Media Covers Backlash Against Mohawk College’s Wrong-Headed Axing of Its Much-Needed Accessible Media Production Program

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

June 24, 2022

SUMMARY

There has been impressive media coverage of the strong backlash against Mohawk College’s wrong-headed cancellation of its much-needed Accessible Media Production (AMP) graduate certificate program earlier this month. Below we set out news articles from CBC, Global News, the Hamilton Spectator and InSauga on this issue.

There is a radical disconnect between Mohawk College’s decision and the reality facing people with disabilities in Canada. Canada has an obvious shortage of people with the skills and knowledge to create accessible documents, websites, videos and other media. The Mohawk AMP program is likely the only program in Canada that provides comprehensive training to do this. People can take the program remotely, from anywhere in Canada or Elsewhere.

There is a growing demand for this service. Inaccessible documents, websites and other media can give rise to disability discrimination complaints in every province across Canada, and federally as well. The federal government and five provinces have enacted accessibility legislation, including Ontario, Manitoba, BC, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland/Labrador. It is hoped that eventually all provinces will do so.

The demand for expertise in accessible media design is international in scope. The trend towards enacting accessibility legislation is expanding around the world, buttressed by the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

As you read these news articles, it is clear that Mohawk College’s disturbing initial response to this backlash seems quite predictable. It simply digs in and doubles down on a bad decision. However, as the AODA Alliance’s June 21, 2022 letter to Mohawk College shows, all Mohawk’s arguments in its defence crumble to dust when they are carefully examined:

* Mohawk says they are replacing the AMP program with micro-credential workshops that will cover all the same content. Yet Mohawk’s micro-credential courses, still under development, do not and cannot deliver all the same content, or give the cumulative benefits of a full AMP program.
* Mohawk argues that enrollment in the AMP program was too low. Yet it has not shown any serious plan to market that program to the large potential Canadian and international pool of potential students.
* Mohawk tells the Hamilton Spectator in an article yesterday that it is running a deficit. Yet accessibility for people with disabilities should be the last place for cuts. It is not clear whether the timing of that report in the Spectator, on the heals of all this bad press for Mohawk, is just a coincidence.
* Mohawk College argues that having to take the AMP program full-time is a barrier that deters students from enrolling in it, such as those who work full-time. Yet Students can and do take the program on a part-time basis. It is taught on evenings and weekends, so there is no impediment to full-time employees taking the AMP program.
* Mohawk says it is strongly committed to accessibility for people with disabilities. Yet it cancelled this program when some students, taking the program on a part-time basis, are right in the middle of the program. They won’t be able to finish it, after investing their time and money into it, because Mohawk took precipitous action without regard to the needs of their own enrolled students.

In the AODA Alliance’s June 21, 2022 letter to Mohawk College, we suggest that Mohawk’s cancellation of this program should be seen in a larger context.

Within the past decade, Mohawk also cancelled its course for training orientation and mobility O&M instructors. O&M instructors are the indispensable professionals teaching persons who are blind or who have low vision how to get around independently, using tools such as the white cane. This is the only such course in Ontario. Due to Mohawk’s action, there is a troubling shortage of O&M instructors in Ontario.

Let us expand on this. Back in 2001, it appears that Mohawk College earlier tried to cancel that O&M program. Backlash against it from blindness-related organizations got coverage in the March 29, 2001 Brantford Expositor. We reproduce that news report, below. It turns out that after that backlash, Mohawk backed down, and kept that program running for more than a decade. Years later, Mohawk College again decided to cancel that program, this time without reversing that decision.

People with disabilities need Mohawk to take a long, hard look at its treatment of these programs that are so important for people with disabilities. At the very least, Mohawk should now restore the AMP program for the next year. It should do a blitz to recruit new students. This would also reverse the process of pulling the rug out from under those students who are partway through the program. Mohawk should then engage with the disability community in an open discussion on how to protect this program after next year.

Mohawk College is a community college which is funded by the Ontario Government. It has an important duty to the public, including to the most vulnerable in our society. If Mohawk won’t do the right thing on its own accord, we need the Ontario Government to step in.

