accessibility Committee
I: Issues facing graduate students with disabilities
Time to degree completion
Financial assistance for accommodations
Oral examination accommodations (thesis defense, reclassification, qualifying exam)
Teaching assistantships and research assistantships
Physical access to buildings and campus services
Full-time vs. part0time graduate studies
Conference travel, accommodations and personal care attendants
II: Priority lists of the GAC, Updated April 20, 2003:
For immediate action:
Development of a committee opinion, by email, on the health insurance options
presented at the last Council meeting. Done. Health insurance package for 2003-
2004 approved and contains substantial benefits improvement for persons with
disabilities. Referendum for addition of part-time graduate students.
Letter to the University Library Committee with regard to the need for accessible
computers in all campus libraries. Written.
For short-term action (February-March):
Development of an accessibility policy for the GSU (to be brought to the Executive in
March). In progress.
Development of a comments paper on the AGAPE Committee Recommendations.
Done and posted on the website for comments and revision.
Discussion with SGS over relaxation of degree requirements for students with
disabilities. Special accommodations arrangements are available for all students
requiring extensions, upon request.
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Contact with Hart House re: accessible doors for entry into the building. Done,
through Executive-At-Large Carmen Chung.
Investigation of alternative/extra funding/granting sources for Accessibility Services
and capital accessibility projects, and the development of a funding/prioritization
model based on nationally available data. Discussion with Janice Martin initiated,
and is ongoing.
For long-term action (March and beyond):
The development of a questionnaire/survey on departmental accessibility issues and
policy (to be used in Fall, 2003).
Design of awareness and outreach efforts that ensure that graduate students are
aware of what constitutes “atypical” disabilities, and that the Service may be used on
a temporary basis if necessary.
The planning of an awareness event for International Day of the Disabled,
December 03, 2003.
To recommend a central “best practices” compilation for Accessibility Services in the
form of guidelines that departments need to follow with respect to students with
For research and future action:
Accessible parking on campus
Parking permit allowances for students with disabilities
Plowing and cleaning off of snow from streets, sidewalks and buildings during winter
Funding models re: Accessibility Van service
Development of a list of scholarships and bursaries for students with disabilities
Development of a BBS for students with disabilities on campus
Personal care attendant and other conference attendance issues and funding
TA-ships for disabled students
TA-ships, RA-ships and the timing of a disabled student’s project
Medical leave health insurance coverage
III: Recommendations made to the Office of Accessibility Services and the School of
Graduate Studies by the Graduate Accessibility Committee (approved by the
Executive March 04, 2003; presented to AS and SGS on March 14, 2003)
We recommend that Accessibility Services design disability awareness outreach programs
for graduate students and faculty, in collaboration with the GSU; and that these programs
be advertised and offered to all graduate and professional departments and faculties.
We recommend that the GSU, SGS, AS and the individual programs and departments work
together in creating informational outreach materials for students with disabilities, and
making those materials available. We further recommend that individual departments
provide links to the AS website on their own websites.
We recommend a Frequently Asked Questions list pertaining to applicants with disabilities
be drafted by the School of Graduate Studies and Accessibility Services, and that this list
be posted on the AS website (http://disability.sa.utoronto.ca), the GSU website
(www.gsu.utoronto.ca), the SGS website (www.sgs.utoronto.ca) and departmental
websites, and included in the application packages given to students.
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We further recommend that if questions relating to these issues are posed to graduate
administrators or other staff or faculty who work with graduate admissions, that they be
encouraged to contact SGS and/or AS to work out the best answer to provide the applicant.
We recommend that the School of Graduate Studies include in their application packages
and post on the SGS website a statement encouraging students with disabilities to apply
and providing information about the Accessibility Services Office, where further assistance
and accommodation are available.
We recommend that SGS and the individual departments and programs include
accessibility as part of their information review and updating process, and provide materials
in alternative formats if requested to do so.
We recommend that the University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies create, maintain
and publicize scholarships, awards or bursaries specifically for graduate students with
Highlights of meeting with School of Graduate Studies & Accessibility Services (March 14,
Thrice-yearly publication of Accessibility Services information in weekly “This Week
in Student Services” emails.
Posting of a link to the AS website on the SGS homepage.
Distribution of AS flyers to students through the SGS and home departments.
Presentation on Accessibility Services to the graduate administrators.
Development of a workshop on accessibility awareness for faculty members.
Publication of a list of awards/bursaries for graduate students with disabilities (now
online at the SGS website and the GSU’s Accessibility Issues page).
Creation of a FAQ for graduate students with disabilities (currently under
IV: Documents and links posted to GAC web page
AGAPE recommendations (1998)
Comments paper on AGAPE recommendations public draft v.1 (for discussion and
feedback from GSU members)
CFS accessibility policy
UofT: Barrier-Free report and recommendations to Governing Council (May, 2001)
Link to Accessibility Services website http://disability.sa.utoronto.ca.
Link to National Educational Association of Disabled Students website
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