From June 1 to November 1, 2021, our initial report was publicly posted for feedback. We received a very helpful, substantial, and impressive response.

We thank all those individuals and organizations who took the time to send us their heart-felt views. We heard from a wide spectrum of individuals and organizations, from the disability community and from the community of educators. The Standards Development Committee carefully reviewed all this feedback and made changes to its recommendations before finalizing this report.

We received overwhelming support for the overall thrust of our initial report and its recommendations, seeking improvement in individual and systemic responses to the need for barrier free education. This came from both the perspective of students with disabilities and their families on the one hand, and the perspective of educators on the other. There was a very strong consensus that there is a need for improvements, so that educators, wanting to effectively teach students with disabilities, can do so in a barrier free school system. An emphasis was placed on respecting lived experiences and the fundamental need to embody a human-rights based approach where attitudes and actions achieve inclusion and full participation.

We are guided by the AODA's mandatory requirement that education will become accessible by 2025. Our recommendations detail and implement duties that school boards have owed to students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code since 1982 and under the Charter of Rights since 1985.  In several cases, feedback showed that some school boards are now taking some actions along the lines of a recommendation we have developed. This fortifies those recommendations. It shows that that they are doable and practical. Many measures we propose would save money by avoiding duplication of efforts and avoiding the creation of new disability barriers that later would have to be removed at much greater expense. There is also room in the system to review and more effectively allocate funding that is now provided for students with disabilities.

Our recommendations identify obligations related to duties of accommodation, professional learning and training related to the different barriers identified, universal design for learning, and recognition of the intersectionality and interdependence of the barriers. Furthermore, our recommendations, as fine-tuned in response to the feedback we received, recognized the intersectionality of disability with culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

Currently, the Ministry of Education largely leaves it to each school board to figure out how accessible they should become for students with disabilities, and how to get there. This decision places a significant burden on each school board. Furthermore, it leads to duplication and fragmentation of efforts, and inconsistencies around the province. It burdens parents/caregivers and Special Education Advisory Committees SEACs in having to engage in the same advocacy work, over and over, board after board, and school after school.

It is not possible to here summarize all the feedback. This public feedback amounts to the most extensive public dialogue on how students with disabilities are educated in Ontario in many years. We present the key themes we heard. However, in the feedback we did receive, there is a consistent and strong recognition of the need for the Government to set, clear, comprehensive and detailed standards for accessibility under the AODA. School boards want and need to know what to do. Parents/caregivers and students want to know what to expect. What a student with disabilities receives from their school board should not arbitrarily vary from one school board to the next.

The feedback recognizes that deeper reflection and action is required when addressing difference, equity, and the interdependence of anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-ableist attitudes and practices. Fostering a culture of dignity, respect, distinctive identities and belonging for every person with disabilities was central to the committee's approach to education reform consistent with human rights principles, obligations, and disability considerations. There was much support in the feedback for the principles of universal design, ongoing education, professional learning and training for those providing support, in addition to processes for oversight, accountability, dispute, and ongoing reform mechanisms.

Fostering change in beliefs and attitudes while addressing tangible change in actions is complex. The feedback we heard acknowledged this claim and the imperative that the lives of students with disabilities can be improved. Changes in beliefs, the language we use, and our actions can affect barrier elimination. The experience and impacts of COVID‑19 during the time of the report and public feedback further amplified the need for a human centered response that is consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Code, the AODA and current research. We heard a strong need for ongoing capacity building and that systemic ableism and attitudinal barriers continue to be present and can be the greatest obstacles for full participation and inclusion. We heard that attitudes and systemic inequity can be transformed by the precise action of addressing barriers for accessibility.

We heard a great deal of feedback on a pressing need to reduce class sizes. We agree that the larger the class, the more challenging it will be to ensure that diverse learners such as students with disabilities will be able to fully participate and fully benefit. This is made even harder if the classroom teacher must at the same time engage with students attending their classroom in person and students who opt for virtual learning. There was much feedback about the concern for teachers and students who are attempting to engage in hybrid teaching. We heard that both educators and students are not feeling particularly successful in meeting the strengths and needs of all students in the classroom. Feedback suggests that smaller class sizes would support with more effective instruction, inclusion, and capacity to create and implement a universal design for learning approach and differentiated instruction with more effective student outcomes in student achievement and health and well-being.

We also heard that it is not sufficient for the Education Accessibility Standard to require each school board to create a policy or plan to address an issue and figure out on their own what that policy or plan will include. It would not assure consistency across school boards. We heard that a Government or school board can have a good policy on an issue, without that policy always translating into a real practice on the front lines.

We heard that the education system can be very challenging and stressful for many students with disabilities and their families to navigate. We heard that it is important to tailor educational supports to the individual needs of each student with disabilities, and that a "one size fits all" approach to students with disabilities does not benefit anyone.

We heard that all students, including students with disabilities, benefit when school boards employ teachers and other staff with disabilities. They are important role models. Eliminating barriers facing students with disabilities also helps to eliminate barriers impeding employees with disabilities, and vice versa.

We received a diversity of responses on the extent to which school boards should offer specialized classes that are restricted to students with disabilities. There is a passionate debate on this, ranging from those wanting such programs expanded to those wanting them reduced or abolished. The K–12 Education Standards Development Committee and the Education Accessibility Standard won't resolve that debate, nor do we understand the feedback as calling upon us to do so.

It is important, in accordance with our recommendations, for the placement, services and supports for all students with disabilities to be determined in strict accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights. The feedback we received shows a clear need for the Ontario Government to take a close look at the extent to which students with disabilities are being educated in segregated or congregated settings, at how beneficial this is for those students and at how such decisions are made.

