USC Disability Services and Programs (DSP) is providing resources to students who need them, but adapting to remote learning is still difficult for some DSP-eligible students.
Remote learning presents new challenges for students, especially those with learning disabilities, said Javin D’Souza, the co-executive director of the Student Assembly for Accessibility.
“From an accessibility standpoint, there are now different challenges in navigating the accessibility of Zoom,” D’Souza said. “For students with a hearing impairment, it may be difficult to listen in on Zoom. For students with ADHD and OCD, it may be difficult to pay attention to a computer screen all day.”
Though DSP is providing tools to students, D’Souza said a central issue for some is that professors are assigning more work despite the fact the semester is shortened and students are already spending their entire days staring at screens.
“In a time of crisis, we should be lowering standards, not increasing them. To increase them is unfair, not to mention ableist,” said D’Souza. D’Souza mentioned the necessity of the semester-long pass/no pass grading option, which USC extended after students petitioned the university for more grading flexibility.
D’Souza said this semester has been taxing for many students and it is difficult to endure virtual learning under these conditions.
“Many students have felt like their mental health has tanked, from everything going on in the world to their commitments at home,” D’Souza explained. “And for students with disabilities specifically — depending on the disability or disabilities — these things can be exacerbated further.”
Nevertheless, Carolyn Robbins, a junior majoring in design at USC, said that DSP provided tools to aid students during the virtual semester, such as a speech recognition note taking app. Students who qualify for accommodated testing are still receiving those accommodations for their online classes and some said are seeing some benefits. Before the pandemic caused the USC campus to close, DSP-eligible students had to travel to the Student Disability Testing Center to take tests.
“Now it’s a lot easier to do the accommodations and the tests, because I don’t have to go anywhere,” said Robbins. “I don’t have to specify a certain time. The teachers just extend the amount of time for my test on whatever platform they’re using.”
Robbins has used DSP since her freshman year and said not much has changed since classes moved online.
“If you’re in this program, it’s honestly on you to make sure that you are the one ensuring that you’re talking to your professors and you’re communicating with them about your extra time,” said Robbins.
Lisa Toft, director of DSP, reinforced that there are things people can do to help those in or outside the program, especially during the pandemic.
“Everybody — whether it’s an individual with a disability or not — every student is still trying to attend classes and trying to study,” said Toft. She advised students and faculty to be “respectful of that and respectful of … noise levels and quiet times … and then [do] what we can just as people in a community to help keep each other healthy.”
Toft emphasized that DSP is working to accommodate students during this time.
“We are here to support you and your faculty, ensuring equal access for you during any times that the University shifts to online class delivery,” DSP said on its Guidance for Students: Remote Access webpage.
Though DSP is providing students with many of the same resources that it did when classes were held in person, numerous students, regardless of disabilities, said they are in need of more to succeed during the difficult times brought by the pandemic.