Send us your feedback. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

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InSauga News June 8, 2022

Originally posted at https://www.insauga.com/hamiltons-mohawk-college-faces-backlash-for-suspension-of-accessible-media-production-program/

Hamiltons Mohawk College faces backlash for suspension of Accessible Media Production program

By Anthony Urciuoli

Hamilton’s Mohawk College made the decision to suspend its Accessible Media Production program and it’s being called foolish, troubling, and surprising.
Due to low enrollment numbers, Hamiltons Mohawk College made the decision to suspend its Accessible Media Production (AMP) program for Fall 2022. The decision was a business one that has been met with backlash from the accessible media community and advocates, who are calling the decision foolish, troubling, and surprising.

Through the colleges official Twitter account, Mohawk says It was a very difficult decision as we strongly believe in the concept of this program. We plan to continue to work with our Program Advisory Committee and Mohawk Colleges specialists to help reassess and plan our path forward. Thank you for your continued support.

Jennifer Jahnke is the AMP coordinator at Mohawk College and says she was surprised by the decision to suspend the program. She claims that she was never consulted.

The hashtag #SaveAMPMohawk has been trending in Hamilton.

Accessibility advocates have pointed to the timing of Mohawks decision, considering legislation around accessibility has been strengthened at both the federal and provincial levels, signalling an even greater need for accessible media professionals.

Angie Rajani, a certified professional in accessibility core competencies, shared an open letter sent to Mohawk College on behalf of the accessibility community.

the need for highly skilled and qualified professionals in digital accessibility has never been more desperately needed in Ontario and Canada. To even propose to put this valued program on hold for one year will be detrimental to meeting this growing need and demand for trained professionals in this specialized area, and more importantly, detrimental to training accessibility professionals with lived experience of disability, the letter continues.

Indeed, as provincial and federal legislation continues to strengthen in Ontario and in Canada, Mohawk College is positioned to be currently the only program in Canada that offers this level of immersive, integrated, and relevant digital accessibility training to current and emerging accessibility professionals. Within the next 1-3
years, the need for trained digital accessibility professionals will increase immeasurably, and as such, we implore Mohawk College to consider how detrimentally impactful this decision will be on the accessibility industry.

Mohawks AMP was the first graduate program in Ontario to focus on accessible media production.

The eight-month program provided courses in advocacy and legislation, as well as intensive training in producing accessible content, including closed and open captioning, described and integrated described video, accessible documents taking into consideration inclusive writing and communication, and accessible social media and websites.

CBC NEWS June 9, 2022

Originally posted at https://www-cbc-ca.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.6481612

Mohawk College faces backlash for shuttering one-of-a-kind Accessible Media Production program

Hamilton school says enrolment low, will offer micro-credentials; critics say program needs better marketing

Bobby Hristova – CBC News

Mohawk College is facing criticism over its move to shutter Accessible Media Production its one-of-a-kind program geared toward making Canada more accessible to people with disabilities.

The eight-month, online, post-graduation certificate program teaches students how to create accessible content, like captions and described video, and delves into disability legislation and inclusive writing. It also includes a capstone project.

While the Hamilton-based college says the program will be replaced by micro-credentials and no content will be lost, the program’s creator, who is also the lead on developing the micro-credentials, is skeptical.

The full-time college program is the only of its kind in Canada, and critics say the school’s decision will have a huge impact.

“Accessibility and disability must be a higher priority for the college than meeting enrolment targets and the suspension of this program cannot simply be viewed through the lens of ‘business decision,’ but rather, as a decision impacting disability human rights and Disability Justice goals,” reads an open letter to the college from concerned students and community members.

Low enrolment led to ending full-time program, Mohawk says
Mohawk College’s chief operating officer, Paul Armstrong, told CBC Hamilton the full-time program won’t be reinstated any time soon.

He said he disagrees with the idea there will be an impact on the industry by ending the full-time program.

Armstrong said the school is moving away from the full-time program because of enrolment numbers.

Since fall 2017, he said, there have been just 41 graduates 30 from the full-time post-graduate program and 11 through part-time studies.

“Enrolment in this delivery format has been a challenge right since we started,” he said.

Armstrong said that since 2017, the college has spent $85,000 to $100,000 a year to keep the program running.

It’s such a micro concept it’s by no means the same program at all clearly he doesn’t understand what we do. – Jennifer Curry Jahnke, Mohawk program’s creator and co-ordinator

Some critics have pointed out the employment rate for graduates of the program is 91 per cent and say the problem is in the school’s marketing efforts.

