Students with disabilities pay more, study

A study commissioned by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), an agency that reviews post-secondary institutions and reports to the provincial government, revealed that students with disabilities face unique challenges when pursuing post-secondary education with specific emphasis on the financial obstacle.

The study focused mainly on students with learning and mental disabilities. Of the students surveyed 81 per cent were concerned about the debt they will incur by the time they graduate.

Half of the students expected to have a debt of $20,000 or more, and 40 per cent of the students were altering their post secondary pursuits due to financial barriers or debt. There are further additional costs for assistive aids, medication and support services. While 76 per cent of students claimed they would make use of assistive aids, 68 per cent claimed the aids were too costly for personal purchase.

The cost of being assessed to receive documentation of a disability alone can exceed $3,000.

Tony Chambers is the associate professor and program co-ordinator, higher education director for the Centre for the Study of Students in Postsecondary Education Theory and Policy Studies, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto and the author of the report.

“If a student is not eligible for [Ontario Student Assistance Program] OSAP they are not eligible for any support regarding students with disabilities,” Chambers explained.

Chambers went on to add, “We think that perhaps the government should not use eligibility for OSAP as the litmus test for eligibility of some of these funds.” While he feels that current government programs are successful, Chambers stated that the criteria for programs such as OSAP need to be reconsidered to better benefit students.

It is not financial obstacles alone that affect disabled students. According to Chambers, it is the information about these resources that also needs to be disseminated better. He explained that this is due to “the form in which the information is shared.”

He specified this by noting that online sources are only accessible to those with Internet access, as well as printed information pieces that exclude certain disabilities.

Chambers suggested that as a solution to this informational barrier “there needs to be better co-ordination of disability services between secondary schools and university and colleges.”

While nondisabled students also face informational and financial obstacles, disabled students also face the stigmatism of having a disability.

The study showed that 42 per cent of students expressed feeling oppressed by others because of their disability. As a result of this stigmatisation, Chambers explained that disabled students “feel uncomfortable about asking college or university personnel about the resources available.”

To reverse this stigmatisation in society, Chambers calls for “greater outreach from an institution level about the resources that are available for students with particular challenges.”

“Improving information flow across disabled and nondisabled populations might reduce the amount of stigmatisation,” Chambers added. “The government can do the same thing with their resources.”