Student Loans a Major Source of Discrimination Against Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities

  • July 16, 2014
  • BakerLaw

Toronto, ON, July 16, 2014 – Students with disabilities have significantly higher costs when attending post-secondary colleges and universities.  What is less well understood is that many students with disabilities are also burdened with significantly higher student debt to repay after leaving school.

Studies show student debt is a major concern for all post-secondary students, but debt is particularly onerous for students with disabilities who consequently require more time to complete their degree or diploma.  This is because student debt accumulates by a maximum of a fixed amount every year.  A student with a 50% course load due to their disability can therefore graduate with twice as much student debt as a non-disabled student taking the same program.

This is a major contributing factor to persons with disabilities having lower application admission and graduation rates as well as higher rates of leaving and switching programs (see “Succeeding with Disabilities: Graduates with Disabilities and the Factors Affecting Time-To-Completion”, Kelly L. Woods et. al. (2013)” (link)).

A bakerlaw client, Jasmin Simpson, who is both deaf and blind, has had a major impact on improving government programs to cover the additional costs of attending school, as well as the follow-on debt burden. Her case continues because the major structural discrimination she faced has not been addressed by the federal government.

Be Aware of Entitlements

The student loan program is as complex as the tax system.  Unfortunately, independent advice on navigating the system is scarce.  In many cases, students with disabilities are paying more than they should because they were not alerted to the availability of disability specific entitlements.

Be aware of the following:

  1. Protections for Ontario students who must withdraw due to illness or disability (Ontario Student Opportunity Grant (OSOG) and O.Reg. 268.01 s.33(5) and (6));
  2. Ontario tuition subsidies for students who require extra time to complete studies due to disability (Tuition Policy for Students with Permanent Disabilities (TPSPD));
  3. The availability of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits to cover living costs while enrolled in school;
  4. Ontario subsidies for disability accommodation costs, often administered by the Centre for Students with Disabilities at the applicable college or university;
  5. Local college or university policies of reducing tuition for students with reduced course loads due to disability;
  6. The $2000 federal Canada Student Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities (CSGSPD);
  7. The federal funding for disability expenses in amounts up to $8000 per year; and
  8. The Repayment Assistance Program for Students with Permanent Disabilities (RAP PD) which provides complete loan forgiveness for students with disabilities after 10 years rather than 15 years for the general population.

Ms. Simpson Pursues a Level Playing Field

Even if students with disabilities maximize every one of these benefits, many will still face massive discrimination because their student debt accumulates on the basis of years enrolled.

Ms. Simpson has launched a challenge against discriminatory debt accumulation.  She is taking the position that many of the entitlements, listed above, which were implemented in response to her case, do not address the massive and fundamental issue of debt accumulation. Her case is now moving forward for substantive adjudication.

Follow developments in the case on the bakerlaw website.

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