A Survey of the Remote Learning Experience of College Students with Disabilities during COVID–19
In recent years, higher education in Taiwan expanded along with more diverse entrance options. These changes increased opportunities for students with disabilities to enroll in higher education. However, many higher education institutions were underprepared in supporting students with disabilities. Most students with disabilities reported maladjustment in higher education, especially those with visual impairment, hearing loss, and cerebral palsy. They found keeping up with the progress of courses and assignments difficult. Due to the COVID–19 pandemic, schools in Taiwan started remote teaching on May 17, 2021. So far, the experiences of and challenges for students with disabilities remain unknown. This study explored the remote learning experiences of college students with disabilities during the pandemic. We asked respondents to report whether they experienced more intense or different difficulties. In addition, we identified different types of accommodation across disability categories and college majors.Using a mixed method design, we sent out an online questionnaire through the resource classrooms of each university, resulting in 577 volunteer respondents who were students with disabilities; subsequently, 37 students with disabilities shared their living and learning experiences under remote learning during the pandemic in follow-up qualitative interviews. In this sample, 57.0% (n=329) self-identified as having mental or cognitive disabilities; 24.1% (n=139) physical disabilities; 18.0% (n=104) sensory (i.e., visual impairment or hearing loss) disabilities; and 5.9% (n=34) other disabilities. The survey revealed that students with mental or cognitive disabilities were less likely to receive helpful information and accommodation remotely from the disability service center (M=4.96 vs. M=5.24) and specific course material instructions (M=4.52 vs. M=4.74); students with sensory disabilities were less likely to access course material in remote learning (M=4.06 vs. M=4.55) and to receive useful information about final exams and papers (M=4.10 vs. M=4.48); students with physical disabilities were more likely to receive clear instructions from teachers (M=4.88 vs. M=4.53) and to efficiently communicate with teachers regarding changes to assignments and papers (M=4.68 vs. M=4.42); students with other disabilities were more likely to receive assistance from the disability service centers (M=5.03 vs. M=4.64) and to manage their time well during remote learning (M=5.00 vs. M=4.45). Overall, students with other disabilities and physical disabilities reported better adjustment to remote learning. In contrast, students with mental, cognitive or sensory disabilities reported feeling more disadvantaged in remote learning settings.
Moreover, qualitative data showed that remote learning had the greatest impact on learning efficiency for students with disabilities, but the experiences were mixed. Students with disabilities also identified instructors as a key factor for learning effectiveness. In addition, students with disabilities expressed positive emotion if they continued having effective communication with resource classroom staff during the pandemic. In sum, the study revealed five major findings: (1) The rights and needs of students with disabilities were more overlooked during the COVID–19 pandemic, (2) Students’ difficulties under remote learning varied by the type of disability; (3) Instructors’ support in remote learning varied across students’ major of study. (4) Professional development in remote teaching skills for instructors can benefit students with disabilities. (5) Future research should consider time management and financial burden issues.