Faculty & Staff Resources

Towson University is committed to providing access in all teaching and learning environments. The Office of Accessibility and Disability Services (ADS) is here to consult with faculty and facilitate accommodations for students in your courses and programs.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Students with Disabilities

While nearly everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 in some way, there are unique challenges for students with disabilities. In the 2019-2020 school year, 10% of TU students were registered with Accessibility and Disability Services (ADS) to receive academic accommodations. According to an ADS student survey conducted at the end of the Spring 2020 semester, 65% of students indicated that their disability symptoms impacted them more after changing to the virtual learning environment than in the classroom. When TU students with disabilities were asked to identify the biggest barrier to remote learning, students most frequently gave the following responses:

  • Difficulty focusing or paying attention to remote instructions or activities
  • Keeping track of assignments and staying organized
  • Needing instructors to be available to answer questions promptly
  • Better understanding of course information and expectations face to face
  • Need for longer time needed to complete assignments
  • Exacerbation of mental health symptoms
  • Personal motivation to complete coursework remotely

Disability is a broad term and covers many different types of physical and mental impairments. Disabilities can include visual impairments, hearing impairments, dyslexia, ADHD, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder, PTSD, mobility impairments, diabetes, HIV, and several other medical conditions. Disability impacts each individual differently, so there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to assisting and supporting students with disabilities. However, it is important to be cognizant of the impacts of COVID-19 on students with disabilities in order to create a healthy and inclusive learning environment for all students.

In addition to the challenges of remote learning for students with disabilities, medical conditions and related concerns are also heightened. For students with medical conditions requiring access to medical supplies and medications, COVID-19 can magnify concerns about supply shortages and/or access to the necessary medications required for their disability. In addition to access to medical care, being considered part of a high-risk population due to an immunodeficiency during a pandemic can also amplify feelings of anxiety.

Given the physical distancing guidance for COVID-19, there also can be increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. These feelings of isolation may be elevated for individuals who are considered high risk and have to try to avoid being around the general public. This too can cause additional anxiety, if, for instance, it prevents someone from being able to work and earn a living. The mask requirement can also create feelings of social isolation for individuals with disabilities. For instance, the Deaf community or individuals with hearing impairments may rely on lip reading or facial expressions to communicate. Similarly, individuals with PTSD may not feel comfortable in a space where everyone is wearing a mask.

Certainly navigating a pandemic is anxiety-inducing for most people. However, as noted above, there may be additional anxiety for students with disabilities. Prior to the pandemic, the largest population of students seeking accommodations through ADS were those with mental health related disabilities (anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc.). Many of these students are likely experiencing increased symptoms and may require additional flexibility and support during this time.

For some students with disabilities such as learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder, the virtual environment is not optimal for learning. Routines and learning strategies that were previously effective for students, may no longer be available when classes are held remotely. Given that navigating education remotely is a new experience for many people, it may leave students with disabilities unclear about what accommodations may help them succeed in the changed learning environment.

As there are numerous disabilities with varying symptoms, there is a wide range of considerations to support our students with disabilities. However, it is important to be mindful of these realities in order to create an inclusive and supportive environment to best promote learning during this time.

Best Practices to Help

Although COVID-19 poses several unprecedented challenges, it also poses an opportunity to improve accessibility overall. Towson University wants to empower its faculty and staff to be prepared to support and assist students with disabilities through these challenging times and in the future.

One of the best ways to help support students with disabilities is to be considerate and approachable. It is important to exercise flexibility, be available for questions, and allow reasonable leniency with due dates as it may take students longer to complete assignments in online environment. Additionally, setting clear course expectations and providing more assignment reminders than typically would be provided in the classroom may alleviate some course anxiety and benefit all students.

Creating accessible course content will also benefit students with disabilities . Things such as captions for audio or video recordings are necessary for students requiring them as a disability. However, captions can benefit all students during this time. For instance, if a student does not have a quiet environment to review audio content, captions can help a student follow the material.

Finally, incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into your course planning will benefit all learners. UDL is an educational approach that has three main principles:

  1. Multiple means of representation of information
  2. Multiple means of student action and expression
  3. Multiple means of student engagement (UDL in Higher Ed, 2017)

UDL is a useful framework to develop educational environments that given all individuals an equal opportunity to learn (CAST, 2012). For more information on UDL and to connect with the UDL-Professional Network at TU, connect with the Faculty Academic Center of Excellence at Towson (FACET).

