Support for Students with Disabilities During COVID-19

The COVID-19 global pandemic has impacted many across the world; however it has had a disproportionate impact on people who have disabilities or chronic illness. Some people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of compromised immune systems. Others may require support services or personal assistance that puts them at risk of infection due to physical contact with more people. Still others may have mental illnesses that are exacerbated by the stay-at-home orders and general uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

All students have had to adjust to taking classes online for spring quarter, and some students with physical or mental disabilities face additional challenges. Fortunately, Seattle University has resources to assist its students with disabilities. Specifically, the Office of Disability Services (DS) has been, and will continue to, provide accommodations to students with disabilities.

Kim Thompson, Senior Director of Disability Services at Seattle U, shared how the office is adjusting its services.

“DS has moved all of its processes and services online,” Thompson said. “We were able to do so prior to the end of winter quarter and without too many problems because the myDS system was fully operational, and because of great partnerships with IT and Center for Digital Learning and Innovation (CDLI).

She further noted that DS attempted to keep its processes the same so that students would not have to learn entirely new processes during a time of great change.

“DS is open the same hours—virtually, and is operating normally—with the exception of in person meetings or testing,” Thompson said. “As always, DS is working closely with individual faculty and staff members to ensure that courses are accessible and students are able to participate equitably.”

Seattle U Director of Disability Services Rich Okamoto expanded on DS’s partnership with other campus departments.

“We began working with Mafil Fabroquez and the CDLI on classroom accessibility back during winter quarter so we have been scrambling for a while,” Okamoto said. “CDLI’s main job is to work with faculty to make classrooms accessible, so we are working with them on things like making sure posted videos can be seen by students hard of hearing.”

Okamoto also noted that at the beginning of the quarter, more students were asking for accommodations as they tried to adjust to virtual learning. He believes that remote learning has been better for students who were finding the commute an issue. However, students who desire more in-person interaction with teachers and classmates are finding this type of learning to be more challenging.

Vice President of University Affairs for Seattle U Student Government, Nicole Harrison, shared some feedback that she has received from students with disabilities.

“Some students with invisible disabilities are having issues with Canvas not allowing them to get extra time on quizzes or assignments, as well as other technological problems. On the other hand, the myDS system… is already in place and familiar for students with disabilities to use,” Harrison said. “Also the option to record class on Zoom has been helpful for students who can’t make it to class on time.”

In addition, Harrison believes that some of the changes necessitated by the pandemic could lead to positive reform in the long run.

“All faculty moving their classes online this quarter could spark more universal design in classrooms, which would make them more adaptable for students with disabilities and their needs,” Harrison said.

Even with many states making plans to gradually reopen, the COVID-19 health risk remains high, along with concern that it could go away and then return later as a second wave. Nonetheless, as of now, Seattle U recently announced intentions to have students return to campus in the fall, so Disability Services is beginning to prepare accordingly.

Okamoto explained some of the changes they are considering. For instance, testing services might look a bit different in order to maintain social distancing, and face masks might be required for face-to-face meetings.

Whether Seattle U students are on campus or learning remotely, DS will continue to assist them in making necessary accommodations.

“It is important for students to contact us so that we can let them know that we are still here,” Kristopher Schultz, assistant director of Disability Services, said.

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