A bipartisan group of three senators on Wednesday asked the Government Accountability Office to examine whether colleges and universities are doing enough to make sure disabled students have the same access to learning during the coronavirus pandemic as others.
“Under normal circumstances, accessing the appropriate accommodations can prove challenging for students in higher education,” wrote Senators Maggie Hassan, a Democrat from New Hampshire; Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania; and Dr. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, students face many of the same challenges in accessing appropriate accommodations as they did prior to the pandemic, but must now do so navigating remote and distanced learning.”
In particular, the senators expressed concern about the ability of students with disabilities to use videoconferencing and other equipment in remote learning. “Even when students have access to adequate broadband and technology, these teaching modalities can, without forethought and planning, introduce particular challenges in meeting accessibility standards that are legally mandated through the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), resulting in potentially negative effects on the academic achievement and co-curricular learning of students with disabilities,” they wrote.
A survey in October by the Student Experience in the Research University, or SERU, Consortium, found that 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.
Students with disabilities were more likely to feel unsupported by their universities than students without disabilities, the report said.