Thirty years ago on July 26, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed, allowing people with disabilities equal employment opportunities, easier access to public spaces and different accommodations for equitable access.
The bill has allowed people access to opportunities that would have been difficult for them to access before, such as equal employment and accessibility in public places, according to Jill Flagel, director of Faculty/Staff Disability Services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. However, even with the progress made, she said there is still room for improvement in regard to accessibility.
Flagel said one of the biggest things that needs to change is others’ attitudes toward people with disabilities.
“Some people, for instance, look at someone and think that just because they have a disability it means they can’t work, get married, have children or raise families,” Flagel said. “We can do everything everybody else can, just differently.”
Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, concern for accessibility has heightened within the disabled community, according to Flagel.
Flagel said one of her concerns is that immunocompromised people could face worse symptoms of the coronavirus.
“When I first heard about it I was actually in the hospital for pneumonia,” Flagel said. “I looked at my husband and I said if that ever makes it here, and it will, it will kill me.”
With the fall semester starting soon, the UNL campus has made efforts and continues to help students with disabilities so they will have an accessible and safe environment.
Suzanne Kemp, a professor of practice of special education and communication disorders, said those who are concerned about in-person learning are going to have the ability to watch or read curriculum virtually, which will help students who may have had a hard time doing these tasks in person.
“People have been working with faculty on how they format their classes on campus so that people with vision disabilities are able to use readers and distinguish between different parts of text,” Kemp said, “So far the faculty using these resources has been great.”
However, Kemp said there is some concern regarding students who may have attention deficits when it comes to virtual learning.
“Students who may have attention deficits and disorders already had a hard time focusing in class, and it will be even harder,” Kemp said. “You really have to self-manage and self-regulate in order to be successful when someone is not sitting there talking to you, asking questions and helping engage you. You have to do that all on your own.”
The bill protects students with disabilities as well by allowing classrooms to incorporate those with disabilities in class activities, as well as providing the necessary equipment needed for students to access course materials, according to the ADA website.
Kemp said that since virtual education and limited contact learning is still new, there is still room for improvement and challenges to overcome, such as how instructors can focus on accessibility and keep students engaged.
“One of the challenges is making it all accessible, making sure the content is organized in a way that doesn’t confuse and frustrate students,” Kemp said. “It's all a transition and a translation of I’m not standing in front of you to engage you, so how do I do it online.”