As more and more people get fully vaccinated, the end of the pandemic seems to be on the horizon. Many are eager to ditch the Zoom video networking platform as a relic of the pandemic. However, some students with disabilities found Zoom immensely helpful – so much so that they should argue that it should be available even after resuming in-person lessons.
Nahime Aguirre Mtanous (AB ’11), a freshman year at the Crown Family School of Social Work in UChicago, and a handful of other students are campaigning for the Zoom classes to continue after the pandemic ends. They argue that UChicago’s Student Disability Services (SDS) should create a position similar to the existing Notetaker job, where a student present in the class passes the lecture to the student who is studying remotely.
The group plans to discuss their concerns with Crown Family School Dean Deborah Gorman-Smith soon and reach out to the UChicago SDS office. Thrive, the new SG executive, has also approved the move.
Mtanous said learning about Zoom has been extremely helpful for her in coping with her disability. As a student with no accommodation and no zoom, she had a GPA of 2.2. Dean Ellison even sent her a letter telling her that her academic performance was not up to par. Now she has been able to maintain a GPA of 3.8 with the help of Zoom Accommodation. This radical difference in learning style inspired her to gather other students with her to ensure that the university leaves Zoom as an option for others in the fall.
“We just want to see the University of Chicago give neurodivergent student learning as much priority as it does neurotypical students because we are really successful in making this format change,” said Mtanous. “We don’t want science to close its doors on us just because it’s convenient now.”
Another freshman at Crown Family School, who chose to remain anonymous, has had a chronic case of COVID-19 since contracting the virus last October. You mentioned that if Zoom and her professors hadn’t been understanding and flexible, they would most likely have to retire from school.
The contract with COVID is “open”[ed] My eyes are on the justice of disabilities and what people have seen and complained about in a long, long time that they shouldn’t complain. There are so many considerations, so many more considerations about everyday tasks that need to be considered now. When it comes to disabled access, we still do a lot of the legal and administrative work. ”
When Mtanous and her colleagues learned that the university had announced that the fall quarter would take place in person, they immediately reached out to SDS with questions about how students with disabilities would fare in the fall. According to Mtanous, SDS currently has no idea how they will host the students in the fall and whether Zoom will play a role in the housing available.
Despite the unknowns regarding SDS’s response, both Mtanous and the nameless student have said that the professors and dean of the Crown Family School students were very helpful and met their needs.
“The whole reason we care is that there doesn’t seem to be a straight answer and students with disabilities deserve answers, and we deserve plans, and we deserve not to be an afterthought on this format change because a lot of us will stay behind and slip through the cracks, ”said Mtanos. “Some of us have real career goals that we want to work on because we are now able to get the jobs that Ph.D. Programs and the scholarship programs as a result of these class format changes. ”
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