Mohawk College’s Reasons for Cancelling Its Much-Needed Accessible Media Production Program Don’t Stand Up Under Scrutiny

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 21, 2022

SUMMARY

On June 10, 2022, the AODA Alliance raised serious objections when it learned that Mohawk College, an Ontario Government-funded community college, cancelled its well-regarded Accessible Media Production (AMP) program. That graduate certificate program educates its students on how to create accessible documents, web sites, videos and like media. Ontario needs this one-of-a-kind program, given how far we are lagging in achieving digital accessibility.

We here report on two important developments:

1. On June 13,2022, the president of Mohawk College wrote the AODA Alliance (letter set out below). He voiced a strong commitment to digital accessibility, gave Mohawk’s reasons for cancelling the AMP program, and agreed to speak to AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky about this.

2. On June 20, 2022, the AODA Alliance wrote back to the president of Mohawk College. (Letter also set out below). We show that Mohawk’s reasons for cancelling the AMP program are full of holes, and don’t stand up to scrutiny. We also show that this is not the first time that Mohawk College has cancelled and important program, to the detriment of people with disabilities. A few years ago, Mohawk cancelled its program for training orientation and mobility instructors, the only program of its kind in Ontario. Orientation and mobility instructors train blind, low vision, and deafblind people how to safely navigate their environment, by using tools such as a white cane. The cancellation of that program has had devastating impact on rehabilitation services for people with vision loss.

The AODA Alliance will follow up to speak with the Mohawk College president. We have called on the Ontario Government, as Mohawk College’s funder, to intervene, if Mohawk does not reverse its cancellation of the AMP program. Stay tuned as this story unfolds.

More details

June 13, 2022 Letter from Mohawk College to the AODA Alliance

June 13, 2022
David Lepofsky
Chair
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Dear David:

I do recall our past dealings and I would like to congratulate you and the AODA Alliance for your advocacy for people with disabilities in Ontario.

I want to start by emphasizing that Mohawk College is proud of the work that has been done at our college to advance Accessible Media Production and we remain sincerely committed to training people to work in this important area.

Mohawk College has offered and subsidized the graduate certificate program since 2017 to allow it to become established and grow. Unfortunately, enrolment targets have not been met during that time, which has made the program in its current format – as a full-time graduate certificate – unsustainable from an enrolment perspective.

As you rightly make the case, the need is urgent to train as many people as possible in order to make much-needed progress in accessible media creation. Unfortunately, since 2017, there have been only 41 graduates of the program, with 11 of those completing the program through Continuing Education. This is not nearly meeting the needs of the province.

It is the intensive nature of the Accessible Media Production Graduate Certificate Program, which you have referenced, that poses a significant barrier to increasing the number of people receiving this training. As a graduate certificate, people must leave their full-time employment or take a leave of absence from work in order to enrol in the program. Many people who would like to do so are not in a position to make that intensive commitment.

Our desire is to remodel the excellent curriculum of the program so that it is appealing to more people. Through micro-credentials and other possible models, our intent is to make this important training more flexible and easily available to those who wish to pursue this education. This does not prevent the college from including curriculum from the current graduate certificate into another model. /2
We continue to believe strongly in the concept of this program and the need for trained graduates to do this important work. We also intend to support the ongoing applied research underway and commit to exploring new funding sources and research opportunities to find alternative ways to get the training into the hands of those who desire it.
I would be happy to speak with you about this more fully in a call, as you have requested. Please contact Cindy Merifield at cindy.merifield@mohawkcollege.ca to arrange a time that is mutually convenient. Regards,

Ron J. McKerlie
President & CEO

cc: Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities
Shelley Tapp, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Colleges and Universities

June 20, 2022 Letter from the AODA Alliance to the President of Mohawk College

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Web: www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance
Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/
June 20, 2022
To: Ron J. McKerlie, President Mohawk College
Via Email president@mohawkcollege.ca
135 Fennell Ave W
Hamilton, ON
L9C 7V7
Twitter: @ronmckerlie
CC: Jill Dunlop, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Email: jill.dunlop@ontario.ca
Shelley Tapp Deputy Minister Training, Colleges and Universities Email: shelley.tapp@ontario.ca
Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility
Raymond.cho@ontario.ca
Carlene Alexander, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Carlene.alexander@Ontario.ca

Dear President McKerlie,

Re: Mohawk College’s Cancellation of Its Accessible Media Production Graduate Certificate Program.

Thank you for your June 13, 2022 letter. It responds to our June 10, 2022 letter. We raised strong objections to Mohawk College’s cancellation of its Accessible Media Production (AMP) graduate certificate program.

Mohawk’s AMP program educates its students on how to create accessible documents, accessible web content and accessible videos. These are skills that all document, web content and video producers should have but many if not most do not.

