As higher education was immediately shut down in early spring amidst severe Covid-19 concerns, student support services such as the Disability Support Services at Seattle Central were confronted with nearly instantaneous transformation of accommodations for online classes. While the DSS office notes that the college is still working closely to see what can be provided for students as of this week, students have been experiencing difficulties since the beginning of 2020’s Spring Quarter.
Despite this, expectations on the disability support office remain realistically restricted with limited staff and high demand. With students who need more help now than ever, structured days are becoming disturbed and students are experiencing unique circumstances.
“Lack of structure is really hard when it’s online,” says Trish Warner, a student at Seattle Central. “I have a structured day when I go to and leave campus. It’s been really hard to organize my life at this point.”
Warner needs access to extended test taking time, and usually just completes assessments in the office. However, with distanced learning placing a physical obstacle to contacts and accommodations, provisions become difficult, especially when already limited staff and resources are stretched even further.
“It’s hard to place fair expectations on them because there’s so few of them doing the best with the extremely scant resources they have,” says Danny Barber, another student at Seattle Central. “I think it will be a matter of learning how the online school system will work for them.”
Unfortunately, adaptation to distance learning can become a disadvantage for students, but it is beyond both DSS’ and students’ control. How are students struggling and how does communication become key to unlocking maximum potential for students in need during stay-at-home orders during this historic pandemic?
“It took awhile for me to even find out there was a form you had to fill out online now for accommodations,” says Barber, “as there was no communication on the school’s part.”
Similarly, Warner also had to navigate attaining accommodations on her own.
“I took the initiative and reached out to them,” says Warner, who was already actively in communication with the DSS office before stay-at-home orders. “They emailed me back and told me they had sent out accommodation emails to all of my instructors. I don’t know if it’s true or not true; it sounds like my instructors didn’t know. I’m not even sure [if] that was because they didn’t receive the email or it wasn’t sent.”
Yet, Warner hopes that these issues can be improved for the future, and expresses understanding for the overwhelming state the office may be experiencing during this time.
“I hope that communication improves on all fronts. I wish they had reached out to me instead of me reaching out to them,” says Warner, “but they have tons of students, so I can imagine that might be really hard for them to get to everyone…”
Barber believes student input is also significant as the office looks toward the future of distance learning in this uncertain situation.
“Although it’s hard to know what exactly you’ll need from the teachers online, I think giving the students the opportunity to express it is still valuable,” says Barber.
That communication is also being addressed by the DSS office itself. Hamdi Abdirahman, part of the Disability Support Services staff, says new accommodations are being discussed and considered as students of all backgrounds face unprecedented obstacles. Abdirahman says the office has always been reliant on online resources, phone communication, and emails, and is working to continue serving students as best as possible.
“Working remotely hasn’t lessened the amount of students we serve,” says Abdirahman, “but we are finding ways to make this transition more effective and simple.”
The office is also facing tech difficulties, such as providing equal access to equipment as some do not have reliable WiFi nor a quiet space to learn.
“The college is working closely to see what we can provide our students with,” says Abdirahman.
On both fronts, distance learning is new territory for those in need and those providing regarding disability support services. The adaptation of the DSS office comes at the expense of student performance and comfortability, but is hard to prevent due to such a quick switch to online. This may raise concerns about student support services’ safety nets for emergency situations, highlighting the uncertainty that persists around the Covid-19 situation.
Communication efforts seem jammed up, as contacting the office for this article showed delayed responses as well. Nevertheless, the office is working to improve and serve students. To what extent this will be possible will reveal itself as Fall Quarter comes around and adaptation becomes expected at a high degree of efficiency.
To contact DSS, email DSS.Central@seattlecolleges.edu, or call 206.934.4183.
Visit the Disability Support Services webpage for Seattle Central here: https://seattlecentral.edu/campus-life/student-support-and-services/disability-support