Eliminating the accessibility of education cultivated in the pandemic is ableist


Getting out of our bedrooms and back to the classroom is a welcome transition for many—but not everyone. As restrictions ease, forcing classes to become strictly in-person is undoing the levels of accessibility developed during COVID-19.

The shuttering of campus and the isolation experienced by all of us throughout the pandemic have taken their toll. But the shift to online learning wasn’t all bad—it was a positive change for those who couldn’t participate fully due to barriers, who found campus buildings inaccessible or the lecture halls overwhelming.

Now, enforcing in-person classes ignores the needs of those who may miss lectures due to varying levels of ability, physical obstacles, injuries, or distress.

University courses should adopt the model of universal design—a framework that aims to create a learning environment accessible for all people. We must take the lessons we learned during the pandemic and develop the steps necessary to standardize the accessibility of learning for everyone, not just able-bodied and neurotypical students.

In-person, online, hybrid—although all these formats can provide the same level of education, they don’t provide the same learning experience. Importantly, these formats won’t be equally useful for everybody.

Equity in education isn’t about everyone having an identical experience; it’s about everyone having the experience that works best for their individual needs.

The pandemic allowed students to pursue university education in formats differing from the traditional on-campus lecture. Moreover, students were able to compare what strategies best supported their success.

Some people prefer having a physical transition between school and home to focus better. Others, however, thrived during the online semesters because of the extra level of control over their learning schedule and study habits. Those with accessibility needs could finally skip many of the obstacles they faced daily, their lectures only a couple of mouse clicks away.

It’s disappointing their needs were addressed only once everyone became inconvenienced due to the pandemic.

In the fall semester, Queen’s demonstrated it has both the resources and the technology to conduct a well-run hybrid semester. The administration should continue investing in this way of learning for the benefit of their students.

The conversation around accessibility must move beyond the boundaries of the pandemic. Zoom isn’t just a way to stay connected while social distancing, it’s making the university experience easier and more accessible for some.

Understandably, teaching both online and in-person for the same course may be burdensome for professors, requiring more time and effort to record lectures and create transcripts. But difficulty shouldn’t discourage us from doing what’s right. Universities must be prepared to support their faculty with the resources, training, and time to make the process easy.

Students with accessibility needs shouldn’t be relegated to choosing between a limited number of online courses or facing barriers presented by exclusively in-person learning.

The pandemic may be easing up, but the need for accessibility isn’t. Universities should have more course format options available for students so they can make their own decisions about their learning and how they want to access education.

Instead of full lecture halls, equity in education should become the new post-pandemic normal.

Journal Editorial Board

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.