Thank you as well for agreeing to speak about this issue. I will contact your office to arrange a conversation. I ask that the AMP Program Coordinator Jennifer Jahnke be included in that call, because of her great knowledge about the issues we need to discuss.

You have also heard from several others, individuals and organizations, who object to Mohawk cancelling the AMP program, through correspondence to you and via social media. We understand that this includes, for example, the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund (a granting body that has financially contributed to the development of Mohawks accessibility programs and research), Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, CNIB, Canadian Council of the Blind, Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, ReelAbilities Film Festival, and Royal Ontario Museum Department of Museum Volunteers. As well, local media has covered the backlash generated by Mohawk’s cancellation of the AMP program.

Mohawk has commendably offered meetings to some of those who have objected to the AMP program’s cancellation. After you, Jennifer and I speak, it would be very helpful if you were to lead a roundtable on this issue with all of those who have raised concerns about this decision.
In anticipation of our forthcoming call, this letter brings to your attention several key points. We want to give you and Mohawk a chance to consider these points before we speak.
Providing training in the digital accessibility area. We ask you to reverse the cancellation of the AMP program, because its cancellation contradicts Mohawk’s commitment to further the goal of digital accessibility.

Among those who evidently need to enroll in Mohawk’s AMP program are those working at Mohawk College itself. We need look no further than the June 13, 2022 letter you sent us for strong proof of the need for the AMP program. Your response was originally sent to me as a PDF. A PDF is known to be a format that creates accessibility problems for blind people like me. I was shocked but sadly not surprised that I had to immediately write back to you to ask you to send me that letter in an accessible MS Word format. While some accessibility features can be included in a PDF document (which are never a total accessibility solution), your letter to me in a PDF format fell short on that score as well.

It is a painful irony that Mohawk’s cancellation of the AMP program was apparently made or announced in the middle of National Accessibility Awareness Week. That week promotes more action to tear down barriers impeding people with disabilities. Mohawk’s decision has the opposite effect.

Mohawk Says It Cancelled the AMP Program Due to Low Enrollment

Mohawk has stated publicly that the AMP program was cancelled due to low enrollment. It is far preferable for Mohawk to retain the AMP program, and to far better promote it, rather than terminating it. We have not seen a major effort by Mohawk to promote the AMP program, before it decided to terminate it due to low enrollment.
There is a large market for this program in Ontario, across Canada, and elsewhere around the world. The AMP program can be undertaken virtually. A student need not attend it in person, or even be in Canada.

It is important for us to know what Mohawk did to better publicize the AMP program, before deciding to give up on the graduate certificate program altogether. We understand from the AMP Program Coordinator that there had not, to her knowledge, been any major initiative by Mohawk to better publicize and advertise the program before it was cancelled.

Micro-Credential Courses are No Substitute for Mohawk’s Full AMP Program

In your June 13, 2022 letter, you said that Mohawk has decided instead to offer the AMP program’s content through a series of micro-credential courses. You said that this is a more effective way to reach people who want to learn this content, and that needing to take part in a full-time program has been a “significant barrier” to students who want to take part in it. There are several obvious gaping holes in that reasoning.

First, this is not an either-or situation, where Mohawk either offers the full-time AMP program but no micro-credential courses, or Mohawk offers a series of micro-credential courses but no full-time AMP program. Mohawk can instead at the same time offer both the full AMP program and a series of micro-credential courses.

Indeed, it is our understanding that that was the trajectory that Mohawk was taking before it decided to categorically cancel the AMP program. We understand that some micro-credential offerings were being developed in addition to the AMP program, which could, once available, be taken by students whether or not they also enroll in the AMP program.
Second, any micro-credential courses now under development only cover a very small part of what the AMP program includes. Even if a student took all the micro-credential courses under development at Mohawk, they would not learn the vast majority of what they learn in the AMP program.

Making this worse, in contrast to the AMP program, micro-credential courses cannot consolidate, into one project, a demonstration of an overall understanding of universal design.
In addition, we understand that students in the AMP program only take one course at a time. This allows them to concentrate on that specific topic. The learning from each course is then added into their mandatory capstone project, building on accumulating knowledge, and providing a big picture understanding of digital accessibility. Moreover, we understand that the content learned in one course is then reinforced through later courses in the program.
In other words, it is our understanding from faculty members with whom we have spoken that the AMP program is more than simply the sum of its individual parts. It provides a systematic cumulative learning environment for its students which cannot be replicated by a student who chooses to take this or that micro-credential.

We are told that graduates of the AMP program go on to support organizations with implementing information computer technology (ICT) and are prepared to train others. The graduates of the AMP program can review an organization’s ICT for barriers, determine their legislative requirements, build a business case for accessibility, audit their ICT frameworks, determine roles and responsibilities and then train the staff to implement accessible media throughout the organization. How can a single micro-credential course or a random selection of them that a student chooses to take replicate this, or even come close?

