Practices of Support for Disabled students in Higher Education: What Online Classes Provide
I have been working for a private organization in Kyoto which provides support for study and life of disabled students who are learning at universities etc. I have been involved in various activities including “captioning for students with hearing impairments,” in which we provide voice-to-text services when they attend classes, training and dispatch of personal assistants who provide support for commuting, moving within a campus, and at-home life of students with physical impairments, and various workshops and consultation services for support of disabled students.
Since the beginning of this fiscal year, many universities have been providing students with online (distance) classes due to COVID-19. So far, most of the support for disabled students have been implemented in face-to face lectures. As disabled students as well as people who provide support for faculty and staff members and disabled students have few experiences in online classes, we have been seeking a better way of support through a trial and error process. Through such process, we are now finding out possibilities and challenges of online classes little by little.
One of the merits of online classes for disabled students is that they can attend classes without constraints of place and time. Many of disabled students have difficulties in moving or commuting to universities etc. continuously on specific date and time due to their physical conditions. And some disabled students have difficulties spending a lot of time with a lot of students. It seems that barriers for attending classes have been removed for disabled students without constraints of “place” and “time,” which are required for face-to-face classes.
On the other hand, however, there are several problems for students with visual impairments. For example, a system used for an online lecturer does not correspond to screen reader. In addition, faculty members do not provide materials whose form does not correspond to screen reader. Furthermore, classes have been provided without taking into account of time it takes for students to access via PC or smartphone. These provide difficulties for students with visual impairments to attend classes in many cases. However, solutions for such problems are not adequately shared among students with visual impairments as well as faculty members at universities. Also according to some students with physical impairments, while it becomes convenient to attend classes wherever you like, they worry about less opportunities to go out. It seems that many disabled students worry that campus accessibility etc. may not be promoted due to availability of online classes.
Support for disabled students is efforts to create better conditions for disabled students to spend their university life in the same way as other students. Viewed from support for disabled students, online classes are useful because they provide a new possibility for students who have had difficulties in attending face-to-face classes. However, on the other hand, unless universities etc. create an environment to enable students to adequately utilize online classes in their learning, it may limit opportunities for students to learn. Online lectures have been spread dramatically due to COVID-19. I would like to share my finding with others through practices of support for disabled students so that they can be utilized effectively for students, who are the lead character of learning.
Masayuki Yasuda (Uni, incorporated non-profit organization)
Photo 1: Taking notes with a Braille device
Photo 2: Attending a Zoom meeting through a PC and taking notes with a Braille device