College Students with Disabilities Face Unique Challenges During COVID-19 Crisis

Posted on

April 9, 2020

Edie Surtees, Disability Rights Texas
Communications Director

College Students Face Challenges During COVID-19 Crisis
Free Guidance, Resources for Special Student Populations

Current stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic are causing postponements and cancellations of milestone events in people’s lives – weddings, funerals, graduations, and more.

With college graduation ceremonies just around the corner, most students set to graduate this spring sadly will not be taking that long-awaited walk across the stage to receive their diplomas or certificates with cheers from family and friends. Some events will take place virtually, some are postponed, and some are cancelled.

But current college students don’t have it any easier. As colleges and postsecondary education institutions quickly move to provide their instruction online, COVID-19 continues to test these institutions’ ability to provide the same quality education. Some institutions are prepared to address the needs of some of their students more than others.

Students with disabilities face unique obstacles during the pandemic as classes move online, dorms and other housing closes, or they face higher risk of exposure due to underlying health conditions. Colleges, trade schools, and other post-secondary education institutions still have a legal responsibility – even during the coronavirus crisis –  to ensure students with disabilities have access to curriculum and instruction.

Often with the disruption in how education is provided, there is also a disruption in the legal accommodations students with disabilities receive. The situation warrants reevaluation of the current approved accommodations and whether additional ones will be necessary—such as an interpreter or captioning of video lectures. No matter the circumstances, colleges and other institutions must still provide lectures, materials and testing accessible to all students with disabilities in that course. Accommodations previously approved, such as more time for taking exams, larger font on materials and tests, etc. must still be followed.

Now more than ever, students must be proactive and self-advocate for their accommodations and education. Disability Rights Texas, a nonprofit legal advocacy agency that serves people with disabilities, has created a new resource called “College, COVID-19 and Disability” to help students understand their options during this time and how they can take proactive steps to prevent COVID-19 from disrupting their education even further.

The resource addresses several important issues. For example, if classes are still taking place on campus and a student does not want to risk exposure, she or he can ask for a distance learning accommodation. A student who becomes ill from the virus and cannot continue coursework should review the school’s leave of absence policy and then work with the Disability Services Office and Registrar’s Office to process the request. The handout also provides ideas for housing options when campus dorms are closed. Please refer to the handout for a step-by-step guide.

“We developed this resource to help students with disabilities in this very difficult time,” said Angelica Sander, DRTx Attorney. “But we also are available to help students navigate some of these issues if they are having problems getting the accommodations they need.”

College students with disabilities who have questions about what to do, what their rights are, or need free legal guidance from Disability Rights Texas can submit an online request for help at intake.DRTx.org or call 1-800-252-9108.

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Disability Rights Texas (previously named Advocacy Inc.) is the federally designated legal protection and advocacy agency (P&A) for people with disabilities in Texas. Its mission is to help people with disabilities understand and exercise their rights under the law, ensuring their full and equal participation in society.