The pandemic has had a wide-ranging impact on student’s lives, but some have been hit harder than others.
Throughout the virus outbreak, students with special needs have encountered particular hurdles in their academic career, with multi-layered structural impediments aggravated by a global public health disaster. Although many students have criticized remote learning’s failings, students with disabilities are discovering accommodations in ways they’ve never had before.
For several Western colleges, the decision to begin the Spring semester remotely has reignited the debate over the benefits of virtual versus on-campus study. Nonetheless, the perspectives of disabled university students, staff, and faculty members are conspicuously absent from campus decisions and COVID-19 policymaking, although being among the most vulnerable populations at risk of getting severe COVID-19 symptoms.
This brings to the forefront a fundamental question about accessibility and learning: what does a multicultural and inclusive education look like as we traverse its future in the post-pandemic world? E-learning isn’t a cure for the systemic impediments that disabled students have faced for years, but the option to engage in conversations without physically attending class can be beneficial for those who find the travel to class onerous.
“Some students with disabilities find the online off-campus set-up better for them as they can focus on their academic work much better and cut out the travel and preparation time needed to get to and from campus,” Marcia Lyner-Cleophas, head of the Disability Unit at the Centre for Student Counselling and Development at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, was reported saying.
Individuals with disabilities are more likely to have health complications, putting them at a higher risk and deserving of extra care and consideration from campus health and disability services. The truth, on the other hand, is frequently the polar opposite. Often, “reasonable accommodations” are arbitrary in character and do not always correlate with the demands of a disabled student. The introduction of mass online learning as a result of necessity during the beginning of the pandemic is a harsh reminder of how we failed people who needed flexibility the most. In fact, virtual learning has difficulties for impaired pupils as well.
Poor connectivity, a lack of close captioning and transcriptions, substandard assistive devices, and attention and memory impairments increase the day-to-day struggles they encounter in the midst of a public health threat. According to research conducted by the Disabled Students’ Commission (DSC) in the United Kingdom, the majority of students support the transition to blended learning and are open to pre-recorded lectures as long as they are in an accessible format.
“In time the higher education sector will need to examine what exactly it means when it talks about being ‘fully accessible’ or ‘inclusive’ for disabled students,” writes Leeds Trinity University’s dyslexia and disability coordinator, Stephen Campbell. “It will also need to consider its own assumptions regarding the relationship between teaching strategies, learning activities, students’ independent learning and assessment.”
To begin, higher education can start by truly listening to its disabled community. When a university is serious about promoting campus equity, it should also consider the experiences of individuals who are unable to physically visit its campus.