By Luke Weidner
During the 2020-21 academic school year, students with disabilities at KUstruggled adapting to the new online environment. Many contemplated dropping out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The students, with accommodations provided to them by KU’s Disability Services Office, include a variety of disabilities from ADHD to blindness and deafness.
In a series of interviews via Zoom, the students with disabilities discussed the most serious issues that occurred during the academic year.
“I thought my head was going to explode,” said Illire Goca, a KU junior who is blind. “I honestly felt like quitting school.”
Goca also talked about her challenges when taking classes that were online in synchronous or asynchronous format.
“For me, I thought the synchronous was hard because I can’t see what the professor is talking about or what the PowerPoint is on.”
When asked about the situation of asynchronous classes, Goca said, “Asynchronous was harder because if I have to email my professor, it would take a day for the prof to get back or a last-minute response.”
Due to the nature of the new online environment, Goca took the Spring 2021 semester off. When asked if she made the right choice, Goca said, “Yes. I could not handle the last-minute online transition.”
Other students have expressed similar challenges when adapting to working online.
“I [have to turn the volume up] a lot,” said Megan Baur, a KU senior who suffers from bilateral hearing loss.
When asked about which online format was the most difficult, Baur said, “For me, synchronous is harder because I have trouble reading the professor’s lips, especially when the screen freezes.”
During the interview, Baur was asked if she had to turn her head to hear better. Baur said “I do. A lot yes.”
Baur also expressed more disinterest in taking classes due to distractions.
“I do get more distracted when it comes to the longer classes.”
When asked about being afraid of failing or dropping out of school, Baur said, “[On failing] a lot, yes. I felt like quitting a lot last semester, but I did not. I just pushed through.”
Baur also added that she suffered feelings of depression and anxiety last semester.
However, despite the challenging times, the staff at Kutztown’s Disability Services offer a different view when it comes to living in a virtual environment.
In an interview conducted via Zoom, Disability Service Assistant Director McKenzie Hollenbach, a relatively new DSO staff member who specializes with students that have ASD, discussed some of the benefits of online learning.
“I should note that some of the students that I work with have actually really enjoyed the switch to virtual classes because it reduces some of the social anxiety and social responsibilities associated with taking courses in person.”
Hollenbach, along with the students with disabilities in the KU community, also hope that the university will have some pre-pandemic return to normalcy for the upcoming Fall 2021 semester.