NOVEMBER 6, 2020 — When all university classes went remote in March because of the growing pandemic, students with disabilities at UTSA as well as their faculty faced a serious dilemma. Through determination and collaboration with Academic Innovation, the university’s Student Disability Services team rose to the challenge and ensured all online courses were accessible and inclusive, upholding the institution’s mission, vision and core values.
According to Dianne Hengst, executive director of SDS, the team had limited resources when transitioning to the work-from-home model at the start of the pandemic. Despite these challenges, members quickly adjusted and adapted to an unprecedented volume of inquiries and changes, making do with the equipment and software they had.
After creating plans to keep staff safe, the team went into action and determined which blind/low-vision and deaf/hard-of-hearing students were currently enrolled in spring classes. The team contacted each of these students’ professors to create a plan for accessible learning.
The SDS team also produced an extensive FAQ page for faculty, with information on types of accommodations and how to adapt them to the modality of online teaching and learning.
The SDS experienced a 14% increase in the number of students requesting accommodations for spring and summer 2020, compared to spring and summer 2019. The team also produced a record number of accommodations notification letters for 2,459 classes in spring 2020, a 7% increase from spring 2019. For the summer team members produced accommodations notification letters for 515 classes, a 28% increase over summer 2019.
The SDS collaborated extensively with the division of Academic Innovation’s Digital Learning team to create accessible online courses. They met weekly with learning experience accessibility specialists and video production specialists to work out accessibility issues and provide captions for courses. Academic Innovation was able to transition sign language interpreters online via Webex, Zoom and Blackboard, allowing them to continue working with students on assignments.
“Academic Innovation has prioritized creating a strong infrastructure for online education. These efforts include assessing new technologies for accessibility, student engagement and instructor presence,” says RaLynn McGuire, learning experience accessibility specialist in the Office of Digital Learning. “Our vision is to move toward a proactive approach to accessibility and really embrace UTSA’s core value of inclusion.”
Through the combined efforts of Academic Innovation, the SDS team and faculty, 29 students who identified as blind/low-vision or deaf/hard-of-hearing could successfully access all their coursework virtually. None of these students dropped any of their courses.
Student Channalee Phelan was one of these students who depended on the SDS for support.
“I found it extremely stressful when classes changed to online when the pandemic struck,” Phelan reflected, “[but SDS] helped me take control of my education by providing me with skilled interpreters.”
Other student disabilities and social circumstances were more difficult to navigate. In particular, students with ADHD-related concentration issues, learning disorders or other mental health conditions found online learning and its subsequent lack of structure challenging.
Other disabilities, like epilepsy or migraines, made it difficult for students to endure long periods of screen time. To help these students, the SDS published a tip sheet as a resource for both students and faculty. SDS disability specialists worked each day to help students incorporate these tips into their learning experience where possible and referred them to individuals on campus who could offer further support.
“Our staff worked extremely hard to make sure all students with disabilities had access to their virtual class platform,” says Hengst. “It has been difficult, but I am very proud of our team. Our philosophy has and continues to center around a team effort. It truly takes a village.”
The Adobe Creative Campus Kickoff will introduce students to Adobe software and how they can use it to both produce professional content for their courses as well as how they can create content for their side hustle. The hour-long session will teach you how to gain FREE access to downloadable software such as Photoshop and Illustrator as well as web-based programs such as Adobe Spark. Want to learn more? Contact William.Schaefer@utsa.edu.Virtual Event
This event has been revised into a two part event. This event will be held virtually while a follow-up event on-campus will be scheduled sometime after Feb. 6th. Please follow our RowdyLink page for information on the next event.Virtual Event
Come and meet your First-Year Experience (FYE) UPM Peer Mentor! As a first-year student at UTSA, you will be meeting with a peer mentor in your Academic Studies area. Your peer mentor is here to support and guide you academically and socially, as you navigate your first year of college. Your UPM Peer Mentor will be emailing you a unique Zoom link to their UPM Meet & Greet!Virtual Event
The UTSA Zoom license will provision your UTSA email account with a Higher ED Pro Zoom account that comes with multiple features. Join us as we review these features. including best practices, for using this software for education and think about the best way to use it in, for, and with our digital classrooms.Virtual Event
A restorative justice virtual conversation to process thoughts and emotions as our community continues to navigate the impacts of Covid-19.Virtual Event
Join us for our Spring 2022 virtual get-together where you can meet the Student Success Team, Faculty, and Peer Mentors in the College for Health, Community and Policy (HCaP). This will be a great opportunity to get connected to the HCaP community and meet other HCaP students. Plus, you get to learn about services offered through the new HCaP Student Success Center.Virtual Event
Art of Wellbeing is back for Roadrunner Days. This months focus is on vision board making, set your vision for the semester by creating a visual representation of your goals.Recreation Wellness Center, 1.806, Main Campus
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