In Return to Campuses, Students with Disabilities Fear They’re Being ‘Left Behind’

Many are having to press their universities for accommodations — or drop classes entirely

Jessica Chaikof, 29, and her service dog, Jigg, are seen on campus at American University in D.C. on Oct. 19. Chaikof, who has Usher syndrome, is a master’s student in sociology. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

It was her first in-person class, and Chaikof had set up a second laptop and a school-provided microphone near her professor and her socially distanced classmates to transcribe the conversation in real time. She squinted to read the resulting words, but even as her three classmates got out of their seats and shouted into the microphone to try to help, the transcription service picked up little.

“It’s affecting my learning. It’s affecting my ability to do well in class,” said Chaikof, whose hearing and visual impairments are caused by Usher syndrome. “Overall, it’s been really frustrating.”

Many students welcomed the return to in-person learning, but the change has revived pre-pandemic difficulties and created new ones for some students with disabilities. Some lamented the reduction of online instruction, which allowed them to read closed captions during lectures in real time, turn their cameras off when needed, and watch recorded lectures at home and at their own pace, among its benefits.

Losing that flexibility, Chaikof and others said, has brought them physical and mental distress — and the feeling that they’re being forgotten.

“I have to work 10 times harder than my classmates just to be able to succeed, and yet I’m not being supported,” Chaikof said.

American University’s sociology department, she stressed, was helpful, but the university response has frustrated her, she said. Chaikof requested an in-person transcriber for real-time captioning, she said and had spoken with the university on multiple occasions to acquire one for her required course. An American University spokesperson said the school could provide Chaikof only remote captioning services because of a shortage of in-person transcribers and a growing demand for them.

Zandy Wong, 19, a student at Johns Hopkins University who is hard of hearing, attends a food, environment and society class Oct. 20 in Baltimore. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Experts estimate that 1 in 8 U.S. college students have at least one disability, according to Scott Lissner, the public policy committee chair at the Association on Higher Education and Disability. Some of those students, including those with attention-deficit-related disabilities, say they found online learning harder. But overall, the return to in-person learning presents a pervasive challenge for students with disabilities as well as for every college across the country, said Felicia Nurmsen, the managing director of employer services at the National Organization on Disability.

The challenge is heightened, Nurmsen said, in state schools that have high percentages of students with disabilities and few resources. Nurmsen said most of the universities with which she has worked are still figuring out how to increase opportunities for online classes as a disability-related accommodation.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this,” she said. “Every college has students with disabilities. We all need to think about how to support our students with invisible and visible disabilities.”

Zandy Wong, a second-year neuroscience student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore who also has a hearing impairment, also has struggled to keep up with her classes.

“The pandemic showed me that environments can be made fully accessible in a virtual or hybrid environment with little cost to the school,” Wong said. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

She requested clear face masks for the discussion section of her calculus II class from her university’s disability services so that she could read the lips of her socially distanced instructor and classmates. But the instructor and the class stopped wearing the clear masks after a week, Wong said, and she was reluctant to self-identify as having a disability at every class meeting to remind everyone to wear them. As a result, she said, she had difficulty keeping up with the course material.

“I worry, with the transition back to in-person learning, that disabled students like me will be left behind once again,” Wong said. “The pandemic showed me that environments can be made fully accessible in a virtual or hybrid environment with little cost to the school.”

A Johns Hopkins representative said that the university has provided more online and hybrid offerings in programs that were primarily in-person before the pandemic, and that the university is considering how to use technology to make classes more inclusive and equitable.

Wong has requested that clear masks be worn in select larger classrooms so that she can read the lips of her classmates and instructors, but she did not request the extra help in this room because of its smaller size. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Many universities are figuring out the same, experts said, and finding ways to make learning more equitable, including through simulations for labs, video platforms and hybrid learning tools for asynchronous learning.

“The technology has been fleshed out, and the logistics are now understood,” Lissner said. “And now there is a much larger pool of people who could benefit.” The pandemic, he added, has given students with disabilities leverage to press for more change in the educational system.

But challenges remain. At Stanford, third-year math and computational science student Poojit Hegde said online learning was a benefit for him, drastically boosting his levels of physical and mental energy every day. Hegde has chronic fatigue syndrome and received a diagnosis of postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, in 2018; POTS limits his mobility and strains his health when his body temperature fluctuates.

