New SSD campaign pushes for accessible online options in fall return plans

Campus News

UVic has announced a full return to in-person classes, the SSD says they need to accommodate students who are immunocompromised or living with a disability

SSD accessibility fall term graphic
Graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish.

The University of Victoria recently announced  plans to fully return to campus in Fall 2021. This decision has sparked concern from the Society for Students with a Disability (SSD), who say UVic’s plans fail to accommodate students that have benefitted from the accessibility online school offers. 

According to Mae Mason, a student living with a disability who is  currently working with the SSD, the Equitable Education Campaign was launched after concerns about having to fully return to campus were expressed to the organization. These concerns were shared by students with disabilities and immunocompromised students after the university made their plans for a campus return public. 

Mason explained that although the SSD is advocating against a full campus return, the campaign’s goal is to ensure the university has online options. The SSD wants those who have found ease in online schooling to not have to choose between their education and feeling safe. 

“The whole goal of this campaign is to have equitable access for everyone,” Mason said. “We’ve heard all the stories of how fully online classes have been a really big burden for a lot of students, and we’d like to hear the other side of it as well.”

The SSD believes that getting rid of online options is a “walk-back” in accessibility. In an email to the Martlet, Karen Johnston, the associate director of public affairs, stated that there will not be any accommodations taken away.

“There has not been/nor will there any removal of academic accommodations from CAL registered students in a return to face-to-face courses,” Johnston wrote. 

While the university has not publicly declared any regulations when it comes to the fall, Johnston wrote that revised guidelines are coming. 

“Additional guidance will be released in the coming weeks in the revised Go-Forward Guidelines for B.C.’s Post-secondary Sector, with implementation planned for Aug. 1, 2021,” Johnston wrote. “The safety of students, faculty and staff at B.C.’s post-secondary institutions remains government’s top priority.”

So far, B.C.’s Return to Campus plan has said vaccines will not be mandatory and social distancing will not be necessary in class.

In an email provided to the Martlet, UVic Faculty Association President Lynne Marks shared some specifics of what a full-return to campus would look like. Marks said that professors could request to teach online for health- or family-related reasons. The e-mail also detailed how UVic would have some online options for classes with high international student enrollment. 

Kiera, another UVic student involved with the SSD, feels the plans are particularly inadequate. Kiera asked that her last name not be used for privacy concerns.

“Being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease so young I’ve had to learn to put my life in the hands of others,” she said. “I never thought the day would come where school would get that privilege and not even care about the effects it may have.”

Mason told the Martlet that having the option of recorded lectures and online attendance has helped students that have to miss several classes a year due to a serious illness or a disability.

“If folks who need to attend many appointments, and many medically necessary procedures, would usually have to just miss out on class and try and catch up,” Mason said. “Whereas if they have the opportunity to watch back a recorded lecture, or do an online attendance, then they won’t have to sacrifice their grades or their ability to stay up to date with the coursework.” 

The SSD has several other concerns with a full return to campus in the fall. One commonly shared concern is related to UVic’s policies, especially around information sharing, when it comes to COVID-19. They feel the university has lacked transparency when dealing with COVID-19 cases on campus. The university and Island Health do not release information about COVID-19 cases on campus unless they are unable to contact trace. Although the Martlet was leaked information about two exposures in March, the university declined to share how many students had COVID-19 or how many were isolated. 

Mason also cited concerns about the uncertainty of vaccine access. As of May 3, 2021, every adult is scheduled to receive their first dose, if they choose, by the end of June 2021. The province of British Columbia has increased the time in-between doses from the original two months to four months. This would mean that students who get their first dose in June would not receive a second until October. 

Mason says that there could still be an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus, which puts the university community and especially immunocompromised students at an increased risk. 

Looking ahead for the campaign, the SSD plans to continue garnering support from students and other advocacy groups. They are also planning to write an email to send to UVic President Kevin Hall, and Cassbreea Dewis, the executive director of equity and human rights at UVic. According to Mason, a survey may also be developed so that concerns and suggestions may be organized into one place.