Moral, Ethical & Legal Matters

A pair of glasses laying on an open book.

Your institution has put regulations and policies in place to ensure equal opportunity and accessibility of education to people of all backgrounds, including students with disabilities. With admission rates of people with disabilities on the rise, each of us shares a moral and ethical responsibility and obligation to accommodate these students in support of your institution's policies of commitment to accessibility. Several types of accommodations are available in order for students with disabilities to have an equal opportunity with other students to take courses without discrimination or privilege.

Accommodations may vary from one person to another, one disability to another, and one course to another. However, accommodating students with disabilities need not be a difficult, time-consuming, or laborious process. Your institution's Disability Services Office/Accessibility Centre (DSO) has already put the required resources in place to accommodate students with disabilities. In most instances these accommodations are simple, easy to administer, and cost little or nothing to implement. Additionally, your institution provides training, coaching, resource materials, and personnel to assist you in implementing accommodations for students with disabilities. For more information, please contact your institution's DSO.

The Human Rights Act and Duty to Accommodate

According to the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission (2005), under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act2 your institution must provide reasonable accommodations for students with physical and/or mental disabilities (e.g., blindness, deafness, epilepsy, learning disability, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression) upon request.

Under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act, educational institutions have a duty to accommodate people with disabilities, are required to accept requests in good faith, and implement appropriate, reasonable accommodations in a timely manner.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that in cases where the educational environment has a discriminatory effect on students with disabilities, the post-secondary institution is required to provide accommodation up to the point of undue hardship. While it is difficult to define what presents undue hardship for an individual institution, "the undue hardship standard is a very high standard, and as a result, in most situations, postsecondary institutions will be required to provide some accommodation."3

Fairness and Accommodations in the Postsecondary Classroom

Accommodations are not intended to give students with disabilities an advantage but are created with the intention of "levelling the playing field" so that they are not unduly disadvantaged and are able to achieve equitable outcomes compared to students without disabilities.4 According to Lovett (2010), test accommodations are designed to address the need for participation and fairness in measuring achievement for all students in large-scale assessment programs, as the skills of students with disabilities "may be underestimated by conventional standardized tests."

Lovett (2010) describes the psychometric logic of extended time accommodations for students with disabilities this way:

Disability conditions may keep students from demonstrating their skills within standard testing time limits; a student with a learning disability in reading, for instance, may read the test items too slowly to complete the test in the allotted time. Testing these students under standard conditions leads to a problem of construct-irrelevant variance in the resulting test scores; the scores will vary across students in part because of variability in students' reading speed rather than solely because of variability in the construct under investigation (knowledge of American history, for example). Extended time accommodations are meant to reduce this construct- irrelevant variance by keeping construct-irrelevant skills such as reading speed from being prerequisites for accessing the test content. (p. 612)

A comprehensive literature review of extra time accommodations by Sireci, Scarpati, and Li (2005) concluded that many students with disabilities need extra time to demonstrate their true knowledge, skills, and abilities, as many educational tests are speeded to some extent.

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  • 2. New Brunswick Human Rights Commission (2011).
  • 3. Stanford University (2013).
  • 4. Hampton and Gosden (2004).