COVID-19 emphasizes access need

A student looks at a laptop with distress. The laptop has a speech bubble with a hand and heart in it.
Illustration by Umi Caldwell

The Disabled Student Union (DSU) and the Office of Student Support Services (SSS) both claim that the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the accessibility of a Lewis & Clark education. 

Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Support Services Kayleigh McCauley believes that the pandemic is just one of many issues impacting student academic performance this semester. 

“We have also seen the impact of COVID-19, racial injustice and recently the Oregon wildfires, on mental health,” McCauley said. “These compounding issues make it challenging for students to remain fully engaged in their academic studies.” 

The Office of Student Support Services’ involvement in the College of Arts and Science (CAS) has intensified since the pandemic began. 

“Compared to last year at this time, the number of CAS students with accommodations is higher,” McCauley said. “We are currently working with roughly 10% of the CAS student body.”

While the transition to hybrid and online learning can be difficult for anyone, chair of the DSU Hope Smothers ’22 believes that “our union is overwhelmingly still disproportionately affected by COVID.” 

Smothers said that many classes are failing to address “access needs” in the hybrid or virtual Zoom environment. For example, one access need might involve someone turning off their camera in class to prevent chronic migraines. 

“Every single class should be going over access needs every single session,” she said. 

McCauley has been suggesting that students and faculty think about the universal design, which is a system to make content accessible to everyone. Suggestions for universal design include adding captions to video content and reposting questions asked aloud in the chat feature for students with sensory processing disabilities. 

“When sharing information with others, consider all types of learning styles,” McCauley said. “I want students to know that you are not alone in this pandemic.” 

Even with an additional month of preparation in the summer on the part of SSS, accessing accommodations this semester has proved difficult.  

Associated Students of Lewis & Clark Senator Madeleine MacWilliamson ’24 reported online malfunctions with the accommodations application process on ASLC’s senator and representative goals document. 

MacWilliamson, who is abled, discovered that a friend with ADHD had not received accommodations in time for midterms. The friend wished to remain anonymous and declined to comment. 

To apply for accommodations students have to click a link to the intake form on the LC website. The intake form is a crucial part of the process where eligible students submit educational or medical records. 

McCauley acknowledges that the link, which requires an LC username and password to login, posed difficulties for new students. 

“I know of a few first year students who had problems with logging in because of the IT change in email address formats,” McCauley said. 

MacWilliamson and her friend did not know the IT change was the source of the problem. As a senator, MacWilliamson felt the need to speak up about this confusion. 

“You wouldn’t be able to get the form, which meant you had to email the appropriate person at Student Support Services,” MacWilliamson said. 

MacWilliamson claims this creates too much confusing red tape for first years and transfer students.

McCauley provided some clarity in recommending that all students experiencing issues with the intake form email 

Smothers thinks that ASLC has taken away financial tools that might have helped disabled students during this unprecedented time. She called ASLC cuts to the DSU budget from $3,320 last year to $2,548.21 this year “extreme.”  

ASLC’s Student Organizations Committee (SOC) cited high weekly meeting costs and lack of detail in the DSU’s applications as contributing factors to the cuts.

“All of our leaders during the time of the insanely rushed and scattered budget process were incapacitated to lead, let alone fight for equity-based treatment in the process due to feeling the constraints that COVID had placed on us,” Smothers said. 

Chair of the SOC, Quentin Gaul ’22 explained that additional ASLC funding for the DSU remains possible. Many allocation decisions were made before the pandemic.

“Once the final budget was passed last Tuesday, I did reach out to DSU to say that we would love to allocate more money and work with them on submitting a more detailed itemized budget so that we can get them more funding,” Gaul said. “I’m really hoping to work with them soon to increase their budget.”

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