As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, we cheer ourselves by thinking of future socializing in-person. We also think about returning to work or activities we love. These hopes help us through the challenges of physical distancing. Moreover, these challenges show us that we can be more flexible or more creative than we thought we could. For instance, education during the pandemic has taken new forms and new strategies for success. Many of these strategies are also practices that help schools and school boards accommodate students with disabilities. Teachers and other staff are working in new ways and supporting students in diverse circumstances. In the post-COVID-19 future, more educators may learn how student performance improves through diverse teaching strategies. Consequently, more schools and school boards may continue to use diverse strategies for teaching students with disabilities after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teaching Students with Disabilities After the COVID-19 Pandemic
In response to school closures, schools, colleges and universities are turning in-person classes into remote lessons students access online. In this process, teachers and other curriculum developers must learn to think differently about how students access their lessons. For instance, they may need to turn an in-person lecture into a written lesson. Similarly, teachers may need to rethink the assignments they give students. For example, students may need to:
- Research online, instead of in print sources
- Create PowerPoint presentations with speaking notes, instead of in-person presentations
Likewise, teachers may need to be flexible about grading practices. For instance, students may perform less well academically because they are getting used to new online formats or computer programs. Teachers and other staff must ensure that this disadvantage does not have a negative impact on students’ progress through school. For instance, colleges and universities use high school grades to determine which students they will accept into their programs. High school staff must develop methods to ensure that students’ grades reflect their progress over the whole year, instead of their possible struggles with online learning.
In addition, online learning has heightened educators’ awareness that some students face barriers when learning through technology. Moreover, schools and school boards are learning that they need to remove these barriers. For instance, some students do not have access to computers or the Internet at home. As a result, online learning is not accessible to these students. However, schools and school boards must educate all students, not just students whose families have computers or Internet access. Therefore, schools and school boards must implement solutions that give everyone equal access to their education. For example, some school boards are providing computers and mobile devices with Internet access on loan to students who need them.
Access for Students with Disabilities
Teachers and other educators are becoming accustomed to new requirements for teaching students and recognizing the barriers they face. In the same way, school staff could adapt more fully to other teaching strategies that would remove barriers that disadvantage students with disabilities. For instance, teachers and other staff could adapt to the communication supports, accessible formats, or communication devices that current and future students or colleagues with disabilities use. This adaptation could include slight changes to teaching styles. In contrast, it could involve support staff preparing materials or teaching students adaptive skills. For example, some students may need to use:
- Sign Language interpretation, in-person or remotely through Video Relay Service (vRS)
- Writing, texting, or email
- Braille, on paper or a computer Braille display
- Large print
- Accessible digital files or websites
- Verbal descriptions of images or gestures
- Hearing aids and assistive listening devices
- Communication boards
- Augmentative or alternative communication devices
These supports, formats, and devices empower students to learn in ways that are natural for them. They can easily share ideas and develop collaborative relationships with classmates and teachers. These and other accommodations allow more students to have a meaningful learning experience.