The Disability Resource Office (DRO) has seen an increase in connecting students, currently serving around 2,000 students. Maggie Faulkner and Leslie Watts, access consultants with DRO, have noted that most of these students continue to benefit from virtual meeting options used during past virtual semesters.
“That has been a definite silver lining,” Faulkner said. “I mean, think about a student that travels by wheelchair. … That student would have come to the office, so in a lot of ways, this has really helped with access for our students. Overall, our students did a great job with the transition to things like Zoom and virtual meetings.”
Faulkner said while the office has dealt with students who have a documented disability and were also dealing with COVID-19-related issues, the DRO has seen less of these cases this semester.
“Obviously, when the pandemic started, we weren't having any face-to-face meetings with students,” Watts said. “I do think that a benefit of meeting on Zoom is, I think that students have really liked the option of meeting this way. I had a student this week that hopped out of a class, she met with me on her phone and didn't have to come all the way across campus. … It actually has created maybe more access than was originally intended. We did it for safety reasons and now, most students are opting for the virtual meeting option if a meeting is needed.”
On a national level, Faulkner said around 19% of undergraduate students have a documented disability.
“Every accommodation is going to be geared to those students’ functional limitations,” Watts said. “It's not that with this diagnosis, you get this accommodation. Each disability affects the student differently, and we want to know how that student is being impacted.”
Faulkner said students should reach out to the DRO before the semester begins, if possible, but that they work with students throughout the entire semester. She said finals can be an especially busy time.
“Once a student provides their documentation and they submit their online disclosure, those two pieces come together and the access consultants make a determination as far as eligibility and a determination as far as what accommodations would be helpful for that student to have access, either online access or classroom or course access,” Faulkner said.
Watts said overall, professors and instructors have been very flexible with their students in offering a variety of learning options. Faulkner and Watts also shared a resource on strategies for online learning that was published by the DRO.
“We have worked with students on accommodations, whether it was housing accommodation or an academic request, before the pandemic,” Watts said. “One benefit that we did have moving to online is [that] I've worked with students in the online environment for years. It wasn't like the shift to the pandemic created a situation that we didn't know how to handle. Even for disability related reasons before the pandemic, students would decide, ‘It's going to work better for me if I have some online classes, and then some seated courses.’ So I think that that was a pretty seamless transition for our office.”