Editorial: Class accessibility: applying lessons of the pandemic to make higher education more inclusive
Along with the trauma that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, it has taught humanity many lessons, among them the power of video conference technology and digital forms of engagement. While most of us have yearned for a return to in-person activities and classes, it seems that we are quickly forgetting the importance of alternative forms of communication, particularly for disabled members of our community.
It is worth reiterating that the pandemic is not over. — living on a college campus and attending in-person classes still pose significant risks for everyone, especially immunocompromised and elderly people. For that reason, this board calls on professors to be more accommodating in their attendance policies and forms of engagement, and for the administration to provide the support necessary for achieving this goal.
While we do not wish for a return to the days of Zoom-only classes, there are undeniable benefits to incorporating a Zoom option to in-person classes, or at the very least recording class sessions to be uploaded to LATTE. While many professors are doing an excellent job at striking this middle ground, others have reverted to pre-COVID policies that seem almost archaic now: be in the classroom, or miss the lesson and be penalized. These classroom attendance policies are incompatible with the University’s guidance for students to remain in their homes if they feel ill and encourages lying about symptoms on the Daily Health Assessment to avoid missing class. This jeopardizes the health of everyone in the class, particularly faculty who are older or have young children at home.
Beyond making attending class safer for all and more accessible for some, there are many instructional benefits to hybrid models. LATTE discussion boards, for instance, are an effective way for students that are shy or have trouble with verbal communication to participate in class. Even Zoom can be very powerful, if used creatively: professors have assembled impressive panels of alumni and guest speakers from across the globe to engage with students, an opportunity that would not have seemed possible pre-COVID. Zoom’s polls tool and reaction features are also great alternative forms of engagement, particularly as we navigate a masked return to the classroom.
While we recognize that running hybrid gatherings can be frustrating and/or difficult for instructors, this board believes that the benefit of including all students and keeping everyone safe outweighs the inconvenience. Information Technology Services staff are ready to help setup lectures or to assist when things go awry. Many classrooms are equipped with Echo360 technology, enabling the comprehensive recording of lectures, even before the pandemic. Faculty should utilize these resources to make students’ experiences more fulfilling and inclusive. Concerns of students “abusing” virtual options are no excuse for being unaccommodating: everyone has a different ability to participate, and the expectation of every student being in the classroom every day is unrealistic and based on ableist ideals. We all take on some level of a financial burden to study here and work hard to get the most out of our education, be that in the classroom or on a computer.
Students with disabilities have called for practices such as those used throughout the pandemic since long before “social distancing” was a part of anyone’s vocabulary. Although much of our daily lives are returning to the pre-pandemic “normal,” we must actively retain practices that have eased the lives of disabled community members. It would be irresponsible of us to stop using the tools used during the pandemic and that we all still have at our disposal.