The Hamilton Spectator Shines a Light on Mohawk College’s Axing 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
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June 30, 2022

SUMMARY

The June 30, 2022, Hamilton Spectator is the latest media outlet to shine the light on Mohawk College’s harmful decision to axe its much-needed Accessible Media Production (AMP) graduate certificate program. You can find that article below.

This article attributes a statement to Mohawk College which we believe to be quite inaccurate. The article states:

“A smaller, more flexible ‘micro-credentials’ option – a program that has graduated 50 people in the past 18 months, with a 70 per cent employment rate – will remain available.”

This makes it sound like Mohawk College is now offering micro-credential courses on producing accessible documents, websites and/or other media and that 50 students have already taken these courses. If Mohawk told The Spec this, it is incorrect, according to information we received from the AMP program coordinator. No micro-credential courses in the area of accessible media have been offered at Mohawk whatsoever. A mere two such micro-credential courses are intended to be available this fall. They do not cover the vast majority of topics covered in the AMP program.

Mohawk may be unwilling to undo its decision so far, but we are tenacious! This is not the first time that we have confronted inflexibility. We invite you to write a letter to the editor at the Hamilton Spectator. Tell The Spec what you think of Mohawk’s axing this program. Letters should be a maximum of 250 words and include your full name and daytime phone number for verification. Send letters to letters@thespec.com

We also encourage you to tweet about this issue on Twitter. Use the hashtag #SaveAMPMohawk

For more background, read the AODA Alliance’s June 10, 2022 news release on this topic including its initial letter to Mohawk College, and the subsequent letters between the AODA Alliance and Mohawk College.

There are 916 days remaining until the start of 2025. That is the deadline for the Ford Government to lead Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities. That includes digital accessibility. Mohawk College’s axing of the AMP program just makes it harder for Ontario to reach that deadline.

MORE DETAILS

Hamilton Spectator June 30, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thespec.com/news/hamilton-region/2022/06/30/mohawk-college-accessible-media-production.html ‘This is all we’ve got and Mohawk just killed it’ College facing criticism for cancelling program that develops accessible media

Kate McCullough The Hamilton Spectator Kate McCullough is an education reporter at The Spectator. kmccullough@thespec.com
When a blind disability advocate reached out to Mohawk College to complain they’d cancelled a program that trains students to develop accessible media, he received a response in a format he couldn’t fully read.

The irony of the situation was not lost on David Lepofsky, chair of advocacy group Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance, given the right to have documents that are accessible to all was one of the things he was fighting for.

“These kind of things go on regularly in our lives,” said the retired lawyer.

“It’s enormously frustrating and it’s entirely preventable.”

In this case, it’s also “embarrassing,” given the subject of the correspondence, Lepofsky said.

Mohawk College president Ron McKerlie’s response – citing low enrolment as a reason for killing the accessible media program (AMP) – was a PDF, and those generally don’t work with screen readers, software that turns text and images to speech allowing the visually impaired to use a computer.

The Hamilton community college has been under scrutiny since suspending AMP, the only known program of its sort in Canada, earlier this month. It trains students to develop documents, websites, social media and video accessible to people with disabilities.

“This is all we’ve got and Mohawk just killed it,” Lepofsky said.

Mohawk said in a statement on its website the “difficult decision” was made after years of low enrolment. Forty-one students have graduated from the program since its launch in 2017, failing to meet targets and sector demand.

“The delivery of the program as a graduate certificate has not proven to be viable,” the statement reads.

The AMP certificate “has been actively marketed over the years,” including through professional journals, websites, social media and open houses, Mohawk spokesperson Sean Coffey said in an email Tuesday.

He also said “an accessible Word document was prepared and sent” as soon as Lepofsky let them know he couldn’t read it.

But Lepofsky isn’t convinced the college “vigorously” recruited students to the program.

“We could be tweeting it … we reach thousands of people,” he said of the AODA Alliance.

Instructor Karen McCall said the certificate program has a “strong employment rate” – 91 per cent, according to Mohawk.

Students learn to write in inclusive, plain language and create accessible documents, closed captioning and audio description for video, among other skills. For a final project, they work with a small business or organization to help them become more accessible.

“This was disappointing,” said McCall, a longtime disability rights advocate. “This was a good opportunity for a career path.”

The college has faced plenty of backlash – including letters from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund, which funded a course, and the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians, as well as a #SaveAMPMohawk hashtag on Twitter – which has left some advocates and disgruntled students holding onto a thread of hope that the decision might be reversed.

However, Coffey confirmed on Tuesday the college has no plans to reverse its decision to suspend the graduate certificate program.

A smaller, more flexible “micro-credentials” option – a program that has graduated 50 people in the past 18 months, with a 70 per cent employment rate – will remain available. The province defines micro-credentials as “rapid training programs” that teach in-demand skills.

Lepofsky said it’s “no substitute” for a certificate program.

“It’s like saying, ‘I need a meal’ and they offer you passed-around hors d’oeuvres and you get one or two little bites,” he said.

Kate McCullough is an education reporter at The Spectator. kmccullough@thespec.com