While he was attending classes remotely, Hegde could forgo trekking across Stanford’s campus, which covers more than 8,100 acres. But since he has returned to in-person instruction, he said, he has resumed worrying about having the energy to make it to class. Normally, he would use the campus’s golf cart service, which provides transportation between locations on campus for those with disabilities or certain health conditions at the university. But Hegde said he has had a hard time getting to use that facility this year because of increased demand. A Stanford spokesperson said the university increased the staffing of the transportation service at the beginning of the academic year because ridership had climbed from four passengers daily last school year to 50 a day this fall.

In September, one of Hegde’s classes spontaneously decided to meet outside in the early afternoon when it was 80 degrees, and he was not prepared. Normally, he said, he would have brought a cooling vest, a portable fan and water.

“By the end, I really regretted going to class. It impacted the rest of my day and the day after,” Hegde said. “Because my disability is invisible, if I don’t advocate for myself enough, people won’t listen to me.”

“I have to work 10 times harder than my classmates just to be able to succeed, and yet I’m not being supported,” American University student Jessica Chaikof said. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Liza Mamedov-Turchinsky, a senior at the University of California at Berkeley who has completed six years for her undergraduate degree, said she had to drop half her courses this year because she did not want to take any in-person classes. Mamedov-Turchinsky, who is studying rhetoric and anthropology, is immunocompromised and has chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain disorder, asthma and ADHD.

A Berkeley spokesperson said students with disabilities are allowed to participate remotely if doing so does not fundamentally change the nature of the courses involved. In addition, if remote learning is not an option, the university will work with the students to find appropriate accommodations.

But Mamedov-Turchinsky’s department is small and did not offer many virtual courses, she said, and her request could not be accommodated. As a result, partly to avoid the threat posed by the novel coronavirus, she will have to take another year or possibly two to graduate.

“I can’t choose between my life and my degree. It’s a very difficult position for me to be in,” she said. “What’s been the most painful and heartbreaking about the pandemic is seeing that the world, at the flip of the dime, was able to restructure itself when it came to abled people needing those accommodations. And now it’s become even more difficult to be an equal among my peers.”

Alex Chand, a fifth-year Lawrence University student of physics and English who has autism, said she enjoyed Zoom learning because she felt she could understand social cues better: She did not need to ask others to join their groups because the professor could automate breakout rooms, she could easily leave her hand raised in the queue, and she generally felt less anxious to attend class.

Returning to in-person learning on the campus in Appleton, Wis., has been stressful, Chand said, because she has had to put in far more energy to fight for accommodations. She saw a psychiatrist this fall for medication to help with her anxiety.

“For a while after returning to campus, I was afraid to leave my room,” Chand said. “It’s been really stressful for me, because it’s hard to decode what’s being said in between the lines.”

Barbara Hong, the dean of Texas A&M International University’s University College and a professor in special education, suggested that the difficulties that students are facing could have been avoided if schools considered reopening in smaller phases.

Hong recommended that instructors and administrators take this school year to reconsider how they teach and assess knowledge in the classroom.

“The pandemic has demanded faculty to be more creative and learn how to use new technology,” Hong said, “and none of this goes away.”

Article originally sourced from https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/11/01/colleges-return-students-disabilities/

Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners Healthcare, Raytheon and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network Commit to Innovative Pilot Program to Connect College Students with Disabilities to Professional Opportunities

Leading employers join universities as part of new effort in Boston led by the National Organization on Disability

BOSTON (February 15, 2018) – Five major Boston-area employers have joined a new pilot program designed by the National Organization on Disability (NOD) to mitigate the recruitment challenges employers are facing in an incredibly competitive talent market with a 3.9% unemployment rate, while reversing the bleak national employment outcomes for college graduates with disabilities. NOD President Carol Glazer today announced that Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners HealthCare, Raytheon and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network have signed onto the Campus to Careers initiative that aims to place more qualified students with disabilities into meaningful careers and to develop new methods of college recruiting to address the issue long-term.

Campus to Careers is being funded, in part, thanks to the generosity of The Coca-Cola Foundation, which provided a $400,000 lead grant to kick-start the innovative, three-year pilot program.

“While there is a strong accommodations program for students with disabilities on campus, there is less focus on getting these students career-ready and connecting them to employers that welcome and support talent with disabilities,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. “The result is that only 25-percent of college graduates with disabilities are working. Increasingly, smart employers like Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners HealthCare, Raytheon, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network recognize there is a fertile opportunity to secure top talent from this untapped pool.”

The Campus to Careers pilot, starting with the talent needs of organizations such as Boston Children’s Hospital, Deloitte, Partners HealthCare, Raytheon, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Network will develop a recruitment pipeline for employers to reach college students with disabilities from top colleges and universities in Boston and the surrounding areas.

