Return to in-person classes recreates barriers for some with learning accommodations

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Students, including a wheelchair user, chat in a circle. The transition from remote to in-person classes has proved challenging for some students. (BYU Photo/Nate Edwards)

Students with accessibility accommodations are facing a new hurdle as university classes transition from remote learning to in-person curriculum. 

Many students adapted to remote classes over the 18 months at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. For students with accessibility accommodations, these classes provided newfound flexibility and resources which helped them learn in the way best for their needs. 

Hannah Larson, a deaf designer and a recent BYU graduate, said she felt remote learning provided technology that made her educational experience easier. 

“One of my teachers actually did closed captioning, he had a system that would transcribe what he would say and put captions on the screen,” Larson said. “That was probably the class where I was able to understand everything.” 

Through Zoom, Larson was able to simultaneously view her instructor’s slides as well as her interpreter’s video which made understanding lectures much easier. She also worked with interpreters from all over the state of Utah rather than having limited access during in-person interactions. 

Assistant director of BYU’s University Accessibility Center, Rachel Crook Lyon said remote learning often facilitates access to the learning environment for students with mobility issues or emotional concerns.

Daniel Andersen, a senior from Parkville, Missouri and wheelchair user, said the sudden shift to remote learning was a blessing in disguise.

“The synchronous Zoom classes worked really well, since I didn’t have to fight the snow. And generally speaking, I didn’t have to go a lot of places so I didn’t have to plan out how I’m going to get from one end of campus to the other in ten minutes,” Andersen said.

However, remote learning has not been easy for all. According to Lyon, the University Accessibility Center reported a significant increase in requests for ADHD assessments.

“For other students, remote learning was very challenging,” Lyon said. “Students with ADHD reported that they found it very difficult to concentrate in Zoom classes.”

Some students with accessibility accommodations found success in remote learning, others struggled to make it work. Finding a blended compromise that works for students of all abilities has become a balancing act. 

“During Zoom classes, instructors were more accommodating and provided resources such as Zoom recordings and PowerPoint slides to all students. Previously, the accommodations were only available for students who requested them through the University Accessibility Center,” Lyon said. 

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