Barriers to education start early for people with disabilities, report says

Barriers to education start early for people with disabilities, report says

Manitobans with disabilities still face significant barriers to education — and therefore jobs — despite gains made in recent years, says a report released Wednesday.

The report found significant lack of access to qualified staff for children with disabilities at all education levels, not enough support and education for school staff, a lack of awareness of protocols when helping students with disabilities make the transition from one level to the next and widespread bullying as the highest concerns.

"Absolutely not surprising," said Lani Zastre, a parents advocate with Barrier-Free Manitoba, when asked about the results of the report.

"We've come far but we've actually got quite a long ways to go when it comes to addressing the barriers that exist for people with disabilities."

Education Solutions Manitoba, Barrier-Free Manitoba and Community Living Manitoba sent out three different surveys in November to collect data about the experiences of children, youth and adults with disabilities in the province's education system, from daycare through post-secondary schooling.

More than 600 people, including children, parents and teachers, filled out the surveys, says the report, titled A Window into the Accessibility of Manitoba's Education Systems.

The result of not addressing those barriers is "profound social exclusion," the report says. About 70 per cent of those who filled out the surveys reported social exclusion and 77 to 92 per cent reported being vulnerable to the negative consequences of bullying.

"[This] must be addressed to ensure students with disabilities can gain an appropriate education that prepares them for further education/training and ultimately for competitive employment," the report says.

The barriers begin early, said Zastre, who has a child with a disability. Accessing licensed child care was a frustrating experience, and she believes some daycares skipped over her child on their lists when spots opened. 

"People that we knew that put their names on the list after we did were getting called back, but we weren't. But it wasn't really anything that you could kind of put a finger on," she said.

There is a fund daycares can access to get supports for a child with special needs, but the daycares have to apply for the funds, then find what's called an inclusion worker, which takes time.

Zastre's family applied for a child-care spot in 2015 and was told while there was space at the daycare, there was no spot for a kid who needed an inclusion worker, she said.

"Our child was being denied care from a provincially licensed child-care facility because he had a disability that required inclusion support," she said.

"That was probably one of the hardest moments, but also I was kind of grateful, because it was the most honest anybody had ever been with us about not giving our a kid a chance in a child-care facility."

The report suggests more support for teachers, educators and easier access to funding for inclusion workers. It also says the province should write an education standard into the Accessibility for Manitobans Act. 

Adding an education standard to the act would help address barriers to education at all levels, said Anne Kresta of Education Services Manitoba.

"Current laws really just address [access in] nursery/kindergarten to Grade 12," said Kresta. 

Even with the laws currently in place, there are still "huge barriers" at all levels, she said.

"It's very alarming," said Kresta. "Looking at the figure of how many parents, students and staff reported that students experienced at least one of [the] barriers, 99 per cent of students reported that they experienced at least one barrier."

Read the full report at Barrier-Free Manitoba.