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COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Students with Disabilities

COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Students with Disabilities
Susan Dutca-Lovell

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities quickly transitioned from in-person instruction to online learning, inadvertently overlooking the needs of students with disabilities and "placing them on the backburner 'en masse.'" While eductors have been transferring two months' worth of lesson plans to digital format, disabled students have been left without adequate digital accessibility to succeed in the unprecedented and current remote learning environment.

Learning accommodations such as note-takers, teaching assistants and helpful classmates are used by many students with disabilities to help navigate the classroom or "enhance accessibility through an environmental or communicative change." "Access needs," on the other hand, are tools and resources necessary to engage with the world, such as requiring Braille because of blindness or poor vision. Experts believe that "...institutions can and should 'do better' by making investments in software that continuously provides alternative, accessible material formats for students with any disabilities." Unfortunately so far, that has not been the case, with the "pandemic forcing institutions 'to confront who is expendable.'"

Blind students and those with impaired vision have reached out to The National Federation of the Blind amid the shift to online learning, relaying their discontent with incompatible learning materials for screen readers, which read and navigate documents and sometimes transcribe them into Braille. Students who were once able to listen to readings and follow along during in-person instruction are now unable to use digital textbooks, which are not compatible with screen readers. Since professors rely on such digital textbooks, blind and visually-impaired students feel as though they are falling behind on their coursework.

Dyslexic students, autistic students, and those with learning disabilities also encounter issues with their screen readers when they process documents that are images instead of text. For students who have physical disabilities, navigating images becomes troublesome if they are accustomed to only using computer keyboards, not mouses.

Deaf and hard-of-hearing students may not have access to American Sign Language interpreters or real-time captioning for online learning. Real-time captioning contains "transcriptions of speech produced by a person, not computer-generated," and are what students most likely had access to during in-person instruction. Computer-generated captioning, on the other hand, is "subpar" to real-time captioning; as of now, it is the feature provided in Zoom, WebEx and Google Hangout platforms, currently and popularly used for remote learning. According to experts, whatever resources are provided in the classroom - in this case, real-time captioning - should be available for remote learning.

Today's students with disabilities, like all other high school and college students, are adjusting to a different world - having unprecedented experiences in an unprecedented time. continues to offer scholarships for students with disabilities during this difficult time so that they may be financially equipped to pay for college once things return back to normal.

Comments (2)
Lilly H 4/9/2020
I wish that the Covid-19 was gone for good and forever
CindyS. 4/9/2020
Just an FYI from a teacher of ESE students. We are doing all we possibly can which includes making paper copies and dropping it off at homes for those who can't or won't use technology, chatting on line with my kids daily to see how we can better accommodate, speaking to parents almost daily to be sure their child has what he or she needs. We are doing EVERYTHING possible but some things are really difficult to address due to the pandemic and the flip from brick and mortar to online. Please remember it's not all doom and gloom. Many of my kids are rocking it!!!
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