COVID-19 and Students with Disabilities in College

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Disability Rights Texas Handout

To request this handout in ASL, Braille, or as an audio file, contact us.

If you would like to speak with someone about your rights at college, text COLLEGE to 512-229-9109.

Guidance About COVID-19 for Students with Disabilities in College, Graduate or Professional School, or Technical or Vocational Training Programs

This guidance applies to students who are at a campus that has temporarily suspended operations. It also applies to students who are ill, quarantined, or at risk because of the virus. Begin by taking all the necessary precautions to stay safe, and keep others safe, as recommended by the CDC and local officials. Below we address four situations that students with disabilities may experience because of the Coronavirus or COVID-19. Our general word of advice, plan for all of these scenarios ahead of time even if you are not in this situation right now as circumstances are changing quickly.

QUESTION 1: My classes are now online only. Will they be accessible?

Talk to the school’s disability services office, and to your professors or teachers, to review your current accommodations and to make any adjustments that are necessary.

Many schools are changing to online classes and “distance learning” because of the Coronavirus. It is important that you ask for what you need as far as accessibility and accommodations. Tell the disability-services office and your teachers what methods of communication will work for you.

Federal law requires that schools with online classes communicate with students through one of several types of technology, which can include email. Teachers must also have substantive communication with students (either individually or collectively) on a regular basis. In other words, a teacher might:

  • Send instructional materials by email
  • Use online chats to communicate with students
  • Set up conference calls
  • Engage in email exchanges
  • Require students to submit work electronically

If you have any difficulty with any of the methods, let your teacher(s) and the disability office know as soon as possible. Even if your school has not switched to online teaching, you might start those discussions now.

See our handout on general information about your rights as a student with a disability after high school. Or visit the Mapping Access website for information on the kinds of disability issues that may exist with online classes and solutions.

QUESTION 2: My school is still holding classes but I can’t go because I am under quarantine or have a disability that puts me at higher risk. What now?

Talk to your professor(s) and your school’s disability services office to set up a distance learning plan.

Start with contacting the school’s disability services office, because they should be the point of contact with the most information. But it’s a good idea to talk to your professors and teachers, too, so they are in the loop. If you have a vision or hearing disability, make sure to discuss how they can make any lectures or materials accessible to you. Schools have the flexibility to provide distance learning to students when they cannot attend, or when on-campus classes have been suspended. Even if your classes are not being disrupted now, it’s a good idea to create a plan in advance.

If you are ill and cannot do your coursework, ask for a leave of absence.

If you need a leave of absence, review the leave of absence policies in the student handbook, and talk to the disability services and the registrar’s offices about it. Make a written request even if the normal deadline for an approved leave of absence has passed. Also, if a student takes an approved leave of absence from a term-based program, the school must allow the student to complete the coursework he or she began prior to the leave of absence. At this point, if the school remains open, you may need to complete the missed work within 180 days to keep your financial aid, but that deadline could change, so keep in touch with the financial aid office.

QUESTION 3: Will I lose my work-study income?

Talk to the Financial Aid office and request that payments continue.

Temporary campus closures may affect students in Federal Work-Study programs (FWS). Federal law allows an institution to make FWS payments under certain limited circumstances to disaster-affected students who are unable to continue working. Given the unique nature of this situation, students enrolled at a campus that must close temporarily are likely to be protected. The federal government is giving schools the flexibility to continue paying FWS wages during a closure if all three of the following are present:

1) The closure occurred after the beginning of the term.

2) The school is continuing to pay its other employees (including faculty and staff).

3) The school continues to meet its institutional wage share requirements.

In addition, graduate students who are paid FWS wages on salary may continue to be paid for the remainder of the term if the institution is also paying its faculty and staff during that period.

See information from the U.S. Department of Education on the impact of federal aid.

QUESTION 4: My school is temporarily closing and I must move out of my dorm. I don’t have anywhere to go, what do I do?

If you are not able to find alternative housing, you need to start by contacting the school’s disability services office and the student housing office immediately and tell them your situation.

As public health officials warn the spread of the virus will get worse, some schools have temporarily closed their campus. For students who live on campus, this means finding alternative housing and moving out in a matter of days. When you contact the disability services office and the student housing office, it is important that you share why and how your disability is affecting you in finding alternative housing and request that they make an exception for you. Some schools are willing to make exceptions for students in unique circumstances that would otherwise be homeless. This is a decision that the school takes on a case-by-case basis and the cases approved are very few. If your school has not asked you to move out, it’s a good idea to start planning now.

Disability Rights Texas accepts requests for advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities in college or other post-high school settings. For information on applying for services, visit our website at www.drtx.org, Text “COLLEGE” to 512-229-9109 or call 1-800-252-9108. And Join our Facebook group “Doing College with a Disability in Texas” for regular updates.

We will update this handout as we get new questions or receive new information.

Created: March 20, 2020
Publication Code: AC25

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Statewide Intake: 1-800-252-9108
Sign Language Video Phone: 1-866-362-2851
Purple 2 Video Phone: 512-271-9391
Online Intake available 24/7: intake.DRTx.org

Disclaimer: Disability Rights Texas strives to update its materials on an annual basis, and this handout is based upon the law at the time it was written. The law changes frequently and is subject to various interpretations by different courts. Future changes in the law may make some information in this handout inaccurate.

The handout is not intended to and does not replace an attorney’s advice or assistance based on your particular situation.

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