Just last week, Georgetown students settled into the likely-difficult semester of online learning ahead. While virtual school is widely acknowledged as a general inconvenience for most students, for students who need additional academic support, this transition poses greater challenges.
During the spring, it became clear that online learning created significant obstacles for specific student communities, and would continue to do so if the university remained online for the Fall 2020 semester. These concerns were especially felt by students concerned with accessibility and accommodations, according to the Georgetown Disability Alliance (GDA).
“When we transitioned into the online environment back in spring, we pretty immediately knew that there was going to be issues,” Dominic DeRamo (COL ’23) said. “We saw that there were professors not upholding accommodations, professors asking students to give up accommodations.”
DeRamo, who serves as GDA’s co-chair of community and is a researcher on the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA)’s Accessibility Policy Team, has been working on accessibility issues all summer. Students who require additional academic and physical assistance are provided accommodations by the university to ensure equal access to education, ranging from extra time on a test to permission to leave the classroom for medical needs. However, these accommodations are not always upheld, leading to concerns that existed before the university’s move to online instruction last spring. According to DeRamo, the move only made existing problems worse.
“We had issues prior to this, about professors giving students a hard time and asking very invasive questions about why they have an accommodation or what their disability is,” he said. “But when we transitioned to the online environment, all of this was exacerbated.”
The obstacles created by online learning for students requiring academic accommodations and the alleged lack of support from the university has led to increased student advocacy. In the spring and during the summer, the GDA hosted town halls meetings for students to voice their concerns about issues of accessibility and accommodations. According to DeRamo, the meetings helped the GDA understand what kind of problems came up in the spring and what needed to be done for the fall.
“The one thing that was very, very apparent is that a lot of people felt more comfortable coming to us and talking to us and sharing their stories with us than they were with, you know, with just about anyone,” DeRamo said.
“It was really kind of heartbreaking to see that students are helping out other students at this point.”
To help better understand student’s concerns regarding accommodations during an online semester, the GDA released a Feedback on Fall 2020 Accommodation Concerns form, which was publicized by GUSA. The form collected testimonials from students for the GDA to gauge the situation in the spring and inform for the fall.
“It was just supposed to kind of guide GDA and bring up any concerns that we weren’t thinking about because, you know, we’re a board member of six people, we can’t represent every single disability and every single accommodation concern,” DeRamo said.
The results revealed some professors were making things more difficult for students with accommodations. “From the GDA form that we collected,” said DeRamo, “we know that academic accommodations are not being upheld in the classroom.”
With many students citing issues with faculty and accommodations in the spring and no formal process to report them to the university, the GDA was faced with problems that were not guaranteed to be resolved in the fall.
“The concern that both GUSA and GDA are having right now is that these problems are going to continue. The same people are going to be using the same excuses time and time again,” DeRamo said. “And because we aren’t using a formal process to report violations and upholding academic accommodations, these problems are just going to perpetuate throughout the semester and we don’t have any data to actually show us that these issues are happening.”
To combat this issue, GUSA’s Accessibility Policy Team created an accommodation concerns form that was released on Aug. 26. This form allows students to report incidents regarding the behavior of professors and TAs. According to GUSA Accessibility Policy Chair Nesreen…