Accessible Remote Teaching and Learning for Students with Disabilities

Please go to the main webpage for current information on Fall 2020 ADS office operations related to Covid-19.  Current information regarding testing can be found on the Testing Service Center webpage.

DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY

Barriers to accessibility and accommodation needs in a remote learning environment may be different from those present in face-to-face instruction.  Here are some suggested guidelines and resources.

You can facilitate accessibility by creating digital materials that will benefit students with a wide variety of learning needs. This can reduce the need for reactive accommodation and improve access for all students. Please make your digital resources accessible before posting or sharing them. To help make your courses more accessible and inclusive, see Technology & Information Accessibility.

Remote Teaching FAQS

Do you know which students in your courses have accommodations?

Know who is eligible to receive accommodations so early arrangements can be made. If you are unsure, it is appropriate to email the whole class, asking any student who is approved for accommodations to follow up with you. Honor current accommodations for students with disabilities, and encourage students to contact their ADS specialist if different accommodations are needed.

ADS will issue an updated accommodation memo if new accommodations are approved. ADS can email you digital copies of accommodation memos.

Who should you contact if you have questions about providing accommodations?

Each student works with an assigned ADS Specialist who is listed on the accommodation memo. The specialist will be able to answer questions about student accommodations. If you are unsure who the student’s specialist is, you can email .

What are some of the biggest barriers students with disabilities face with remote learning?

In a May 2020 survey of students registered with ADS, 65% said their disability symptoms impacted them more in a remote environment as compared to the traditional classroom.  The barriers cited most often included difficulty sustaining attention and staying organized in a remote environment, reduced access to instructors to answer questions, taking longer to complete tasks/assignments, and greater difficulty understanding course information than in a face-to-face setting.

How can recording class lectures benefit students with disabilities, as well as all students?

Recording class lectures promotes accessibility for students with disabilities and can enhance the educational experience for all students (e.g., students with different learning styles, non-native speakers of English and students struggling with the course material).  A recorded lecture allows students to refer back to the recording while studying, fill in gaps in their notes, and revisit complex information to grasp challenging concepts.  Additionally, captioning recorded lectures ensures accessibility for students with disabilities and fosters greater engagement and focus for all students through both hearing and seeing the verbal information presented. Here is an additional resource from the DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center with more suggestions for teaching accessible remote courses.

How will exams be handled?

As of August 3, the Testing Services Center is open Monday through Friday, 8:30am – 5:00pm, with a limited number of staff and a reduced number of testing spaces.

Students who are approved for testing accommodations should continue to receive these accommodations in an online environment as appropriate. For fully online courses, the expectation is that students will take their tests online as administered by the instructor. Timed online exams will require the instructor to adjust the student’s testing time in Blackboard prior to the test date.   

For courses that offer face-to-face instruction and students have the opportunity to take tests in the classroom, ADS students may request to take their test with accommodations in the Testing Center. The Center will be available to administer and proctor exams but at a significantly reduced capacity. Students should submit an Online Test Accommodation Request Form to schedule a test with the Testing Center at least five business days in advance of the test date. 

The Testing Center will close on November 24 when students leave campus and will not be available for on-site testing for the rest of the semester.

For further information, please call the Testing Services Center line at 410-704-2304 or contact Patrick Chachulski, Testing Coordinator, at .  

What are some tips for working with students with disabilities in remote courses?
  • Students with disabilities often need additional time, and some may take longer to complete assignments when learning remotely. Being flexible with requests for a reasonable extension on an assignment can be helpful. 
  • Keep the structure of your Blackboard page simple and organized.
  • When changing course requirements, such as due dates, make them directly on the syllabus in Blackboard rather than only communicating changes by email.
  • Chat rooms can present challenges for some students, so offer an alternative or make them optional.
  • Being available to answer questions is particularly important for students with disabilities. Holding virtual office hours is very helpful, as is responding to questions in a timely way.

Information for Faculty and Staff with Disabilities

For more information please email  or call the Office of Human Resources at 410-704-2162. 

To request a job accommodation, faculty and staff should visit  Current Employees in the Office of Human Resources.