April 9, 2003

Can you imagine that your ability to attain a post secondary education was inhibited or denied because of differences in the way you access the education environment, the learning materials or educational media, or complete the learning objectives? Many individuals with physical, sensory, learning and psychological disabilities encounter these types of struggles every day. Many people choose to fight these battles independently. Other people turn to larger organizations such as The National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS). NEADS is a Canadian organization aimed at aiding in the education of students with disabilities. Many believe it is a unique organization; there is no equivalent, not even an American equivalent.

What kinds of services can groups such as NEADS offer that could possibly lend support for students with disabilities? One of NEADS major projects is a conference that is held every couple of years. In addition, NEADS maintains a wonderful website that can put students in touch with different colleges and universities that are equipped for and cater to students with disabilities, a number of scholarship and bursary programs, and employment opportunities. The website also has a discussion forum (NEADS-L) through which students can discuss issues and subjects with other people.

NEADS advocates for the implementation of on-campus services through many programs based on student leadership, individual support, and high school outreach. The main aim of each project is to “‘improve accessibility in colleges and universities for hearing impaired, learning disabled, mobility impaired, and visually impaired individuals as well as students with other’ disabilities. (NEADS website: About Us [])” These goals expand beyond ensuring physical access for students with physical disabilities to include changing policy to provide access to individuals with a wide variety of physical, learning, sensory, or psychological conditions or disabilities with accommodations to meet their individualized access needs and include such requirements as extended time to complete a course, and course materials in an alternate format such as a electronic or digital formats.

NEADS was implemented in 1981 by Awareness Carleton, a motivated group of students with disabilities based out of Carleton University. The first National Conference was held in 1986. NEADS is presently operated and maintained by a Board of Directors consisting of 12 members, one from each region/province/territory of Canada. This Board of Directors stands behind a large number of students. It is thus known as a homegrown grassroots organization that is, for the most part, student driven.

NEADS receives only a small amount of government funding (from the Social Development Partnerships Program of Human Resources Development Canada) which helps with website and correspondence maintenance as well as expenses for the Board of Directors. Conference delegates must produce their own funds for attendance fees. It is often the case that separate University Student Unions assist in convention expenses.

Within Athabasca University, Access to Students with Disabilities (ASD) provides advocacy, and direct and indirect academic and support services. The team includes Brenda Moore (coordinator), Martin Reaney (support service advisor), and Lorraine Zubke (administrative assistant.) Brenda envisions that “Athabasca University, and more generally, distance education, offers some unique opportunities for students who are unable to attend traditional schools for any of the host of reasons that are inherent to disabilities particularly due to open admission and flexible scheduling. Brenda and her associates strongly encourage all students who have a disability or an interest in the field to become aware of NEADS and to actively participate.

For information on memberships as well as other information you can visit the NEADS website at: or you can contact Athabasca Access to Students with Disabilities at

Some other groups who are concerned with educational access and services for students with disabilities are:

“¢ AHEAD: Association for Higher Education And Disability
Run Worldwide
“¢ CACUSS: Canadian Association of College and University Student Services
“¢ CADSPPE: Canadian Association of Disability Service Providers in Post-Secondary Education
“¢ DPI: Disabled Persons International
Primarily run in the Western Industrialized Countries
Sponsored in part by the United Nations

You may also want to see the Athabasca University Services for Students with Disabilities website at:

To read an in-depth report on the recent NEADS Student Leadership and Employment Forum, which was held in Calgary on February 7, 2003, go to: