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Report: Students With Disabilities Face More Pandemic Hardships

October 28, 2020

Students with disabilities are more likely to experience financial hardships, mental health challenges and food and housing insecurity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent survey report published by the Student Experience in the Research University, or SERU, Consortium.

Students who self-identified as having a range of disabilities -- physical, learning and neurodevelopmental or cognitive (such as autism or attention deficit disorder) -- were twice as likely to have lost their off-campus job during the pandemic than students without disabilities, said the report, which is the latest in a series of policy briefings by the SERU Consortium. The reports are based on a survey of nearly 30,000 undergraduate students who attend large public research institutions that was administered from May to July to assess how students are faring during the health and economic crisis.

Across the board, students with one or multiple disabilities were more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety and lack of adequate food or housing, the report said. Students who selected all the disability types included in the survey were often two or three times more likely to suffer from these hardships compared to their nondisabled peers. For example, 70 percent of students with physical, learning, neurodevelopmental and cognitive disabilities said they were food insecure at some point over the summer, compared with 21 percent of students who didn’t identify any disabilities, the report said.

Students with disabilities were more likely to feel unsupported by their universities than students without disabilities, the report said. Nearly three-quarters of students without disabilities “felt supported by their universities during the pandemic,” while nearly two-thirds -- and in some cases less than half -- of students with disabilities felt supported, according to the report. Students with multiple disability types were least likely to feel like they were supported by their college or to feel like “I belong at my university,” which was a separate question.

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