That by 2025, the publicly funded K–12 education system will be fully accessible, equitable, inclusive and learner-centered:

  1. By removing and preventing accessibility barriers impeding students with disabilities from fully participating in, and fully benefitting from all aspects of the education system.
  2. By providing a prompt, accessible, fair, effective and user-friendly process to learn about and seek programs, services, supports, accommodations and placements tailored to the individual strengths and needs of each student with disabilities.

An Ontario public education system K–12 characterized by equity, accessibility and inclusion, and full participation:

We envision an Ontario public education system K–12 where learning environments are barrier free and fully inclusive of learners with disabilities. All learners with disabilities will have full access to meaningful education and relevant learning experiences that include appropriate instructional supports.

Guiding principles statements

The guiding principles emphasize: dignity, respect, belonging, self-determination, equality of opportunity, independence, access and inclusion, student and family-centred engagement and participation, and non-discriminatory practices and are informed by the Ontario Human Rights Code, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 Alliance October 10, 2019 Proposed Framework for the K–12 Education Accessibility Standards, Ontario Ministry of Education guidelines and frameworks (for example, Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, Learning for All) the committee work to date, and other relevant documents.

It is important to address “ableism” when aspiring to remove barriers for students with disabilities. Ableism is a belief system that continues to widely influence perceptions of learners with disabilities. This belief system sees persons with disabilities as being less worthy of respect and consideration, less able to contribute and participate, or of less inherent value than others.

  1. Students with disabilities have the right to dignity, respect, equality, choice, voice and full participation in a barrier-free public education system K-12, regardless of race, religious belief, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, family status or sexual orientation or any other factor(s).
  2. Everyone is valued in creating and maintaining inclusive and equitable school communities, including full access to a high-quality education for students with disabilities.
  3. Diverse voices, talents and skills are recognized and celebrated in classrooms, schools and systems that reflect and respond to the diversity of students with disabilities.
  4. Changing attitudes, beliefs and practices are facilitated through accessible education and training related to equity, equality, inclusion, and human rights, which are embedded throughout all training, programs, services, and communities.
  5. Inter-ministerial collaboration, planning and accountability is essential to providing supports and services to students with very high or complex needs who are excluded from meaningful access in their schools and communities.
  6. Cultures of high expectations are created for all learners through an accessible and culturally responsive curriculum, appropriate instructional supports, meaningful learning experiences, and systems for assessment of quality learning.
  7. Universal Design for Learning should be used to inform the development of accessible curriculum, instruction, and assessment methods, as well as to support classroom learning, experiential learning, and online learning environments.
  8. The intentional collection and analysis of relevant data is used to fully understand learners’ strengths and needs, to identify and remove barriers, to support effective interventions, and to design accessible quality education for all.
  9. Families have access to information in readily accessible, multiple format and flexible opportunities for full participation in decision-making processes.
  10. Effective transition planning in schools is informed through collaborative relationships with families living with disabilities and cross-sector collaboration with community partners for integrated transition planning.
  11. Research-informed, evidence-based programs, pedagogies, policies, and professional learning facilitate a culture of respect for equity, equality and access within a human rights framework created by transdisciplinary teams that include persons with disabilities.
  12. Public education laws, policies and programs should fully and effectively serve the diversity of students with and who experience disabilities within the meaning of Ontario’s Human Rights Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and/or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Personal sentiments from the committee

It's a new day for students with disabilities in Ontario. I am so proud of this report and the recommendations contained in it. This report is a product of three years of hard work and a multitude of dedicated people coming together and working across political and ideological differences for the betterment of students and our education system. The recommendations contained in the report are proven to work, achievable and will make a real difference for students with disabilities and their family. There is no longer any excuse for any student to get left behind in Ontario. Indeed, our education system in Ontario is one of the crown jewels of publicly funded education anywhere in the world and it's our job now to put these recommendations to action to ensure we support every child and reach every student.

Ben Smith

This committee and the process of writing the report has exemplified the importance of having student voice and lived experience centred and included at all levels of decision-making. Improving educational accessibility in Ontario is impossible without the continued contributions of young people’s lived experience as expertise in creating innovative ways forward towards an accessible and anti-ableist educational future for everyone.

Rana Nasrazadani

This report's starting point

At present, the delivery of education to students with disabilities in Ontario schools is regulated by the Education Act's provisions regarding special education. Eligible students are defined as "exceptional pupils." They are eligible only if their disability falls within the definition of "exceptionality." These students are often called "students with special education needs" or "students with special needs".

This is itself a major barrier for schools and their staff who want to effectively serve all students with disabilities. The term "exceptionality" leaves out some disabilities that are covered by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code. (Such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and mental health conditions that are not classified as "behaviour" exceptionalities).

The K–12 Education Standards Development Committee received feedback that Terms like "exceptional pupil", "exceptionality", "special needs" and even "special education" are themselves out-of-date, patronizing, and even discriminatory.

A core theme that runs throughout this report is that the education system should be designed and operated without such barriers. It should explicitly include students with any kind of disability. These students and their disabilities should not be described as if these students are abnormal, or that their needs are exceptional or special, or that the education they are to receive is "special." These students have needs, not special needs. What they receive should be called "education", not "special education."

It is therefore recommended throughout this report that:

  1. Ontario's school system and education system should be designed and operated to serve students with any kind of disability, as protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It should not be limited to the more restricted definition of an "exceptional pupil" or a student with an "exceptionality" in the Education Act and regulations and policy related to them, or who is therefore treated under Ontario's Education Act, regulations, or policy as a “student with special education needs”.
  2. Students with disabilities and their disabilities should not be described in terms discordant with their equality rights, such as exceptional pupils, exceptionalities or special needs. The education they receive should not be described as "special".

The mandate for the K–12 Education Standards Development Committee, set by the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, asks about measures needed to achieve accessibility in the publicly-funded school system, from Kindergarten through to the end of Grade 12. This mandate does not include pre-school educational programs, such as early literacy programs. It also does not include education in private schools.

Other Standards Development Committees, appointed under the AODA, occasionally offer recommendations that do not fall squarely inside their mandate, where these are related to their issues that their reports cover. We offer two such recommendations here, drawing on feedback we received from the public:

  1. The Ontario Human Rights Code guarantees of equality and freedom from discrimination based on disability apply to education, whether it is provided in publicly-funded schools or private schools. It also applies to education delivered in pre-school programs, such as early literacy programs.

It is therefore recommended that:

  1. The actions recommended in this report should apply to private schools, and to pre-school educational programs such as literacy programs, except where it is demonstrably impossible to do so without undue hardship.