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LINK20 member Kendra Muller Taylor shares her thoughts about the uncertainty on COVID-19 and it’s influence on higher education and disabilities.
There has been much talk in higher education about the “unprecedented” and “uncertain” nature of our times. I am thrilled to see the compassionate measures put in place to combat the uncertainty of COVID-19, and the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on underrepresented students. There has been increased talk regarding accommodations, alternative grading measures, online resources, and other mitigation techniques to improve equity for students. I have also seen the extraordinary power of fellow students collaborating with decision-makers to advocate for new ways of improving educational equity.
This discussion of equity in education has been one of both fascination and frustration for the disabled community. Some students who normally had to fight for accommodations have seen increased empathy. In other cases, however, normal procedure has been flipped on its head as schools struggle to find alternative means of providing accommodations in the pandemic. But disabled students have always been experts at meandering through “uncertain times” due to their resilience in handling non-compliant ADA standards, accommodation denials, and health emergencies.
Disabled students’ lives are uncertain. From the quickly changing health symptoms to societal biases encountered, disabled students are constantly adapting to uncertainty. Uncertainty in the way they will be treated by schools, uncertainty about their health, and uncertainty in their future career prospects once out of school. I vividly remember when I received an emergency surgery in the middle of the semester. That time was “uncertain” and “unprecedented” as I did not know this surgery would be needed. I was stuck in my own personal quarantine inside a hospital room. I missed vital education for much of the rest of the semester. Now, I see that a video of class would have been an easy solution to what seemed an unavoidable obstacle, as many schools have now implemented.
In this period of international uncertainty, schools may be forced to reckon with their insularity of students’ current conditions. But when the pandemic crisis is over, students will continue to have personal crises— “one-person pandemics” that will turn their world upside down. I hope for a world where different methods of learning can be feasible for students in various situations.
This time of tragedy has proved the ability of educators to achieve new heights of dignity and creativity in providing access to knowledge. It has also proven student resilience and ability to adapt. Access to education should be possible, and the pandemic has proven that efforts can be made to provide an education to all who desire it. This will be attainable as administrators take seriously the uncertainty of each student’s life.
By Kendra Muller Taylor