Student Access Center tackles accessibility with remote learning

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Holton Hall is home to the Student Access Center. (Caitlyn Massy | Collegian Media Group)

The Student Access Center is undergoing some major changes in their everyday operations as the university shifts to remote learning. The center assists students with a wide range of special needs and said online education has posed different challenges for each student.

The SAC works with over 800 students that typically utilize accommodations on campus and 250 who do not have accommodations but work with their office, according to Jason Maseberg-Tomlinson, director of the SAC.

“All students have been impacted by this change,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said. “It is a big adjustment to change learning behaviors mid-semester. Each student is impacted in their own way.”

Students that are largely impacted are the students that are hard-of-hearing and those that need special accommodations for testing.

“Moving classes online may affect accessibility for students with a hearing loss,” Natalie Beharry, access advisor and interpreter coordinator, said.

Beharry, who has been working as an advisor for 20 years, said instructors with students that are affected by this need to make sure their videos have closed captioning and real-time captioning for Zoom meetings.

Maseberg-Tomlinson said another challenge these students have faced along with the captioning is finding a note-taker.

“Thankfully many students have retained their notetaker, can replay lectures or access information in many ways,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said.

Maseberg-Tomlinson said captioning has been more of a challenge for them to maintain because of the Zoom classes and meetings.

Ann Pearce, assistant director and access advisor, said she feels students in need of special testing accommodations is an area that was taking a big hit due to remote education.

“I have heard from students worried about online exams either because of the format or because of the time limitation,” Pearce said.

While these are some of the challenges the center has faced, it is not limited to these. Overall, they all agreed that no matter a student’s capabilities, changing their routine completely is difficult in and of itself.

“There is more potential for distraction working from home and it may be more difficult to develop a routine,” Beharry said.

Maseberg-Tomlinson also feels this is one of this biggest difficulties with the switch to remote education.

“We are all people of habit and students have set up their learning and study environments throughout the years based on a physical campus and resources we all have an impact on together,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said.

Maseberg-Tomlinson said that right now it is important to find a new normal and change the routines students had before.

The SAC is tackling each challenge in ways that are best suited for students’ needs and has been meeting with individuals to touch base on what they need.

“Our office has connected faculty with IT personnel and third party vendors to assist them with getting their materials closed-captioned,” Beharry said.

As far as the test-taking accommodations go, Maseberg-Tomlinson said they are communicating with professors.

“We interact with our wonderful faculty and partner with students and faculty alike to find solutions,” Maseberg-Tomlinson said. “We treat each situation as a unique case and we try to be mindful of all concerns.”

The faculty is making progress and taking this unique situation as a learning opportunity for themselves as well.

“We are continually working on strategies to eliminate barriers to accessibility,” Beharry said. “However, we have made amazing progress and learning so much in this process.”

Maseberg-Tomlinson said he has loved seeing how much technology can be utilized and how creative people have gotten in the face of everything.

“We have some incredible faculty and we are seeing some awesome new ways to teach courses, assess students, and communicate,” he said.

While there have been challenges with new online methods, the SAC has also discovered a lot of upsides. They plan to incorporate new forms of student assistance into their routine when in-person classes resume.

“At this point, everything is working fine from home,” Pearce said.

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