New restrictions makes return to campus difficult for students with disabilities

Lack of a Zoom option in classrooms, physically inaccessible events and more make students with disabilities feel like they’re not being considered in the return to campus.

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For many students returning to campus, Welcome Week was not all that welcoming. Instead, it highlighted a lack of accessibility for students with disabilities. When campus reopened, many students with disabilities encountered various challenges on school grounds.

Sophomore Marina Stamato, director of public relations for the Student Assembly for Accessibility (SAA), said she had difficulty accessing many Welcome Week events due to her physical disability, which prevents her from standing for long periods of time.

“It’s my first time on campus, so I tried going to all of the Welcome Week events, but I had to leave almost all of them, or I couldn’t go to some of them because it just wasn’t accessible,” Stamato said. “They don’t really take a disability into consideration when they make their plans.”

Stamato said lines were long, and there were relatively no alternatives, such as priority lines, for those who physically could not stand and wait.

Although many have struggled with USC’s accommodations to their disabilities, Senior Director of Office of Student Accessibility Services (OSAS) Debbie Jih said in an emailed statement that their office is providing necessary assistance.

“OSAS is here to support students on accessibility issues and ensure equal access,” Jih said.

She explained that OSAS is there to “provide support to both new and registered students to help them navigate being back on campus, work with them on accessibility issues and identify appropriate support.”

Jih said OSAS is addressing accessibility issues. However, she did not provide specific examples in her statement addressed to Annenberg Media.

Other students with disabilities, like those who are immunocompromised, also faced challenges with in-person learning.

For some students, online learning was beneficial. In the case of SAA Co-Executive Director Sara Zuluaga, an immunocompromised senior, she appreciated the ability to stay up to date with classes, even when struggling with sudden flare-ups.

“I know for myself, I was having a flare of my Crohn’s disease last spring or this past spring, and the recorded lectures were a godsend,” Zuluaga said. “So it’s not something that I think is out of the question for universities to adopt moving forward. And I think having the recorded classroom option is really good for certain students.”

Zuluaga said she and other students with disabilities did not receive support from the university.

“It [emotionally] was very, very real to us, and it was very difficult to watch other people not care,” Zuluaga said, “because to a lot of people, we’re disposable.”

Kimi Zamora, the co-executive director of the SAA, spoke about how online learning affected her colleagues in a positive way. She said that with her Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), classes became more accessible than before the pandemic through Zoom.

Zamora mentioned that she would not have been able to attend multiple classes due to her SMA disability but was able to “watch class from the comfort of my bed.”

Student accessibility advocates Manushri Desai and Anushua Singh, who founded Voice of Specially Abled People (VOSAP) Collegiate, agreed with Zamora that coming back to campus is challenging for students with disabilities.

Desai and Singh both agree that Zoom classes are easier for students with disabilities. However, since we have returned to campus, they feel USC should implement more accommodations for students with disabilities.

Desai and Singh believe that if a course has multiple professors teaching the course, the university should dedicate an online section to students with disabilities.