In March 2019, the Ontario Ministry of Education announced it will be restricting the use of cellphones and other personal mobile devices in classrooms. Last week, the Ministry made a follow-up announcement that the cellphone ban in Ontario classrooms will be coming into effect on November 4, 2019.
After the initial announcement, CNIB and other disability stakeholder groups contacted the Ontario Ministry of Education to stress the importance of allowing students to use their phone during class time for accessibility reasons. For example, smartphones – such as iOS or Androids with built-in accessibility features – are essential for students with disabilities, including those who are blind or partially sighted, in educational settings. There are also accessible apps that enable students to review class material in real-time using magnification software, navigate the school using audible GPS and read printed material through OCR (optical character recognition) software.
As part of our community consultations to inform our For the Parents response, we heard students with sight loss face isolation at school. Often, they must leave their classrooms to access accessible technology because it's not portable. Not only does this contribute to the negative stigma surrounding disabilities, it places unnecessary pressures on school resources.
We were pleased that the government has announced that exceptions will be made "if cellphones are required for health and medical purposes, to support special education needs, or for educational purposes as directed by an educator". However, we continue to have concerns that this policy will cause confusion – educators may not be aware of the exemption for students with special educational needs.
What should I do?
If you are a student who is blind or partially sighted and you are concerned that there may be an issue with your school permitting you to use your cellphone for accessibility purposes, you should be proactive in approaching your school and teachers to let them know that you need to use your phone for accessibility reasons to support your education. In your discussions, try to be as specific as possible and give some examples of how you would need to use your phone for accessibility reasons (i.e. when we are reading from a textbook, I need to use my phone’s magnification software).
If your school is not familiar with the exemption for people who have special educational needs, you can refer them to the Ontario Code of Conduct for Schools, which specifically outlines this exemption.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you encounter any issues.