While physical barriers that prevent students from swiftly navigating around campus, the 2020 online-only environment hasn’t solved all the problems that disabled students face due to the lack of disability support which will continue to be of concern into the new year. For context, in Canada most recent survey from the National Educational Association of Disabled Students’ (NEADS) analysis of Statistics Canada’s 2012 Survey on Disability found that 207,180 students with disabilities were or had recently been enrolled at a post-secondary institution. While in the United States, most recent data from 2016 found that 20% of undergraduates reported having a disability and more than 90% of all colleges enroll students with a disability.
In John Loeppky’s article in Maclean’s, a disabled student with cerebral palsy, addresses the concerns that disabled students still feel that they are not trusted by their university to properly provide them with the necessary support they need for academic achievement, “And while support office staff have proved to be helpful on the whole, they are still working within a system that distrusts disabled students. The pandemic has also had an impact: although students may no longer be required to be on campus in many cases, barriers to access related to technology and online learning have only increased.”
Ultimately, the goal of disability and accommodation office is to empower students seeking accommodations with the proper tools and support they need without having to jump through multiple hoops to get it, even during non-pandemic times. This includes working with faculty members to ensure that students with a disability won’t be penalized for unexcused absences because it appears that students now have no physical barriers preventing them from attending class. However, the reality for many disabled students is that for those with a cognitive disability, struggle with a dissociative disorder, etc. still are facing many challenges that have sometimes even been exacerbated by the pandemic such as anxiety and depression.
To support students with disabilities, universities need to continue to strive to incorporate universal design learning that emphasizes course design accessibility and flexibility in examination. This includes providing mental health support for students, helping them get proper accommodations, and ensuring that faculty members are properly trained and informed on how they can be partners with the disability office to ensure student success across the board. By incorporating universal design learning into student academics to help universities look at what accessibility looks like in the new normal of online learning and how those lessons can help in a post-pandemic college environment.
Symplicity Accommodate can help universities achieve a better environment and support system for their disabled students. With Symplicity Accommodate, universities can build a culture of accessibility by modernizing the accommodation request process with a fully ADA-compliant interface that allows students to seamlessly submit requests, connect with note-takers, have assistive devices checked out and tracked, build workflows to ensure that all campus offices are staying connected, and more. It is up to universities to make sure that they build a culture of accessibility by providing students with the ability to approve accommodation requests online, ensure fast and cohesive communication between colleagues, and easily track accessibility resources like study room availability, software and device inventory, and more. Utilizing Symplicity Accommodate’s reporting tool can empower disability services offices to proactively engage and train faculty/staff on the campus needs for a university’s disabled student population by providing robust data to back up the necessary needs of students.