Armstrong said the program was nearly suspended in 2020 for the same reason and the school has tried advertising, but enrolment levels haven’t changed.

“It’s not from lack of effort on anyone’s part to try and recruit students,” he said.

“A 91 per cent employment rate is fantastic, but that, in some years, is based on four graduates.”

COO ‘doesn’t understand what we do’
Jennifer Curry Jahnke, the program’s creator and co-ordinator, and Sandi Gauder, an instructor in the program, said in separate interviews the school has done a poor job of promoting the program.

Both of them also sit on the program advisory committee and said despite Mohawk College saying it will work with the committee, people were only told about the decision once it was official.

Armstrong said the first of the micro-credentials replacing the full-time program, which are “smaller module, bite-sized pieces,” will be launched this fall.

He said the move to micro-credentials will save the school money and also offer students more freedom as to when they learn without losing any content from the full-time program.

“We’re still in the process of building them but there’s no reason to think we’d lose anything at the end of the day from a curriculum perspective,” he said.

Jennifer Curry Jahnke
Jennifer Curry Jahnke, the program’s creator and co-ordinator, says she doesn’t believe micro-credentials will make up for losing the full-time program. (Mohawk College)
Jahnke, who is leading the effort on micro-credentials, said she was tasked with creating 10 micro-credentials and said she’s “nowhere near done.”

She is also skeptical the school will fit all the same content into micro-credentials, since the ones she’s working on only represent two out of the 11 courses in the program.

“It’s such a micro concept it’s by no means the same program at all clearly he doesn’t understand what we do,” she said after hearing Armstrong’s comments.

“It doesn’t add any of the work-integrated working or the applied research or anything happening on social media.”

Concerns about impact on disability community
Gauder said that, as an employer in the industry (she’s the co-owner of CMSWebSolutions), she knows the impact replacing the full-time program would have.

“There is a dearth of qualified individuals to get the work done. There is no lack of interest from employers, we can’t graduate enough students to fill the need,” she said.

An open letter from concerned students and community members echoed concerns.

“It cannot be overstated how devastating this decision is to the accessibility industry, persons with disabilities who continue to be excluded from digital environments, and the province as a whole as we move toward an increasingly accessible Ontario,” read the letter.

Ryan Joslin, who graduated from the program in 2021, said he thinks the micro-credentials could work, but based on what he learned, it should remain a full-time program.

“There’s just a lot of information that’s covered it covers the whole gamut of accessibility,” he said.

“The field is growing immensely and it’s expanding to the point where there’s always job opportunities and people needed with this specialty without this type of program being there for people to take, it’s really going to leave the employers without many options to hire people.”

Bobby Hristova is a reporter for CBC News in Hamilton. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca. Follow @bobbyhristova on Twitter

Global News June 9, 2022

Originally posted at: https://globalnews.ca/news/8908633/mohawk-college-suspension-accessible-media-program-hamilton/ Mohawk College says suspension of accessible media program in Hamilton tied to sustainability issues

By Don Mitchell Global News

Mohawk College suspended its accessible media program on June 6, 2022, citing low enrolment targets and issues with its financial stability.

The chief operating officer for Mohawk College is defending a decision to suspend a one-of-a-kind program that teaches the creation of content for people with disabilities.

Despite producing successful graduates, Mohawks Paul Armstrong says the accessible media production program has been challenged around how the content is packaged, resulting in a deficiency in student enrolment.

We remain committed and want to continue to deliver this type of education, its just we had to make a decision on how we would do it to be a little different, Armstrong told 900 CHMLs Bill Kelly Show.

Executives announced the suspension on Monday, effective in the fall, due to enrolment targets not being met and the programs financial unsustainability.

Since then, the college has been facing public backlash for the hold on a curriculum that teaches the creation of closed and open captioning content, described video and other digital options for people with disabilities.

The decision spurred many to take to social media to express their displeasure and initiate a campaign using the hashtag #saveAMPMohawk

Program co-ordinator Jennifer Jahnke says she was surprised by the announcement and insists she was not consulted in the process.

It was actually quite a surprise for me, Jahnke said.

Although our enrolment was low last semester, were on target I think, to meet a fairly successful cohort this coming fall.

