COVID-19 Underscores Why Student Accessibility Is Now More Important Than Ever
COVID-19 has upended every aspect of our daily lives from how we interact, how we learn, and how we work. For higher education institutions the challenges of providing education and services to students virtually involved faculty/staff navigating a steep learning curve on how to provide content without face-to-face interaction. Yet, initially faculty/staff defaulted to doing things with the same structure they would any other semester. Now that institutions have had more time to adjust to the “new normal” it is imperative that faculty/staff, as they continue to chart an uncertain future, ensure that disadvantaged and disabled students aren’t left behind.
As outlined in a September 2020 article from InsideHigherEd, students with disabilities are facing unique challenges in the pivots to virtual learning. This includes virtual “platforms and content formats not optimized to meet the needs of students relying on assistive technologies [that] amplified barriers…” In addition to providing students with the right tools and resources to learn, universities should go beyond meeting the minimum barriers to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by proactively training, supporting, and equipping , faculty/staff on the best ways to provide accessibility to students. This includes ways to be more inclusive in teaching for students and widely implemented across campuses.
Disabilities services offices across the country can be a guiding light to faculty/staff to ensure that they receive the institutional support to make teaching and campus resources accessible. While this may have lacked at institutions across the country in the haste to switch from in-person to online, universities are now better equipped to support faculty/staff with accessibility training and support as disability services offices can be a voice for student’s needs. Training can include guidance on how to make course materials more accessible to students, recommendations on what technology and software to utilize for online instructions, specific student accommodations, equipment requirements for students, and encourage communication across all sectors of student life. Many thoughtful recommendations can be found through AHEAD and through the Universal Design Learning guidelines.
Symplicity Accommodate can help 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.