College students across the world were required to switch from in-person learning to remote, online learning from their homes this past month. While this transition has proven to be difficult for many, students who struggle with disabilities were put in a potentially more complicated position.
Associate Director for the Office of Disability Services (ODS) Lisa David said ODS assists approximately 480 students. David and Director of ODS Jane Warner now manage the caseload between the two of them.
“I also oversee the assistive technology and testing coordinator position,” David said. “So this is the person who deals with coordinating all the exams that are taken through the office; meeting special types of accommodations, whether it be extended time for exams or access to certain software or hardware, in order to access those exams.”
Having access to the proper software to assist students in their studies is a large part of what ODS does.
“The assistive technology piece is the other piece that position does and that’s for students with visual impairments, hearing impairments or learning disabilities that greatly impact their ability to read,” David said. “That position also deals with any kind of software that needs to be downloaded onto students’ computers in order to access the text. We do have students with visual impairments or learning disabilities where we get their textbook from the publisher in an electronic file and then we would download software onto their computer so they can access listening to the text as opposed to reading it. We have an institutional subscription to a software program called Read and Write and that’s a screen reader, but it’s also a study aide.”
How remote learning will work for students with disabilities will vary depending on each individual’s needs. However, one common accommodation that exists for many students registered with ODS is having extra time for tests, which will persist during this remote learning period.
“One very common accommodation is to have extended time for exams. That kind of cuts across all disability categories, whether it’s a learning disability, visual, mobility, whatever it may be. So, for faculty using Canvas, it’s very easy to provide that accommodation because there’s a way to go into the system and extend the time for individuals,” David said.
For students with hearing impairments, Canvas continues to be the best bet for them as well.
“Luckily, Canvas is a very accessible platform. That’s kind of our standard recommendation coming out of our office is for faculty to use Canvas,” David said. “We really encouraged faculty that are doing more of a Zoom experience to make sure their faces are visible while they’re lecturing. We do have students with hearing impairments that have hearing aids, but they also use a combination of lip reading to access their information.”
David said that the ODS office has not run into any issues from any faculty or students so far regarding remote learning. David said that if the office does encounter problems with working remotely in the future, they will deal with it quickly and efficiently on a case by case basis.
“I think we were forced kind of quickly to abdicate in this direction,” David said. “I think overall, though, the institution really came together and that it speaks volumes that we haven’t had a plethora of issues up to this point. I’m optimistic that things are going to just continue to work out well.”
Rachel Vitello can be contacted at