Jahnke understands the financial issues but believes the college should put in a long-term commitment and seek more funding support through the Ministry of Education for an outlet that provides marginalized people access to a post-secondary institution.

Many of our students are persons with disabilities, and so theyre not only being able to bring that long-lived experience to the program, but theyre also being able to bring that lived experience to employment and fill in employment gaps for persons with disabilities, said Jahnke.

The first intake of the program was in the fall of 2017, which saw 56 people enrolled over a five-year period, producing 41 graduates.

Armstrong says 30 of those were in the full-time program, while 11 ventured through a part-time option.

Jahnke says the program had a 91 per cent employment rate for graduates.

Despite producing 30 skilled workers, Armstrong says average enrolments of only five or so students per year is not sustainable and fails to meet the needs of the industry.

He says part of restructuring potentially will entail developing content in the form of a micro credential program a smaller package of consumable bits of learning.

The hope is to alleviate not only issues with low enrolment but support the training of teachers to execute the curriculum.

A new scheme potentially could be launched during the fall semester through continuing education streams people can take on a part-time basis.

However, the timeline is dependent on engaging the help of experts in the field.

Its very important to us and we really hope we can re-engage all the people to help us move to the next level and to start to get the training out there in a way that we think is going to meet the needs of industry, Armstrong said.

Hamilton Spectator June 21, 2022

Originally posted at https://www.thespec.com/local-hamilton-mountain/news/2022/06/21/hamilton-s-mohawk-college-running-5-million-deficit.html?source=newsletter&utm_content=a04&utm_source=ml_nl&utm_medium=email&utm_email=D3FBF824303B897A666E9A2B490420DA&utm_campaign=hsha_128295

Hamilton’s Mohawk College running $5-million deficit
College forecasts flat domestic enrolment and more international students

By Mark NewmanReporter
Tue., June 21, 2022

Mohawk College is running a $5-million deficit in 2022-23.

New light bulbs and computer systems will contribute to a $5-million deficit at Mohawk College this year and part of next.

Paul Armstrong, chief operating officer at Mohawk, noted the 2022-23 budget that was approved by the board of governors in April contains forecast revenues of $270 million (mostly from tuition fees) and expenditures of $275 million.

Armstrong said the board agreed to run a deficit so that two major initiatives can proceed.

One is the installation of light emitting diode or LED lighting at the Fennell and Stoney Creek campuses over the next three years at a cost of $7.5 million, including many thousands of light bulbs.

Armstrong said the conversion has already begun at the Fennell campus.

The other initiative is $2.5 million to upgrade college computer systems, including registration and admissions systems and making some programs more flexible to enable in-person and online learning.

Ontario community colleges are permitted by the province to run deficits provided they have the reserves to cover them.

According to Mohawks 2021 financial statements, the college has $58.3 million worth of internally restricted assets or reserves.

The operational side of the college is running on a balanced level, said Armstrong who noted there are no plans for staff reductions.

The budget includes provisions for 1,058 faculty, support and administrative staff.

Thats the same as it was last year, said Armstrong, who noted about 62 per cent of the budget, or roughly $100 million, goes to staff salaries and benefits.

Armstrong said total enrolment this fall is projected at about 30,000.

Thats up from about 27,000 over the past two years and roughly the same as the pre-COVID 2018-19 year, but still below the record 32,000 in 2019-20.

The 2022-23 student numbers are based on 15,000 individual students enrolling in two semesters.

Of that total, about 5,000 will be international students, up from about 3,600 last year.

While international students pay higher tuition rates (domestic students pay $5,000 to $6,000 per year and international students pay $16,000 to $18,000 per year), Armstrong said there has been an increase in demand from students from abroad, many of whom are looking to study business and information technology.

Meanwhile, domestic enrolment is not increasing.

Domestic enrolment in the college system continues to be fairly flat, Armstrong said.

The big reason for that is a strong jobs market, which means fewer people are looking for retraining or a new career.

Our enrolments are almost opposite to whats happening in the labour markets, Armstrong said. When unemployment goes up, our enrolments go up, when unemployment goes down, our enrolments go down.

Mohawk has been criticized on social media for the colleges decision to suspend the accessible media production program.

The program which began as a two-semester postgraduate certificate program in 2017, trained media industry people to make content that is accessible to everyone regardless of physical ability.