We received much feedback on concerns regarding modified and alternative curriculum, and as for modified or alternative learning expectations, suggestions included the need to improve clarity of what these terms mean, their impact on student outcomes, and more specific pathway choices. We have attempted to address the confusion of terms and how they are interpreted by educators, other educational professionals, students, and their families. There is a fear that these curricula and expectations are too often used in an arbitrary manner without enough evidence provided as to why they are being introduced into a student's Individual Education Plan. A fear was expressed that this can become a backdoor form of streaming some students, contrary to other moves against streaming in the education system.

For example, do some schools or school boards move some students with disabilities too quickly or too easily away from the Ontario core curriculum and from learning expectations, based on a diagnosis and identification such as an intellectual disability, thereby narrowing pathways and opportunities for inclusion in credit bearing courses as they transition from elementary to secondary schools? That risks embedding unfair stereotypes about those students and their learning potential. Alternatively, there may be a need for supplemental curriculum and learning expectations connected to mental health and well-being needs. For example, students with emotional and physical self-regulation issues may need some targeted supplemental programming, curriculum, and expectations targeting self-regulation, so they can then be successful in accessing the core curriculum with accommodations. With such targeted instruction, students may not require extensive modifications to the core curriculum which over time can limit their access to credit bearing courses, and ultimately their pathways of choice. Moreover, any significant changes to the curriculum to be taught to a student on account of their disability must also conform with the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights. Any departure from the core curriculum must be shown to be justified as the least departure necessary, for the least time possible, with the extent of that departure to be clearly specified in the student's Individual Education Plan. All instruction needs to be informed by classroom-based and more formal assessments as needed. As such, any significant changes to the Ontario core curriculum must be based on evidence from assessment-informed instruction, and not by label of category of disability or other stereotypes. Such practices must also aspire to keep open multiple pathways to secondary, post-secondary institutions, and employment destinations as outlined in a student's Individual Education Plan and accompanying Transition Plan.

We received feedback that it is important, in our report, to recognize the needs of various disability populations, such as students with invisible disabilities, or students with episodic disabilities. We agree. We want to emphasize that throughout this report, when we refer to students with disabilities, we mean all disabilities as covered by the Charter of Rights, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The definition of "disability" in those laws is very broad and inclusive. It includes all those whom feedback called upon us to recognize, including permanent and episodic disabilities, and including both visible and invisible disabilities.

There are times when this report refers to students with specific disabilities. This is because their needs or the history of how they have been treated in the past warrants that attention. Here again, the solutions we propose are not "one size fits all".

Our initial report and this final report emphasize at several points that it is important for the education system, or for individual schools, to consult with students with disabilities and their families, or on broader issues, with the disability community. We were alerted by feedback received, that this consultative process risks inflicting "consultation fatigue". Families/care givers with jobs and pressing family obligations may not have the time to get extensively involved in a student's Individual Education Plan. Disability organizations with scarce resources receive increasing numbers of requests for submissions on a wide range of policy and legal topics.

These serious and valid concerns do not reduce the need for any of the consultations that this report recommends. It does lead to a need for the Government and school boards to come up with ways to reduce "consultation fatigue" by consolidating and streamlining their many requests for input and feedback, and to avoid the need for repetitive consultation by board after board on the same recurring issue.

At several points, our report recommends professional learning and training for educators. We received feedback that it is important to make sure that educators are given the time needed to take that training, and the time to plan to put it into action in their classes. We also received feedback that it is important, wherever possible, for professional learning and training to be in-person, not remote or pre-recorded, and that it include people with disabilities as presenters. Furthermore, we heard that wherever this report recommends professional learning, training, curriculum development and implementation, the Ministry of Education should create provincial models or templates that school boards can use. This strategy will avoid duplication of efforts across school boards. We agree with this feedback.

Much feedback expressed concerns that some of the timelines proposed for action were too short, and that school boards and others will need more provincial funding to meet such timelines. The Standards Development Committee fully heard and understands those concerns. The Ontario Government will have to decide what funding adjustments it will make. The timelines are contingent in part on such funding considerations. As well, school boards and other obligated organizations know now about the direction that reforms need to take. They can and should start taking action now, well before any Education Accessibility Standard is enacted with such timelines.

Feedback repeatedly identified a pressing need for much more inter-ministerial collaboration within the Ontario Government. When issues concerning students with disabilities are addressed in isolated silos within the Government, reforms take longer and can work against each other.

We received feedback that our recommendations, if adopted, could require a number of consequential changes to various legislation or regulations, policy directions (PPMs) from the Ministry of Education, and other features in the education system. The AODA, like the Ontario Human Rights Code, prevails over other laws and policies that provide less accessibility for students with disabilities or that create disability barriers. Where such reforms are needed to fulfil the AODA's purposes, such consequential changes are expected. This report identifies the changes that are needed for students with disabilities. It does not go into which consequential amendments or alterations would be necessary to reach those results.

To be sure, school boards and all others will have time to review the final reports, and review where they are currently at in terms of addressing multiple barriers to accessible and inclusive education for all students including students with disabilities. The report will support with this whole cyclical process of review, implementation, assessment, evaluation, monitoring and reporting on barrier removal and prevention of new barriers being erected.

We have aimed to get the content or substance of our recommendations right, even if longer delays could have produced an enhanced publication style. We hope that even before an Education Accessibility Standard is enacted, school boards and the Government can start to implement as many of our recommendations as possible.

The recommendations acknowledge that attitudes can be changed by the very actions of identifying, removing, preventing disability barriers. To ensure that students with disabilities have  equal footing and equity of access, experience, opportunity, full participation, outcomes, and success, we must effectively include students with disabilities in all that the education system offers. As such, the recommendations advance accessibility for all and contribute to the AODA goal for a barrier-free province by 2025.