Frequently Asked Questions about Accessibility to Courses

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Answers provided by Dr. Barbara Roberts, UNB Human Rights Officer

What's the difference between accommodation, modification and remediation?

Let’s start with the last one first.

Remediation refers to supplementary strategies to bring a skill up to speed, to re-teach material that was missed or not learned to a sufficient standard of achievement. Remediation is getting back on the road to Halifax when you've gotten lost around Petticodiac.

Modification refers to altering the standard or expectation, "moving the bar", to redefine the level of achievement required. Modification is deciding to end the trip in Sackville, instead of going all the way to Halifax.

Accommodation refers to using a different means to attain the same end. Accommodation does not entail changing the end goal or standard; rather accommodation involves using a different way to get to the same place. Accommodation means driving to Halifax in an accessible van with an automatic transmission, instead of a Volkswagen with manual shift. You still get to Halifax, and you drove yourself there. You might have stopped in different places, spent more time on breaks, or used a short-cut that you know of, but you arrived at the destination.

Accommodation removes a barrier to equal participation in the same academic goals as all students. Accommodations might be implemented while remediating a missed or poorly performed skill, in an effort to equalize the opportunity to achieve despite disability. You could be lost in Petticodiac in an accessible van. Accommodation can also be implemented in combination with a modified  standard, to allow a student with a disability to meet the standard, wherever it is set. You can end the journey in Sackville with an accessible van just as well as with a manual VW. But you won't get to Halifax.

It is important to note that modification is not a post-secondary accommodation strategy. If Halifax is the goal, Halifax remains the goal. Accommodations just help you get yourself there, in a way that respects your needs and doesn't change the goal.

What's the difference between accommodation and accessibility?

Accommodation is a reactive, individualized response to an obstacle faced by a person with a disability, e.g. a student with a disability attempting to access or demonstrate knowledge.
Accessibility is a proactive, systemic initiative to prevent obstacles from developing, by anticipating the variety of ways in which different people interact with and process information or utilize physical space.
Both are mandated by human rights legislation to remediate or prevent discrimination and unequal access to the learning environment and experience.

Why is accommodation fair?

Accommodation is aimed at alleviating unfairness imposed by disability. Not everyone has a disability, so not everyone needs accommodation. Equal opportunity does not mean treating everyone the same; it means treating them in ways that equalize their ability to participate, based on their unique needs. We aren't all the same, so why is it fair to treat everyone the same? Would anyone use Braille just because someone else does? Should someone who is blind use print just because others do?

Won’t special accommodations reduce academic standards?

Accommodation refers to using a different means to attain the same end. Accommodation does not entail changing the end goal or standard; rather accommodation involves using a different way to get to the same place. Accommodation removes a barrier to equal participation in the same academic goals as all students. Accommodation means driving to Halifax in an accessible van with an automatic transmission, instead of a Volkswagen with manual shift. You still get to Halifax, and you drove yourself there. You might have stopped in different places, spent more time on breaks, or used a short-cut that you know of, but you made the destination.

How can it be fair to allow students various flexible ways to demonstrate their knowledge?

This question touches on the fundamental assumption that students must be marked in comparison to one another, instead of in relation to the material learned. If the course objective can be met in a range of ways, why must everyone use the same means to that end? If the learning and knowledge of an individual student is the point, can that not be assessed in different ways, so the instructor knows the student has the knowledge to a level of 70%, or 80%, regardless of how the knowledge is shown? The answer to this lies in what is being taught and how, and whether students must be compared on the same activity, or in relation to their command of the material, or both.

If students ask for accommodation, do I have to give it to them?

Not necessarily.
Instructors are always free to accommodate a student with a disability upon request if they feel confident that it's appropriate. Instructors may also decide not to accommodate, as long as they can articulate a bona fide reason, and are willing to face the potential consequences, which could include a human rights complaint at the personal, institutional or provincial level.

Instructors set the task, and are responsible for creating accessible learning activities, and for implementing accommodations. The university has established a vital resource in the Student Accessibility Centre to vet medical documentation and develop recommendations for appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities, to help instructors meet their legal duty to accommodate.  That said, students do not have to register with the Student Accessibility Centre, and may seek accommodation on their own. This presents an opportunity for faculty to enter into a dialogue, to better understand the student's needs (if not the diagnosis) and to exercise their discretion, based on their knowledge of the student and the course.  A student's request also presents an opportunity to refer them to Student Affairs and Services, be it Counselling, Health or the Student Accessibility Centre, for clarification of their needs and verification of accommodations.

Is an accommodation requirement of “unlimited extensions” reasonable?

The short answer is no. “Unlimited” extensions are unreasonable; while “limited” extensions are reasonable. A student who takes longer to complete homework tasks because of a disability should be accommodated by the instructor by allowing extra-time to complete the assignment. The extra time for the assignment is limited, has a deadline, and is negotiated and mutually agreed upon by the student and the instructor in advance of the original deadline. If an agreed upon extension is not met, any further extension would be at the instructor's discretion, to be mutually agreed upon with the student.

Accommodation is not an on-demand service, it is a mutual problem-solving process. For a student (or their documenting clinician) to expect "unlimited extensions" is to ignore the real role of the instructor/institution and the requirements of a course, which are – to a point – equally compelling elements in the accommodation equation.

It is not "reasonable" to expect extensions to be granted upon request for unlimited time periods, even beyond the duration of the course, without some structure and expectations of timely completion. When assignments are outstanding beyond the end of term an "incomplete" in that course is a sensible grading solution. It provides the flexibility to meet unique needs, with a structure to guide expectations and completion.