Armstrong noted only four people were enrolled in the program last year and 20 are needed to make it sustainable.

Instead, Armstrong said Mohawk is offering micro credits where media people can take smaller, part-time accessible media courses starting in the fall.

We are remaining committed to offering that content, Armstrong said.

For the first time in two years, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mohawk will be holding graduation ceremonies in the McIntyre Performing Arts Centre at the Fennell campus during the week of June 20.

Armstrong said 13 graduation ceremonies are scheduled.

The Brantford Expositor March 29, 2001

Originally reprinted on the website of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians at http://www.blindcanadians.ca/publications/cbm/11/outrage-after-mohawk-axes-blind-related-programs-college-offered-only-courses-ca Outrage After Mohawk Axes Blind-Related Programs: College Offered Only Courses in Canada That Trained Instructors to Aid The Blind

Axing two Mohawk College programs designed to train instructors to aid the blind will have a major local impact and negative consequences across the country, say support groups for the blind.

Citing low enrolment, the college announced Tuesday the suspension of both its specialized programs, orientation and Mobility and rehabilitation, which train teachers to work with the blind and the visually impaired. Offered at the Brantford campus since 1991, they are the only fulltime, English speaking programs of their kind in Canada.

Gerrard Grace, Vice President of Marketing for the CNIB in Toronto, said staff there has been scrambling since receiving the word of the program suspensions. He said the CNIB already has nine vacancies for orientation and mobility instructors.

“This is creating a crisis,” Grace said. “waiting lists for clients needing these services are already quite long. Now people could be waiting for over a year.”

Shelagh Gill, vice president of academics at Mohawk, said the programs will not be offered next year and likely into the future. “We have had a significant difficulty with applications and enrolment in these programs since 1994,” said Gill. She said there are currently just 15 students enrolled in both programs, which were designed for a capasity of 30. She said the programs hit an enrollment high in 1996, when 31 students participated and the numbers have been on the “downhill slope” ever since.

Gill also said applications for the September start-up for the one year, post graduate program are “pretty low.” Those applicants have been notified that the programs will not be offered. While Mohawk’s Web site boasts of the “extremely good” employment rates for graduates of the programs (jobs are traditionally found with school boards, the Ministry of Health and the CNIB), Gill said there is simply not enough interest from the potential students to make the program viable. “Part of the thinking is that the starting salary for graduates is quite low. There are jobs there, but they are low paying.”

Gill said that she couldn’t comment on whether the two program instructors at the Brantford campus would lose their jobs. Those training in the orientation and mobility program are frequently seen on the city streets wearing blindfolds and carrying white canes. This “travel training” allows students to get a sense of the challenges facing the visually impaired. The program focus is on teaching visually impaired clients how to live more independently.

Students in the rehabilitation program receive instruction on how to assist visually impaired clients through supportive counseling, communicating skills and leisure counseling. John McGregor, Chairman of the W. Ross Macdonald School Council and parent if one of its students, worries that the demise if the programs will leave the visually impaired to rely on untrained people to provide their life skills instruction.

According to the CNIB there is already a shortage of orientation and mobility instructors and rehabilitation teachers and that shortage will increase over the next five to ten years, as an aging population facing growing visual impairments. “Blindness is increasing especially among the elderly,” said McGregor. “This will certainly have an impact on the people in the community. It could impede the learning of life skills as simple as pouring a cup of coffee in the morning.”

While McGregor believes a college’s decision to suspend a program is “generally irreversible”> steps will be taken to ensure training in the field continues to be available. “We could look at what other opportunities are possible. Maybe the onus doesn’t have to be all on Mohawk.” Gill said representatives from the college would be willing to discuss with other groups alternative ways to deliver the training. Robert Fenton, president of the National federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, said “without Canadian programs, students will be forced to take their training in the United States where they will face huge tuition fees.

Fenton said he is upset that Mohawk didn’t consult his organization and other agencies that provide services to the blind prior to making their decision.

“If we were consulted, perhaps it would have been possible to establish partnerships to allow Mohawk College to continue to offer these important programs. It is a travesty that the board of governors of the college has denied us this fundamentally important opportunity.”

An emergency meeting in Toronto may be called next month, said the CNIB’s Grace, to discuss possible solutions to the problem.