Here’s what our (and probably your) university should do about disability during the pandemic

Proposed immediate solutions for faculty and staff:

Allow people to decide for themselves how to teach or do their jobs while the pandemic continues. This may include online or hybrid solutions.

This disburdens multiple levels of administration. It places a slightly greater burden on Teaching and Learning Services, but only to support the level of blended pedagogy that they did prior to the pandemic.

Someone will abuse the policy; but is this really a problem?

Proposed immediate solutions for high-risk students:

Record classes.

Use existing equipment to provide a simultaneous broadcast of a live class over Zoom.

Slightly higher burden on faculty and Teaching and Learning Services, but not compared with last year.

This may not work for all majors, programs, or courses.

Long term suggestions to avoid this problem in the future:

  1. People with disabilities should be represented at all levels of administration where decisions that affect them are concerned—especially upper administration.  This is especially important in crisis management.
  2. The university create an action plan to address its ongoing ableism.
  3. This action plan should include an approach that normalizes and de-medicalizes accommodations.
  4. The university should make choices around software and equipment with the understanding that no one solution will be accessible to everyone: flexibility is essential.
  5. The university should hire an Academic Lead and Advisor on implementing the plan, just as we have with the anti-Black racism plan.

Some background:

* Disability is a category of political and cultural belonging and not necessarily something that inheres in the individual.[1]  Environments and institutions are disabling.[2]

* Disabled and chronically ill people, and people who care for them, carry extra burdens.

* Among those burdens is the extra burden to “act as nondisabled as possible.” In a pandemic, this burden is potentially life-threatening.

* Disability may be visible or invisible. It may or may not be medically validated or tied to a clear diagnosis.

* People who may not identify with the categories of disabled or chronically ill may still be affected by ableism. People with disabilities and people with chronic illnesses may not identify with one another. Some groups like Deaf or Autistic people, may object to the label of disabled for themselves, but may act as if they have common cause with people who do identify as disabled or chronically ill; they may also be subject to similar institutional obstacles.

[1]                This is debated in the field of disability studies, but it’s a decent working condition. No scholars in the field believe in a “medical model” where disability is simply a problem of the individual. 

[2]                This is almost universally agreed upon and the relevant point from an administrative point of view.