To help celebrate and spread awareness for disAbility Awareness Month, I had the chance to sit down for a Zoom roundtable discussion with three wonderful colleagues in DSPS. The discussion was illuminating, informative, and optimistic. My main takeaway from this discussion is that, even though students are learning remotely, they still have access to many wonderful resources that help to support students of all abilities in these challenging times. Check out the full interview below!
I am a learning disability specialist and I am housed, if you will, in what used to be the Instructional Assistance Center, but now we've converted it to Accommodations Resource Center; we've merged two centers together, and now we call it the ARC. My role is multifaceted and always has been, not only in remote times. I do learning disability assessments for any student that requests it on campus, and I'm the liaison between faculty and students that we serve. I also decide on accommodations that would be helpful to a student, helping them plan a semester success plan where they can really get through their classes. I spend time giving a lot of advice, giving a lot of resources on campus and in the community.
My name is Diana Carrillo and I'm a counselor within DSPS. My role is that I meet with students that have various diagnoses and establish services with them. I go over accommodations, as well as referrals to on-campus departments such as EOPS, Transfer Center, Multicultural Center, and outside agencies such as DOR (Department of Rehabilitation). I act as a liaison between the student and professor or other departments on campus. Then I collaborate with Ellen to refer students when they need extra time for testing, or I collaborate with Scott for alternate media. I'm also an academic counselor. So I help students with their academic goals, career interests, student educational plans, recommending courses, going over majors.
I'm Scott Ziegler and I'm the alternate media technician. I'm currently housed in… my house. My role is to make sure that students have access to the course material in the format that they need to work with, whatever assistive technology they may be using. That can be electronic text, Braille, tactile graphics, large print, those kind of things.
From my perspective, the real important thing is accessibility of online content. And there are some things that teachers can do which aren't difficult but that would really help a lot of students, particularly those using assistive technology. Simple things like applying heading styles to Word documents, not posting image only content or scans, making sure that whatever files they're linking to go to accessible pages and not, for instance, a scan of an article or something like that. Looking at a universal design approach when they post their course content would be extremely helpful for our department and also for a lot of students. A lot of instructors might not even know that some of their students are using assistive technology. Also, I would encourage instructors to be very clear and consistent about where they're posting different things. Canvas is great, but there's so many different places to put stuff, in the announcements or in the files, and I've heard from a lot of people that that gets very confusing. For instance, a sighted person can pretty easily scroll around and find what they're looking for. But imagine if you're using a screen reader: just the amount of time and effort it would take to track something down if it's not consistently posted in the same spot.
Right now this transition has been hard for a lot of our students. This isn't the ideal environment to meet their learning styles. So I think it's important to remind students that, yes, we're all working from home, we're all doing this remote—but not to fear it. The accommodations are still here. We're still connecting with professors, and students don't have to take the full 12 units; they can take less and go at their own pace. We're also doing all of our events remotely. October is disAbility Awareness Month. For instance, students can visit our Instagram page @DSPS_GCC. We list a lot of our resources, important events, and deadlines that students can check out.
Like Diana was alluding to, these students get very stressed out. They're very anxious. I'm noticing this mostly in two different groups: the older, nontraditional age students, and the new students to campus, for whom this is their introduction to college life (and it's quite the transition for many of them!). So their learning curve is a lot longer than the average. And I think that that has to be respected, especially the older, nontraditional age students. I help run a support group for adult reentry students, and that is something that always comes up. They say they are not as smart, technology wise, as their instructors think they are. So it seems unfair to them to lose out because of that. But we have great resources within our department that can help them through some of this, which I think is helping dissolve some of their anxiety. The other thing I wanted to point out was test proctoring: we're still doing that remotely, and I want the faculty to realize that their tests are secure because this question comes up a lot. They want to know that if the student takes the test earlier, they’re not going to go spread word about the test. We have our students sign test proctoring contract which includes that, so we consider that their bond.
Can I add something? I've actually had a few students that are using Proctorio, and the idea of being monitored, and the concern that the professor thinks they’re cheating, increases their anxiety. I have another student who lives in a shelter, so she doesn't turn on her camera because she doesn't want her classmates to ask questions. So that’s just something to take into consideration.
You know, it's funny, but in a lot of ways my job hasn't really changed all that much. I mean, it has in terms of volume, and the way that I train. Trying to train someone on Zoom is very different than training in person. For instance, for using a text to speech software or something like that. It's so much easier sitting with a student and going through their device in person because some of this software is just a little different depending on what device they’re using, whether it’s Android or a Mac or a PC or a Chromebook. Trying to manage that over the phone is very difficult because I can't see what they're seeing.
So that's been a challenge to adapt to, to say the least. But as far as the actual media, you know, providing our media services—it's mostly electronic. Rather than students bringing in flash drives, I put everything on Google Drive now and share folders. So that part of it has worked out fine. And I do go into campus if I need to use the Braille machines.
I have also seen a pretty large increase in the number of students that are that are getting referred to me. I think part of that is because so many teachers have their course material online now, even textbooks and everything. So people are wanting additional help with reading.
The way ARC works is there are four specialists altogether. Three are technology specialists and I am a learning specialist. Whenever a student is referred by Diana or one of our other counselors, I parcel out the request based on which specialist's expertise matches the needs of the student. The determining factors are the referral form information and the student's course history, among other things.
But what's been interesting is taking our tutoring remote. We offer tutoring online now for English and math. Student Development 143 is our way of giving credit to students who go through a certain number of hours of tutoring. Working remotely has allowed me to look at that a little differently. What it's entitled me to do is to actually go on the phone with students. I call them and I do welfare checks, if you will, but I also talk to them about their classes and how they’re doing with them and what I can help them with. I really love that aspect. I think that is so exciting. I’ve been able to do a lot for students in these phone calls, and provide resources.
From what I've seen is that we have certain populations of students who get anxiety in the online environment and who would prefer to physically go into the classroom and connect with their peers. Some students have just decided not to attend. Others are attending part time. And one thing that I've noticed that’s helpful for students is when their professors record the lectures and allow them to have access to go back and listen to the entire lecture via Zoom.
I also want to reiterate that students are still receiving their accommodations, like extra time for testing and note taking services. These are all things that are available, but one of the struggles is not finding note takers. It's sometimes a challenge, even though we pay the students to take notes. I don't know, maybe the professors could offer extra credit or something?
Also, we all we allow our students to select the platform they choose to meet with us in so they can do it via phone, Zoom, email, etc.
I also wanted to add that during the summer, Rita Zobayan and I developed a Canvas lesson about disabilities. In that Canvas lesson we have what teachers should do, how they should speak to an individual that they believe really needs our services, but might be kind of afraid of the word “disability.”
Here is the link to the Canvas lesson: https://gcc.instructure.com/enroll/GM87FN
Using the link above, any employee (staff, faculty, administrator) can self-enroll directly into the Canvas lesson. Once they self-enroll, the lesson will always be in their Dashboard of published courses in Canvas.
Here’s a list of 7 things instructors might keep in mind to increase the accessibility of their Canvas courses:
I also want to share our DSPS video.