AQEIPS en-tête

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Zoom consultation with students with disabilities about their accessibility needs in remote classes with AQEIPS and NEADS – summary report

Thursday, May 14, 2020 – 2 PM

76 participants

For more details, the full webinar can be watched here:

Most universities across the country have announced that summer – and in many cases, fall – classes will be held online. This event aims to exchange with other students with disabilities (SWD) and service providers on the topic.

Structure of the event: Introduction by Frank (NEADS), presentations by Yanick and Gilda (AQEIPS), followed by Q&A and exchanges with participants (SWD, teachers and counsellors from across the country).

Goal of discussion: to exchange about the situation, identify best practices and difficulties, and look at the different approaches across provinces.

Question to participants: how are you experiencing this crisis? How are you feeling right now?

Participants shared about their experiences. Some spoke about how they missed family, colleagues, friends and students. Others spoke about adapting to working so much from home. There is a desire to learn more about improving virtual connections. Many were grateful for technology and how it allows us to stay connected, but others find that online learning “outs” them as learners with disabilities and/or who struggle with the virtual environment. Several participants expressed concerns on the effect this crisis is having and will have on our collective mental health. Many teachers and counsellors said that a lot of students who reach out to them feel very overwhelmed and have increased anxiety, and they are needing more than usual to be careful not to take that on themselves.

An ASL interpreter mentioned that eye contact is an integral part of interpreting and that is missing now. They feel like they are interpreting into space.

For students starting new programs online it is very difficult. Many pointed out that the online management and teaching systems are not entirely accessible.

We did a presentation about mental health based on training developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, used in their workplace training.

With the crisis, many of us are feeling that our mental health is affected. It is difficult now to be socially active and a lot of us are feeling isolated, so that makes it harder. We shared some resources to help people and NEADS reminded participants that they have weekly check-ins on Zoom, virtual coffee hours on Friday afternoon, so if people need someone to talk to, they can reach out.

It’s been said that the COVID crisis is a mental health crisis, since so many of us are feeling isolated or stressed out, have lost jobs or part of our incomes, and it’s hard to plan for the future.

Getting an idea of people’s emotional states is helpful to determine the context of students/profs/staff involved in remote classes.

There are some compatibility issues with access software (e.g. Read and Write Gold). An example is when taking exams online, a lot of programs use programs that “lock down” the computer, which sometimes cuts out access features/programs. Furthermore, instructors design classes often assuming that people can hear or see (e.g. when using videos with no description or captions).

Difficult for motivation. We have to adapt to so many changes. Some SWD find online classes more accessible, others less. Classes not originally meant to be online being done online can be difficult for students, because the shift was sudden. One student said that “It is a learning process to find our way around systems we haven’t used before.”

One participant said: “We need to think about disabilities and access needs of instructors and people designing courses. How accessible is the back end of all these systems? How overwhelming is this for faculty, including people who are underpaid for all this additional work they have put in to ensure their students have access? What about people unable to put in that extra work? This is a large systemic issue.”

Some questions that were raised: What is changing in your institutions as we shift from crisis to a sustained “new normal?” Are there resources being diverted to help instructors to give them training to create more accessible online programs and not feel overwhelmed? The answer to that is that there are some online training programs about how to offer online classes, but very few of them seem to take accessibility into account.

On this matter, one participant said: “Absolutely, you are noting that there is little training in universal design, and this really is something that needs to be considered as a dimension of relational learning space/learning presence in online environments, and really should be something that all profs are supported with. Some schools with large Accessibility Resource Centres and Centres for Teaching and Learning sometimes have this benefit, but functionally, finding the time, the patience, the mental space as a prof within an environment that does not prioritize this in the ‘merit’ systems for faculty members means it is something that gets less attention.” This is why AQEIPS is working on developing workshops on this topic. Stay tuned!

We exchanged about what various institutions were doing to accommodate students with a variety of disabilities and noted that not everyone has the same approach.

QUESTION: Potential solutions to facilitate remote classes for SWD?

We are now realizing that classes that have existed for a long time and always caused certain difficulties, are challenging for a wider range of students since they have been moved online.

However, one participant said: “It’s interesting to notice how things have BECOME more accessible for some of us with chronic health conditions or certain disabilities (flareups, can’t leave the house at times, etc.) We used to get told that we couldn’t meet learning objectives that way; now that everyone needs to meet their learning objectives that way, there’s more creativity and more opening for people to figure out how to do that.”

An assistant tech specialist from a university in Edmonton said: “The biggest problem is that students don’t know what platform instructors will be using, so they don’t know what to expect. Students should know ahead of time what instructors are planning (e.g. live lectures online, all project-based, etc.). If institutions could come up with a model, so the students know what to expect, it would be a huge help.”

One participant said: “Note that most resources do not specifically consider accessibility or include design innovation processes with voices of disabled faculty or learners” involvement. Additionally, there is very little in the way of “trauma-informed” elements for course design given the pandemic context although certain types of courses, such as Indigenous-centred courses are (and usually do) including considerations about how learners can bring “their whole selves” into the space, including potentially heightened anxieties, or general life realities, in order to allow the learning space to be more responsive, so there may be some really worthwhile synergies between accessible teaching and learning online and educational development innovations for Indigenous knowledges courses shifting online.

A student added: “I just had an Indigenous Knowledges in Social Work course over the winter, and it was great because it acknowledges all the realities of being an online student and the ways that technology would impact the learning experience, in a discussion about how society influences how we learn. The Center for Indigenous Pedagogy at Laurier is doing important work and might have good things to say relevant to this discussion.”

An Accessibility Experiential Learning Coordinator in the Career and Experiential Learning Department from Thompson Rivers University in BC who instructs Career Management said: “I recently did a webinar about reframing productivity and hacks for staying on track while working and studying from home. This comes from a universal design perspective and addresses the reality that we are all learning and working in different ways as a result of this crisis.”

Another participant said: “Going back to the question about possible solutions, I have found that the students I support benefit from someone going through the course websites to help them navigate what is happening in each course. Each prof uses the course websites differently and it can be difficult to navigate each course site to find out who is doing what, when, how (zoom, online chat, other).”

At the end we shared links and phone numbers for mental health support resources across Canada (see PowerPoint in the video).

Below is a list of various resources that were shared by participants during the webinar to help teachers plan online courses.

RESOURCES to help instructors plan online courses:

Accessible Campus website:


A course offering from Dalhousie:

Laurier University website (see “Accessible Learning Online” section):