Access and Disability Considerations for Fall 2020

Access and Disability Considerations for Fall 2020 from Sherrie Borowsky, Director of Access and Disability Services (ADS), Haverford College

Health and Safety First

As we know there are students, staff and faculty that will not be able to return to campus in the Fall due individual health and safety concerns.

There are many Haverford students who have disabilities and medical conditions that make it unsafe for them to return to campus. Additionally, students might need to stay home and want to take courses virtually due to financial constraints, home situations that necessitate their presence, anxiety about returning (which can be classified as a disability), and international students unable to get VISAs.

Students on campus may get sick and not be able to attend in person classes for at least two weeks or more. They may have to leave to help out at home if a family member gets ill or does not have childcare and parents need their help so they can work. Conversely, a faculty member may need to stop teaching in person due to illness or situations at home that arise due to the pandemic for which they must be at home.

Once students are on campus and taking in person classes anxiety will be on the rise.  If someone sneezes or coughs in class, a student gets ill in their dorm, the stress of being constantly vigilant and worrying about getting ill etc. may increase student anxiety to the point that they need to take classes remotely to feel safe and able to focus on their academics.  This scenario would be protected under the ADA because their anxiety is rising to the level of a disability.

For all these reasons, I believe the College will have to offer a virtual/remote option for students who want to take face to face courses. If a student with a disability needs to take a course remotely that is only being offered face to face then we have to make it accessible under the law in the current situation. To say we cannot do this would never hold up (in my opinion) in an Office of Civil Rights investigation. We went remote within two weeks in March, we have time to plan for remote options and we are well aware that remote may be necessary during the pandemic. For these reasons remote would be considered a reasonable accommodation. 

Offering a remote option to all students supports our commitment to equity and inclusion.

Haverford is first and foremost a residential college and this is the experience and education we offer, but given the circumstances, until a vaccine and treatment are developed, students may need to learn remotely for their health and safety.  This would be a reasonable accommodation for students with a disability.

Adapting Courses for Access

I have many ideas about how an in-person course could be adapted to distance learning.  For example, a student would be hired to attend the class and using a laptop would be able to Zoom the lecture in real time as well as record it so it can be accessed later if needed.  In real time the distance learning student watching the Zoom could ask a question through the hired student. Professors could set up Zoom meetings or phone calls with remote students just as they would have office hours. Remote students could take the same exams and turn in the same papers as students on campus.  Remote students still have access to the library, CAPS, OAR, ADS, Writing Center etc.  

This would also work for students who became ill and needed to be quarantined for two or more weeks. If they complete half a semester and then get ill, they would still be able to finish the course remotely and earn credit.

Next Steps

I am happy to assist professors with ideas to make their courses accessible to remote learners.  There are practices and pedagogy they can build into the course from the start that will assist with a virtual teaching and learning.