While clearly the new policy on accessibility in education released by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is meant to apply to all schools across Ontario, it appears as though it was in part a specific response to U of T’s Governing Council, following Governing Council’s approval of the discriminatory University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP) in May. Even if this were not the case, it certainly would not hurt Governing Council to pay attention to this new policy.
For a start, the OHRC policy itself should be a reminder for institutions like U of T as to how they should make special consideration for students with mental illness, disabilities, and other accessibility needs. It is the responsibility of the university to help, accommodate, and respectfully treat students with such needs. It is hardly respectful to focus energy and resources on forcibly removing students with mental illnesses, as is the case with the UMLAP, instead of first and foremost addressing their needs and improving the structure of treatment for such students.
The UMLAP shows us how the university views students with mental illnesses. The OHRC policy, on the other hand, shows us how universities ought to view such students, and how all students with disabilities, mental illnesses, and accessibility needs ought to be treated: respectfully, and in good faith. The OHRC policy includes things like expanding definitions of disability and reaffirming the rights of all students to achieve an education with the support of the Ontario institution of their choice.
It is not up to students to try and force themselves to fit into outdated standards and policies in sacrifice of their health, mental and physical. Instead, it is the obligation of the institution, including U of T, to support all students and meet them where they need. The goal should be to keep everyone in, not kick them out.
Adina Heisler is a fourth-year University College student studying Women and Gender Studies and English.