Open letter to Mr. François Blais, Quebec Education Minister, concerning the inclusion of students with disabilities (SWD)
Dear Minister Blais,
December 3 was the International Day of People with Disabilities. Unfortunately, the AQEIPS does not have much good news to celebrate. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The Allowance for Special Needs Program – Adults (ASNP) no longer exists. It is now up to post-secondary establishments to manage the budgetary envelope that was hitherto administrated by the government, and thus they must cater alone to the multiple needs of SWD. Do you really know what effects this abolishment can have? Vocational schools and cegeps will have to completely rethink the way they do things. The disorganization that will follow will undoubtedly cause a waste of time, money and efficiency.
It is one of the fears expressed by the stakeholders and professionals that the AQEIPS met during the OPHQ funded province-wide campaign it undertook in 2015. This tour of Quebec, that aimed to assess the state of things and to inform SWD about their rights, brought us to 4 high schools, 10 cegeps and 2 schools for adults located in 14 cities of 10 regions. The 160 actors in the field of education who spoke to us (students, teachers, remedial teachers, guidance counselors and adapted services counselors) are the first ones concerned by the budget cuts and they deal with the issue of inclusion on a daily basis. Their observations are alarming:
1) The offices are underfunded and poorly adapted to the reality
The abolishment of the allowance program occurs after the contested modifications by the Ministry of Education of the evaluation of SWD’s scores in elementary school and high school. It is these scores that determine the amount of resources allocated to establishments. Another question that is raised is about the lack of adjustment of financial resources. The amounts are proportional to the number of students from previous years and thus never cater to the needs of the current year. Here again, it is the smaller regions that suffer the most; since they have less SWD, the specialized counselors don’t have the tools they need to deal with more specific needs.
2) The collaboration between establishments during transitions between schools is difficult
In urban centers, communication between high schools, cegeps and universities is more difficult because of the number of students and the lack of staff. There is no or very little monitoring of student files when they transfer from one establishment to another. Yet it is an essential point in the journey of SWD, who deal with about 30% more chances of failure (MELS, 2013).
3) The drafting of a diagnosis is more and more complex
The abolishment of remedial teacher and speech therapist positions prolong the delays for a diagnosis, but also of follow-ups with SWD. Establishing this diagnosis is more complex in rural areas, where SWD must often go very far to see a specialist.
4) Teachers lack resources
Though inclusion is a condition for success (UNESCO, 2015), it is possible only with access to the appropriate resources. Integrating a SWD in a regular class does not stop with a mere transfer. Teachers already deal with crowded classrooms. We now ask them to accompany and support these students without receiving the adequate training nor benefitting from the necessary resources to do so.
In conclusion, Minister Blais, we met people who were very involved, but a majority of them see their good intentions restricted by administrative obstacles and a cruel lack of resources. In the end, it is SWD, already excluded from the system, who are most penalized by these cuts. On this International Day of People with Disabilities, we raise an essential question: how can the school environment be adapted to all students when we eliminate the very measures that are supposed to guarantee access to equal opportunities?
 SWD refers to students with disabilities (neurological, motor, psychological).
 The Quebec Association of Post-secondary Students with Disabilities (AQEIPS) is an association with a three-part mission: defending the rights of SWD, promoting equal opportunities in education and encouraging the adoption of a social model for disability.
 The OPHQ is the Office des personnes handicapées du Québec.