Photo By: Scott Graham from Unsplash

The move to an online learning model in March 2020 was not a widely popular one. However, that’s no reason that learning institutions should abandon online learning models entirely. 

For students who want to go back to campus that should absolutely be an option, but the pandemic showed students, and in particular, students with disabilities, that alternative forms of instruction were possible. 

For years, students with disabilities have been asking universities to provide them with alternatives to exclusively in-person education. The choice between education and health is one that students had to make all too frequently. 

Many reported that the move to online education made classes more accessible. This isn’t the case for everybody, but the fact that things like recorded lectures, online tests and exams and remote seminars were made available through an online learning model was something that many students had been asking for for a very long time, before COVID-19 was even a thought in most people’s heads. 

As we get ready to return to campus, these students should not be forgotten. 

Although Brock University has said that they’re going to be operating on a hybrid model in the fall, with students able to register for classes that are both in-person, online and a mixture of both, the way that this plan has rolled out isn’t exactly accessible. Students with compromised immune systems are encouraged to continue learning online, but I’ve noticed that the options seem to be pretty slim. 

It’s true that some classes are being offered online, but it’s not truly accessible unless there’s an option in every single course listing for alternative instruction. When I selected my classes this year, the majority of them were listed as either in-person or hybrid, few were exclusively online. Many of the courses that require me to go to campus to get full marks were required courses that I’ll need to complete my degree. Students with disabilities are once again being made to choose between their degree requirements and their own health and safety. That’s hard to stomach, especially when instructors, administrators and institutions proved that they are more than capable of designing and delivering courses that allow students to learn remotely. 

The burden shouldn’t lay exclusively on instructors when it comes to providing options for online instruction, though they should certainly shoulder some of it. Administrators need to give instructors the resources to have both in-person and online offerings for university education to become truly accessible. That’s going to cost money, whether it means hiring new staff or paying existing staff to take on more work, but I find it hard to believe that institutions with massive endowments can’t find a way to fit that in the budget. 

It’s not an option anymore to pretend that it’s just not possible to provide more options when it comes to education. 

That’s not even to mention the fact that the pandemic isn’t over. Although we’re returning to campus and trying to return to normal, COVID-19 is still a reality that we are going to be living with. To make students return to campus to complete degree requirements when they may not be safe to do so shows a lack of care and compassion for students in a time that has been hard on us all. 

Getting back to “normal” is on everybody’s mind, but it’s worth thinking about how we can come out of this period in history better than we were before. One way to do that is to take the lessons learned about online education and alternative course delivery and use them to make university more accessible.