Moreover, all one gets from completing a micro-credential course is some sort of badge, not a graduate certificate from the Mohawk AMP program. We have no idea how many businesses, government organizations and non-profit community organizations know what any of such badges even signify, or what education and skills they reflect. Each badge can only reflect the acquisition of some bite-size slice of training. In contrast, a graduate of the Mohawk AMP program has in hand a recognized Ontario Graduate Certificate and assurance they successfully completed the entire comprehensive program of study.

If Mohawk College is committed to supporting achievement of the goal of digital accessibility, then at the very least, the AMP program would not have been cancelled until Mohawk had designed and deployed a comprehensive set of micro-credential courses that deliver the entirety of the AMP program’s content. From what we understand, Mohawk did not do this.

Mohawks AMP Program Provides Alternative Delivery Options

Third, it is now open to students to take the AMP program on a part-time basis. It is our understanding that classes are taught remotely, and are held in evenings, not during weekdays, specifically to accommodate full-time employees who want to take the AMP program. As such, your June 13, 2022 letter is quite incorrect when it stated that a significant barrier to enrollment is the program’s full-time status, and that “people must leave their full-time employment or take a leave of absence from work in order to enroll in the program”.

We also understand that students can and do have the option of taking the AMP program on a part-time basis, through Mohawk’s Continuing Education department. As your June 10, 2022 letter to us acknowledges, fully one quarter of the students who have taken the AMP program have chosen that route for doing so. If a person is only prepared to take the time to do one or more ad hoc micro-credential courses from time to time, they may well not be that committed to acquiring the spectrum of skills needed to produce accessible documents, websites and other media.

In fact, we understand that Mohawk’s sudden cancellation of the AMP program hauled the rug out from under those students who are in the midst of undertaking the AMP program on a part-time basis. Far from accommodating students wanting to learn this content on a part-time basis, Mohawk has now cut off any possibility of those students completing the program that they have started, and in which they have invested their time, effort and money. Mohawk should not cancel this program when they are partway through the program.

Weakening Mohawk’s Expertise in the Area of Teaching Digital Accessibility

By running the AMP program, Mohawk has commendably brought together a team of experts in the field of producing accessible media. They have invested time and effort toward developing and updating a comprehensive program. They have accumulated experience to refine that program, from the front-line experience of teaching it to students. Mohawks cancellation of the AMP program risks squandering that VALUABLE human capital. That is counterproductive. It contradicts your stated commitment to helping Ontario achieve digital accessibility.

The Bigger Picture

This is not the first time that Mohawk cancelled an important, if not unique program, to the detriment of accessibility for people with disabilities. Mohawk used to offer Ontario’s only program to train students to become a qualified orientation and mobility instructor. An O&M instructor is the vital rehabilitation professional who trains blind and low vision people how to independently and safely move around in the community and at home.

When a person loses their eyesight, they lose the ability to get around on their own. The O&M instructor teaches them to regain their independence, via skilled use of a white cane or other tools and technology. Graduates of Mohawk’s O&M program work at school boards, blindness rehabilitation agencies like CNIB, and in the community.

Within the past ten years, when Mohawk closed its Brantford campus, it cancelled its O&M program as well as its related program that trained other blindness rehabilitation specialists (such as those who teach people with vision loss to independently undertake activities of daily living, like cooking). Mohawk did not transfer the O&M program to its Hamilton campus.
That decision by Mohawk has had a lasting devastating impact on people with vision loss. As a result of it, we understand that there is no such program in Ontario that trains O&M instructors. A person who wants such training must go out of province, or to another country. That of course is more expensive. It is a deterrence to more students taking on that career.
Ontario now has an increasing shortage of qualified O&M instructors. That will continue to get worse as existing O&M instructors reach retirement age, or leave the field for any other reason.
Mohawk’s cancellation of its O&M program has directly and significantly contributed to this serious problem. People who lose their vision are necessarily subjected to longer delays before they can acquire the vital skill of independent mobility. This can hurt their education, their pursuit of their career path or employment.

In the case of both the AMP program and the O&M program, Mohawk terminated a unique program in Ontario that the disability community desperately needs. In both cases, they result in harmful consequences for people with disabilities. Mohawk should be concerned about causing this.

We look forward to speaking with you, and to learning about your response to these issues. We hope Mohawk will reconsider its cancellation of the AMP program and will immediately reverse that decision. This letter shows why Mohawk’s stated reasons for its cancellation do not stand up under scrutiny.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont, Ll.B (Osgoode Hall Law School), Ll. M. (Harvard Law School, Ll.D. Hon (Queens University, Western University, the Law Society of Ontario and Brock University) Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Twitter: @davidlepofsky