“Making the world a safer place requires that we build a diverse workforce of the best talent, “ said Steve Ratner, Vice President of Human Resources and Security at Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems. “This partnership gives Raytheon direct access to highly capable candidates – while supporting our local Massachusetts community.”

“At Partners HealthCare, pairing our work with our mission is very important to us.  Our community represents patients and people from all walks of life and we strive to reflect that synthesis in our workforce. Recognizing the talents and strengths found in the candidate pool of people with disabilities is one of our business imperatives,” said Oz Mondejar, Vice President, Talent Acquisition at Partners HealthCare. “We are proud to be one of the founding employer partners with Campus to Careers and recognize that our role is to create and promote access to opportunities for candidates of all abilities.”

To design and implement the Campus to Careers pilot, NOD partnered with Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD) an organization that has worked for 17 years to connect such college students and graduates with employers, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Work Without Limits (WWL) initiative, a Massachusetts consortium of employers dedicated to strengthening disability workforce inclusion practices.

Campus to Careers’ college and university partners include:

  • Brandeis University
  • College of the Holy Cross
  • Northeastern University
  • University of Massachusetts Boston
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Westfield State University
  • Worcester State University

“Employers are eager to hire graduates of all abilities from Boston’s rich ecosystem of higher-ed institutions,” said Kathleen Petkauskos, Director, UMass Medical School’s Work Without Limits. “By better connecting colleges’ disability and career services offices, we’re introducing hiring employers to qualified talent with disabilities, who previously may have been overlooked. Campus to Careers will forge an effective model to sustain recruitment pipelines to qualified candidates with disabilities on campus.”

For 35 years, NOD has worked with leading employers and partnered with educational and philanthropic institutions to pilot innovative approaches to disability inclusion, scaling effective models for broader impact. NOD has helped dozens of major employers hire individuals with disabilities based on its proven suite of Professional Services – a demand-driven approach to filling positions.

Become a Campus to Careers Employer:

In addition to gaining access to quality talent with disabilities on campus, the Campus to Careers project team will work with participating employers to fine-tune recruitment and hiring practices to more effectively reach students and graduates with disabilities. As well, employers will gain new and enhanced relationships with local campus disability and career services offices. Participating employers also receive broad recognition for their commitment to disability inclusive hiring.

Employers interested in joining the Campus to Careers program, can contact campus2careers@NOD.org to learn more.

Are You Missing Out on Key Talent On Campus?

There are 4.7 million college students with disabilities, but only 25% are employed. Here’s 6 tips to recruit students with disabilities on campus: 1. Prepare your recruiters; 2. Create Alternative Applications; 3. Showcase Disability Inclusion; 4. Target On Campus Activities; 5. Tap Existing Networks; 6. Build Partner Relationship; National Organization on Disability logo

The race for talent is on. With the retirement of baby boomers and the increasing importance of knowledge workers in the economy, demand for skilled talent is at an all-time high.

College students and graduates with disabilities comprise a talent pool that can fill the gap for employers seeking skilled, motivated employees. An estimated 4.7 million college graduates nationwide have a disclosed disability, yet only 25% of them are employed—compared to 76% of their non-disabled peers (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).

Avoid missing out on these candidates by fine-tuning your recruitment practices to target this group. Practices to consider:

  • Prepare Your Recruiters. Do your front-line staff know how to communicate with a computer science student who is deaf and her interpreter or understand respectful body language when speaking with an engineering student who uses a wheelchair? Invest in training on disability etiquette and disability employment needs for your recruiters to give students a positive experience when interacting with your company.
  • Taking Applications? Make sure your company’s online applications and your jobs website is Section 508/WCAG 2.0 accessible.
  • Showcase your commitment to disability inclusion. Feature people with disabilities and accommodations resources available to employees in brochures, leave-behind materials, and on your website.
  • Target your on-campus activities. Collaborate with campus career and disability student services offices to sponsor recruiting events and career workshops targeted to students with disabilities.
  • Tap into existing networks to reach candidates. Share employment opportunities through existing communications channels reaching students with disabilities, such as the disability services office’s email list or student-led disability advocacy groups.
  • Build relationships with partners. Establish relationships with partners, like National Organization on Disability’s Campus to Careers program that is connecting college graduates with disabilities to hiring employers. NOD’s Professional Services can provide the guidance and support to help your company advance its disability inclusion strategy.

