The entire world has changed in the last couple of weeks because of COVID-19 and higher education institutions were one of the many bystanders. Institutions worldwide made the sudden transition from in-person to completely remote instruction in a matter of days to finish out the spring semester. As sudden as it was, there are some institutions that know that COVID-19 may extend past the spring semester and have announced that summer classes will be remote as well. Other institutions are already discussing the possibility of COVID-19 extending into the fall semester. Vicki S. Cook, executive director for online, professional and engaged learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield, noted that her institution is already preparing for a virtual fall and worries that online instruction in the fall “will shortchange a virtual transition for the noncurricular elements that can make or break student success, especially for the most vulnerable students.” The most vulnerable students being those in need of accommodations.
Students with disabilities especially found the shift from in-person to online difficult. There have been many accessibility issues with online teaching such as learning materials not being compatible with screen readers and live teaching formats over the internet not providing American Sign Language interpreters or real-time, accurate captioning. Marion Quirici, a disability studies professor at Duke University is concerned “not only for the students who have disclosed disabilities previously to their professor, or have apparent physical disabilities, but those who have not asked for accommodations, especially for unpredictable learning or mental health disabilities.” Remote accessibility already presents many challenges and Quirici says “The students who are struggling the most are students whose disabilities are not already on the books.” Higher education institutions must virtualize disability services to ensure all students are able to finish the semester, and future semesters, successfully.
There are some institutions that have taken necessary steps to provide accessibility to the students that need it through the use of Symplicity Accommodate. Kim Coffaro, Assistant Director of Disability Services at Slippery Rock University (SRU), said that “Accommodate has been instrumental to our transition from in-person to online delivery of accommodations. We’ve been using Accommodate for a while now so as instruction transitioned to being delivered online, we were thankful to have already implemented Accommodate into our daily routine. Without it, we would not have access to student files, accommodation letters, and processes in place to make the continuation of services so easy for students with accommodations.” SRU’s staff is able to ensure the quick and smooth delivery of accommodations by managing accommodation/adjustment services without any student stepping on campus.
“Our main focus is making sure that students that need accommodations are able to receive them regardless of where they or we are located. Accommodate has been a life-saver for us and our students during this difficult time for everyone.”
Assistant Director of Disability Services,
Slippery Rock University