Overcoming COVID-19 Challenges: Q&A with Syracuse University
Symplicity asked Paula Possenti-Perez, Director of the Office of Disability Services at Syracuse University, about the impact of COVID-19 on disability services and about the use of Symplicity Accommodate during this time. Syracuse University first implemented Accommodate in the fall of 2018 and were maximizing their use of the platform long before the pandemic closed their campus. Possenti-Perez shared her thoughts about how Accommodate has helped Syracuse overcome the challenges presented by COVID-19.
How has COVID-19 impacted how you and your staff manage disability services at your institution?
We’ve been working remotely since March 18th. We’re based in New York so even before they announced the stay-at-home order, we were thinking and planning for the transition. What we did first was use the reporting feature to identify different groups of students, what accommodations they needed, and who their faculty members were. Then we worked with those faculty that were in the process of converting their materials online and proactively made sure that all of the materials were universally accessible. We also made sure to communicate through Accommodate with students and staff regularly to let them know what support looked like in our role and how we would be working with them remotely.
What’s important when thinking about remotely managing disability services?
When our campus first closed, our primary focus was thinking about what the new reality would be for our students and then our role is ensuring that they’re no interruption to access. It caused us to think more strategically about how our staff can work with the faculty and be proactive in mitigating the risks of remote accessibility. We think it’s important to think about accessibility first to convert course materials to a universal design.
Have you found that there is more communication with students that need accommodations more or less since your campus closed?
Since our campus closed, we have definitely been communicating more with students. We started doing a lot more intentional outreach with Accommodate to keep students updated on what was going on and we found students were replying more to our emails too. I think our students were grateful to know our staff was there making sure they were okay and providing help if they needed it. What’s been great is that both students and staff (and we have a staff of almost 20 people) use Accommodate for communication so everyone uses the same portal which keeps everything in one place.
How has using Accommodate been beneficial to your university’s transition from in-person to online?
I think it’s allowed us to continue providing accommodations to students. We use all the modules within Accommodate so we have access to all of the student files online, students can make appointments and that syncs with Outlook, and we can run reports. Everything that we did while we worked in the office, we did online with Accommodate which means that we can continue delivering accommodations uninterrupted. I wasn’t worried about our transition because we were already fully online, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been if we didn’t have a system in place when our campus closed.
What makes Accommodate an ideal solution for managing disability services during a pandemic?
Accommodate is an ideal solution because it doesn’t interrupt access and it doesn’t add additional barriers on top of the barriers that already exist. Having Accommodate ensures that we are able to do our jobs despite the challenges of COVID-19. It’s a really stressful time right now so having the ability to identify and provide what our students need the most is very helpful. We’re able to be proactive rather than reactive.
Would you recommend Accommodate to streamline and virtualize disability services?
Absolutely. Accommodate is a very robust platform that has a lot to offer. I think its greatest strength as a platform is the customization. You can use the platform the way that you want to and run the reports that you want. It’s all about building the system to match your needs and, once you’ve done that, Accommodate does the rest.