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This article was published 24/2/2018 (1173 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A survey on accessibility in Manitoba’s education system shows students with disabilities still face a barrage of barriers and many of them are related to social attitudes.
Barrier-Free Manitoba, Education Solutions Manitoba and Community Living Manitoba put together an online survey for students with disabilities, their parents and school staff who help them. They gathered more than 660 responses over six weeks last fall and winter. The results provide a snapshot of the unmet needs of students with disabilities.
"It was disheartening to see that there’s still such a high degree of inaccessibility and exclusion that is happening within the education system across the board," said Anne Kresta, a partner with Education Solutions and lead author of the report, A Window into the Accessibility of Manitoba’s Education Systems: from Early Learning and Childcare, through Nursery/Kindergarten to Grade 12 and into Post-Secondary.
Kresta navigated school systems with her sons, who are autistic. Both are post-secondary graduates. Many of the stories she heard from the survey respondents were familiar.
From ensuring children with disabilities are placed in regular classrooms to pressing schools for accessible transportation for field trips, Kresta said parents must have "gumption" when advocating for their children or else they might not get help.
Social exclusion was the No. 1 instance of marginalization reported by 86 per cent of the survey respondents, followed by 70 per cent who had experienced or witnessed bullying of students with disabilities within the last three years.
Sixty-nine per cent of the students who responded to the survey said they’d been bullied, while 72 per cent of the parents who responded said their children were bullied and 68 per cent of school staff witnessed the same.
"That was really disappointing, because bullying impacts so much of your ability to function in school. So not only are you experiencing barriers to accessibility, but then on top of that you’re experiencing this bullying that just makes it a double whammy in terms of your ability to be successful," Kresta said.
Increasing training opportunities for school staff and administration was the No. 1 suggestion from every survey respondent group — students, parents and staff — on how to improve school atmospheres for those with disabilities.
Guy Mercier, president of Manitoba Families for Effective Autism Treatment, filled out the survey on behalf of his autistic son, who is in Grade 10.
His family’s personal experience with the school system involved moving their child to private school because their area school division’s philosophy didn’t mesh with their own. He cited access to appropriate programs and well-trained teachers as some of the biggest hurdles.
"What I see right now, and it kind of mirrors what happens in the survey, it’s more attitudes right now that are the biggest barrier for services for my son," Mercier said.
Mercier is among the advocates hoping the province will consider implementing an accessibility standard for education, alongside the five standards — customer service, employment, communications, built environment and transportation — it has already started working on in accordance with the Accessibility for Manitobans Act.
"I think it’s really going to be a dramatic difference for kids because it will force the system to do what’s right for the kids," he said.
The survey results echo the need for an education standard, similar to what’s been implemented in Ontario or Nova Scotia, Kresta said.
The accessibility act is also undergoing a mandatory review starting in March to "improve the effectiveness," according to a January news release. Theresa Harvey Pruden, a Winnipegger with 30 years of experience working in the provincial public sector, will conduct the review.
"The reviewer will focus on what is in place under the (law) and we await the results of her consultations with the community on what could be included in the act in future," a spokesman for the province’s families department said.
"We’re hoping that as part of that review, they will take a long hard look at the need to add in this education standard as a way of even facilitating the employment and communications standards," Kresta said. "Because education is fundamental to that — to a pathway to employment, to inclusion in the community.
"People with disabilities, and all people, spend a large part of their lives in the education system, from early learning and child care into post-secondary. So we do need to address the barriers that are being found in those systems to better society as a whole."