Guide for Assessing Persons with Disabilities - How to determine and implement assessment accommodations - Principles for assessment accommodations

This section covers the four principles by which those responsible for assessment should be guided in determining accommodations when assessing persons with disabilities.

These principles are in accordance with the statutory provisions of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act, which highlight the employers' duty to provide accommodations to persons with disabilities. They are also aligned with the Public Service Employment Act core values of merit and non-partisanship and the staffing guiding values of access, fairness, representativeness and transparency. Furthermore, the four principles adhere to theprofessional standards in assessment4.

Principle 1: Provide all applicants with an equal opportunity to fully demonstrate their qualifications

Every applicant in an appointment process should have the opportunity to fully demonstrate his or her competence in the qualifications being assessed. This principle is designed to ensure merit in the appointment process and from it derives the rationale for accommodating persons with disabilities needs in an assessment context. A disability may hinder a person from fully demonstrating his or her qualifications using a particular assessment instrument. Therefore, adjustments need to be made to the administration procedures or to the assessment instrument itself so that the person is in a position to fully demonstrate his or her qualifications.

This principle is sometimes referred to as the "fairness principle." In the context of appointment, fairness means being fair to every applicants in the process. Thus, assessment accommodations must be designed so that persons with disabilities are neither at a disadvantage nor are advantaged relative to other applicants.

Principle 2: Determine assessment accommodations on a case-by-case basis

Three key elements must be considered when determining appropriate accommodations.

  • The nature and the extent of the individual's functional limitations.
  • The type of assessment instrument being used.
  • The nature and level of the qualification being assessed.

Since the information on these elements varies from one person to another and from one assessment situation to another, each request for assessment accommodations must be considered individually, using a case-by-case approach. The variability associated with these elements also highlights that assessment accommodations are deemed appropriate only for one specific assessment situation, and they cannot be applied arbitrarily to all other possible assessment situations.

Principle 3: Do not alter the nature or level of the qualification being assessed

When changes or modifications are made to the administration procedures, to the format or to the content of an assessment instrument, there is a possibility that these modifications may affect the qualification being assessed. Research on the effect of assessment accommodations shows that, depending on the situation, even small modifications to the standard procedure can affect in someway the nature or level of what is being assessed, consequently putting doubt on the validity of the results obtained5. In some case, even accommodations requested by individuals and provided in good faith, were found to have a negative impact on the results obtained6. Having this in mind, caution is essential when determining accommodations to be provided in an employment situation when merit must be applied.

Like all other applicants, persons with disabilities must demonstrate that they meet the qualifications that are identified in the statement of merit criteria, which are linked to job performance. Therefore, provided assessment accommodations should not alter the nature or the level of difficulty of a qualification being assessed, since each qualification is a requirement for the position.

  • For example: Although providing additional time to complete a test could be appropriate when the qualification "knowledge of the organization's mandate and its business" is assessed, providing additional time could be inappropriate for a test assessing the qualification "verify information rapidly and accurately". In the latter case, the obtained result may not be representative of the applicant's true ability to do the task rapidly, considering the additional time given.

When applying this principle, it should be stressed that the assessed qualification must be related to job performance. Furthermore, managers and those responsible for the assessment must ensure that the demands of the assessment instrument do not exceed those of the job and that it does not create systemic barriers to employment.

  • For example: An applicant who is deaf and has limited reading skill is to take a written knowledge test in an appointment process for a clerical position. When determining the accommodations to be provided to this applicant, those responsible for the assessment realize that the reading skills required on the knowledge test exceed those normally required on the job. Therefore, they decide that the test is inappropriate. Another test with an appropriate level of reading will be used for all applicants.

Principle 4: Base assessment accommodations on complete information

To make appropriate decisions when determining assessment accommodations, there is a need to rely on complete information on the three elements mentioned earlier justifying the case-by-case approach:

1. The nature and the extent of the individual's functional limitations

Functional limitations result from a disability and are restrictions in an individual's functioning that hinder the ability to perform tasks or activities. The nature and extent of functional limitations will differ across individuals, as are the adaptive strategies that they use. Without adequate information about the individual's specific limitations, neither the manager nor the person with a disability can be confident about the appropriateness of accommodations.

  • For example: The appropriate assessment accommodations for one person who is partially sighted may require a large print format of a test, while for another person who is also partially sighted, the appropriate accommodation may require special lighting. These differences arise because the nature and extent of the functional limitations vary from one individual to another.

Detailed advice on the information needed on the individual's functional limitations can be found in steps 2 and 3 of the section Determining and implementing assessment accommodations.

2. Type of assessment instrument

When determining accommodations, there is a need to consider the specific characteristics of the assessment tool to be used. These characteristics include: the number of questions, the time allotted, if there is a lot of reading involved, the expected length of responses to be provided orally or in writing, etc. Depending of these characteristics, assessment accommodations will vary.

  • For example: Someone who has functional limitations that affect his or her manual writing speed may need some additional time to write an essay-style exam, while the same person may not need additional time for a multiple choice exam that does not require written responses beyond filling in circles on a response sheet.

3. Nature of the qualification being assessed

Knowledge and understanding of the qualifications being assessed is required to determine assessment accommodations. Thus, questions, such as the following, must be answered: What is the assessment instrument measuring specifically? Does it assess knowledge, abilities/skills, aptitude, personal suitability or a mix? Is there a requirement for job performance associated with speed? Etc. Knowing and understanding the qualification assessed prevents providing accommodations that modify its nature or level.

  • For example: Allowing the use of a calculator for a test assessing "ability to perform financial calculation" could be appropriate. However, allowing the use of a calculator when the "ability to do mental calculation" is assessed would be inappropriate. In the latter case, the provision of the calculator would invalidate the result, as it would then not be representative of the applicant's ability to do the task mentally.

A procedure for determining assessment accommodation which applies these four principles is presented in the section Determining and implementing assessment accommodations.

4 American Education Research Association, American Psychological Association, National Council on Measurement in Education (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. American Educational Research Association: Washington DC (2004) ; and

Public Service Commission of Canada (2007). Testing in the Public Service of Canada . Public Service Commission of Canada : Ottawa

5 Thompson, S., Blount, A., & Thurlow, M. (2002). A summary of research on the effects of test accommodations: 1999 through 2001 (Technical Report 34). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

6 Johnstone, C. J., Altman, J., Thurlow, M. L., & Thompson, S. J. (2006). A summary of research on the effects of test accommodations: 2002 through 2004 (Technical Report 45). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. On the World Wide Web:

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