Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities may face barriers and stigma based on their disability. The term “disability” is applied to a wide range of sensory, cognitive, physical, psychological, and medical conditions. Most disabilities are not visible; for instance, you may not be able to identify mental health conditions or learning disabilities just by looking at a student. It is important to avoid making assumptions about any student’s capacities or intellect. Students with disabilities are admitted to college and university programs using the same rigorous admissions standards applied to everyone else. While making reasonable accommodations to ensure equal access for these students, colleges and universities are also expected to maintain the same academic standards for all students.

The Ontario Human Rights Code requires colleges and universities to “accommodate the needs of students with disabilities, unless to do so would cause undue hardship.” Requests for accommodations are made on an individual basis by students through the college or university’s accessibility office and require medical and/or formal documentation.

This documentation must provide information about the impact of the disability and the impact of the disability on the student’s academic functioning (referred to as the “functional impairment” that results from the disability). Recent requirements from the Ontario Human Rights Commission indicate that campuses cannot require a student to disclose their disability.

In addition, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), colleges and universities must take steps to proactively remove barriers to accessibility for persons with disabilities. For example, the institution must provide university faculty and staff with training on accessibility for persons with disabilities and how it relates to the development and delivery of programs and courses. Campuses must also maintain records of dates on which this training was provided and the number of people that participated.

Campuses must be aware of their students’ legal rights to receive accommodations and cognizant of their own responsibilities to help the college or university comply with the law. In post-secondary institutions, students may be concerned that instructors deny accommodations or will view accommodations as an advantage, rather than as a method of providing an equal opportunity for students with disabilities without modifying in any way the academic standards of the course or program.

This issue is described in the following commentary from the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

An appropriate accommodation at the post-secondary level would enable a student to successfully meet the essential requirements of the programme, with no alteration in standards or outcomes, although the manner in which the student demonstrates mastery, knowledge and skills may be altered. In this way, education providers are able to provide all students with equal opportunities to enjoy the same level of benefits and privileges and meet the requirements for acquiring an education without the risk of compromising academic integrity.

Remember that students do not need to disclose specific information about their disability to seek accommodation directly from anyone aside from their disability/accessibility services office. to anyone. Unless a student chooses to disclose the nature of their disability, you will only receive information  from the disability/accessibility service office identifying the accommodations the student is entitled to receive, provided it does not interfere with a clearly defined essential requirement of the course or program. It is important to familiarize yourself with the accommodation, as well as your college or university’s accessibility resources and protocols, to ensure that you are following recommended practices. Your institution’s disability/accessibility services office is an excellent resource, which can answer any questions you might have about accommodating students with disabilities.

For more information and resources: Visit the Council of Ontario Universities website or Colleges Ontario at

Mental Health