5 trends Disability Services Directors need to watch out for

It’s one year since campuses were shut down across the US. Ever since, departments have had to adapt quickly to changing and uncertain circumstances.

Clock 3 min read Calendar Published: 18 Mar 2021
Author Luke Garbutt
5 trends Disability Services Directors need to watch out for

It’s one year since campuses were shut down across the US. Ever since, departments have had to adapt quickly to changing and uncertain circumstances.

The good news is that we now know a lot more than we did then. Early teething problems with the online system have been soothed, with students and institutions much more familiar with the requirements and challenges that the pandemic brings to education.

The bad news is that there are a series of forces that department directors will need to contend with over the next year. Some will require new thinking. Others, careful management.

We’ve listed some of these below. Take stock and think about how this might influence your decision making.

Want to hear from other Directors? Join the Note Taking Support Network for free to access a community of over 500 Disability Services professionals.

1- Budget shortfalls are coming down the track

Recent reports from Inside Higher Ed reveal the extent of institutions’ money problems heading into another disrupted year.

Aggravating this for community colleges and many 4-year institutions is a drop in applications that could further hit the bottom line. According to national studies, applications have soared at Ivy League and big-10 universities in line with the suspension of academic screening, resulting in a gap further down the league tables.

Though Federal aid has been signed off, there are concerns that the package will fail to meet the needs of institutions. As such, cut-backs are inevitable.

The scale of the problem means that Directors will need to think about how their department can be both smart with cost saving while improving student experiences and support.

2- Students are frustrated with remote learning

Student polling throughout the crisis has shown a consistent belief that remote education isn’t providing value for money.

According to a report from Third Way and New America, a high proportion of students also had to pay ‘significant costs’ on equipment for online learning, a factor which is likely influencing negative feelings toward the model.

Making matters worse, around 50% of students now trust university leadership less because of the pandemic response.

These attitudes will be hard to shift, especially when the near future of the classroom is so uncertain. It’s unlikely that clear guarantees can be made at the institutional or departmental level for some time about a return to pre-Covid normality.

However, college presidents are renewing efforts to improve student experiences, and students have shown a willingness to cut their institutions some slack and recognize that much of what’s happened in the past year has been outside anyone’s control.

But this leads us on to the next point.

3- Communication needs to improve

Students and staff have been frustrated by communication difficulties arising from the Covid response. Working and learning conditions have changed rapidly as the situation has evolved, and institutions as a whole are perceived to have been insufficiently clear in their communication.

If there’s one initiative a director can take through 2021 to improve morale across the board, it’s to communicate clearly and regularly with students and staff. Your department has the opportunity to be a beacon for those it serves. Grasp it with regular, direct, sympathetic communication.

We’ve heard from NTSN members that a smart use of tools like Loom can create better feedback loops between students and staff. Consider creative ways to better utilize tools you already have to improve communication.

4- Compliance cracks are showing

The pandemic has placed a spotlight on every institution’s online infrastructure. In the process, accessibility issues have been revealed and flagged at a much higher rate than pre-Covid.

This, coupled with outmoded and unreliable accommodations, means that disability services departments have found themselves in a vulnerable ADA position. Though the design of the LMS and university intranet isn’t the responsibility of your department, the provision of accommodations absolutely is.

We’ve written about the compliance dangers of provided notes previously. As a frontline accommodation for your students, they’re far from ADA-watertight.

To ensure your department is as compliant as possible moving through the year, consider how the accommodations you offer interact with online classes.

Consider also what you can do to ensure students’ are supported to be as independent as possible. This will help reduce dependencies and ease compliance concerns along the way.

5- Online instruction is here to stay

Whatever direction the crisis takes next, and even with a rollout of the vaccine now under way, it’s becoming clear that online instruction is here to stay (at least in part).

When the pandemic first hit, commentators in industry publications and forums wondered whether the pivot to online learning would be a blip, or the acceleration of a long term trend. There’s no way of knowing the answer to this question yet, but the signs so far are that many institutions will persist with online elements past the immediate need to keep campus locked down.

With that in mind, it’s time to think about how to future-proof disability services. How can you better integrate technology that works in-person and online? How can you cut down on inefficient admin processes and free your staff to support your students holistically?

It’s time to start making some big calls that can set your department up for success no matter what happens.


Written by Luke Garbutt

Author Bio


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