Aide Workers, duty to accommodate and autistic students in higher education

Filed Under (Acceptance, Activism, Inspiration, Law, school) by Estee on 23-01-2013

I have an autistic son who is bright and who requires many accommodations in order to fulfill his Canadian right to an education. At my university, the concept of independence and work overrides the need some accommodations that are required for many disabled individuals. Drawing on my graduate student experience, where we share ideas in class discourse, where we write in dialogue with ideas expressed in other articles, it becomes immediately apparent that none of our work is truly original. Ideas are collaborative. I help my colleagues figure out things and they help me. I’ve never been happier.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission invokes the duty to accommodate concept:

The duty to accommodate refers to the obligation of an employer or service provider to take measures to eliminate disadvantages to employees, prospective employees or clients that result from a rule, practice or physical barrier that has or may have an adverse impact on individuals or groups protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act or identified as a designated group under the Employment Equity Act. In employment, the duty to accommodate means the employer must implement whatever measures necessary to allow its employees to work to the best of their ability. In the provision of services, the provider must implement whatever measures necessary to allow clients to access its services. Unions are also obligated to facilitate the accommodation of the needs of their members by not impeding the reasonable efforts of the employer to accommodate an employee. The duty to accommodate recognizes that true equality means respecting people’s different needs. Needs that must be accommodated could be related to a person’s gender, age, disability, family or marital status, ethnic or cultural origin, religion or any of the other human attributes identified in the two federal acts.

(From Canadian Human Rights Commission website).

It takes work to express how a human aide worker is a necessary accommodation for many people, and for the purposes of this blog, autistic people. What can an aide worker enable, in this case higher education? S/he can help take notes, rearrange assignments in tandem with a professor to enable the student to create work and respond to it, assist walking to and from various locations (I am thinking of a few people I know who are scholars and who require such assistance), organize deadlines and assist with a confusing array of university deadlines and procedures. I myself need lots of help with this. Yet, there is a perpetuating myth that I am an independent scholar; that somehow I exist in a vacuum and am able to navigate all on my own. I can tell you that this is surely not the case and thank goodness it is not. In my Critical Disability Studies classrooms, I share and gain knowledge and insight from people who are blind, autistic and who are deaf. We have note-takers in our classrooms, guide dogs, wheelchairs and ASL interpreters. As I consider the latter, it seems reasonable, in the duty to accommodate notion and the “reasonable accommodation” notion in the Ontario Human Rights Code, that human aide workers also be permitted in classrooms.

Yet, Ashif Jaffer was not permitted to stay at York University (see Jaffer v. York). He is now at Ryerson. At no point in time, reports his mother, did she ever imagine Ashif unable to attend university. I have always felt the same about my son Adam. I do not think that human development is linear as a result of having him in my life and meeting all the people I’ve met. I myself am not a linear learner and I don’t do well with age-imposed deadlines (eg.; one must achieve X by age Y). I am attending grad school later in life. Are we not the result of a post-industrial era? Must we leave school and get a job at eighteen? Of course not. We know that this has changed.

I urge you to watch the BBC report of Ashif Jaffer and his work at Ryerson here. In so watching, I hope you spend the time to think about, and perhaps if you have the time, to enter into a dialogue here about what “reasonable accommodation” means to you? Would you share your thoughts with me and with others in order to help? What are your visions for your “severely autistic” or what-ever label you might have, child? I also do not wish to suggest that college or university is the holy grail of human achievement. This would of course perpetuate the notion that all people must achieve (in the same fashion) it to be valued. This would contradict the achievements made by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Commission and substantive equity. We do not wish to lose the gains we try to make by suggesting that all people must be the same. Rather, what might we achieve in our quest for such accommodations (think also of our public school system) on the different and equal premise. For this, also see the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision Moore v. British Columbia. I look forward to sharing more with you, and you with me, on our work to get people with autism the education and inclusion they so deserve. I shall be writing much more on this topic and… thanks for sharing!

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About Me


ESTÉE KLAR

I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.