Cracks in ‘Talent Pipeline’ Pose Risks for Employers, College Students With Disabilities

NOD logoAs the leader of a national organization focused on employment for people with disabilities, I routinely have the privilege of visiting places that are doing some remarkable work to advance the issue. My travels of late took me to two notable college campuses: Edinboro University, just outside of Erie, Pennsylvania, which has committed to excellence in accommodations for students with disabilities; and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York, which has dedicated itself to helping students with disabilities access jobs upon graduation, better ensuring their long-term economic security.

Frankly, America’s colleges and universities would do well to examine what RIT and other leaders in career services are doing right, because many, if not most, are getting it wrong. Nationally, students with disabilities take twice as long to secure a job after graduation. And of the 1.4 million college students with disabilities, about 60-percent of them can expect to not find a job when they graduate. Talk about a harsh dose of reality for young people who simply want to contribute.

Man working at a laptop with a cup of coffeeWhen I talk with employers, which is just about every day, they tell me their inability to hire new graduates with disabilities is not due to a lack of qualified candidates, but rather a lack of access. We at the National Organization on Disability decided to take a closer look at this issue recently, which resulted in a white paper titled Bridging the Employment Gap for Students with Disabilities.

Our research, along with guidance from partners such as Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, resulted in a series of recommendations that colleges and universities can take right now. Chief among them, and it’s one that RIT is executing quite well, is better coordination and communication between each school’s career services and disability offices, which respectively have access to “disability-friendly” employers and job seekers with disabilities. It may seem simple, yet so few schools get this right. At RIT, students engaged in this new model of information sharing report excellent results, with all early participants obtaining employment.

microscope lensesA closer look at this issue reveals that, while as a nation, we have become increasingly proficient at creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities in entry-level positions, employers have yet to build a robust talent pipeline for professional positions. This is a particularly pressing problem for employers looking for candidates with STEM backgrounds. One would think our institutions of higher education would be the ideal place to fill up that pipeline.

However, most professional-level jobs require not only a college degree, but frequently up to five years of work experience. This is a Catch 22 for the majority of all college-educated jobseekers, not just jobseekers with disabilities. But what we’re learning is that these experience requirements may be overly restrictive and are inadvertently screening out graduates with disabilities that could perform well in professional jobs with the right training.

This was underscored in a new study from the Association of American Colleges and Universities, in which employers evaluated students in skill areas such as being innovative, solving complex problems and working with others. Employers did not rank college grads highly in those key categories. Yet, talk with a person who has navigated the streets in a wheelchair for ten years or dealt with the medical establishment on a daily basis, and you’ll find a job candidate who excels in all three areas. Employers should reexamine requirements that might be unnecessarily restrictive – particularly federal contractors who must now seek to satisfy new federal disability employment targets – and potentially gain new sources of inventive and resourceful talent.

2017 NDEAM Poster: "Inclusion Drives Innovation"This summer, our nation will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA. We have taken tremendous strides forward in improving access to employment for people with disabilities. But if we cannot solve the issue of how to connect talented young people with disabilities to meaningful employment, we will have not only wasted an historic opportunity to close this seemingly intractable employment gap, but we will yet again be wasting the talents of people who have much to contribute and deserve the opportunity to participate in the American Dream.

NOD Kick Off National Disability Employment Awareness Month at the RIT Career Fair

To jumpstart NDEAM, a coalition of national organizations are shining a spot light on one critical issue facing companies seeking to meet federal disability employment targets: a broken pipeline between employers and universities who are graduating students with disabilities—and what’s being done to address it. Representatives from NOD, with National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE); Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD); General Electric Aviation; National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID); and Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) will address the urgency of connecting graduates with disabilities to employers during the college’s Career Fair.

Bridging the Employment Gap for Students with Disabilities

As companies expand their diversity initiatives to better include people with disabilities, they look to colleges and universities to source candidates for entry and mid-level positions. Often, however, employers have not been successful identifying students with disabilities and building a pipeline of talent. This is not due to a lack of qualified candidates, but rather a lack of access to students with disabilities.

At many institutions of higher education, the career services office, which assists students in preparing for and obtaining internships and employment and are the first line of contact for employers, lack a strong—or any—connection to the office of disabled student services, which ensures proper accessibility and accommodations on campus for students with disabilities. This disconnect leaves a gap, both for employers seeking to diversify their workforce and for students with disabilities who are not gaining access to the same services and opportunities as their peers without disabilities.

This paper explores the problem of campus employment services for students with disabilities and the impact OFCCP guidelines will have on employers, colleges, universities and students with disabilities. As well, as offer a case study example and recommendations as to what university disability offices, career services offices and employers can do to address this issue.

Bridging the Employment Gap for Students with Disabilities