Uni students with disabilities say remote learning must improve



University students with disabilities say they are struggling to access online resources and the problem has become worse since the rise of remote learning brought on by the pandemic.

Caitlin L'Hotellier, who has chronic pain as a result of spinal damage, left Monash University at the beginning of this year after staff failed to provide online course material when she couldn't physically attend classes.

She also struggled to access practical physical support such as appropriate seating during exams.

"It was exhausting; it shouldn't have been that hard," she said. Unis are being urged to improve their online resources for students with disabilities.


"It was extremely frustrating because they have disability services to advocate for you but I was there having to advocate for myself to disability services."

After posting about her experiences on social media, she found other students with disabilities sharing similar stories, with some reporting worse conditions since the move to remote learning during lockdowns.

A student with severe hearing loss said they had also complained to Monash after lecturers failed to provide adequate remote learning material such as slides and notes, instead only delivering lectures orally via Zoom.

"I had floods of people talking about their issues," Ms L'Hotellier said.

"There are obviously lots of other students with the same problem as me. It needs to change and unis need to be more flexible." Ms L'Hotellier is now studying at Deakin University.

A Monash University spokesperson said they were aware of complaints and had worked with students to resolve their concerns.

More broadly, they said the university was trying to help students with disabilities through the challenges thrown up by remote learning.

"We are aware of the often-disproportionate impacts of isolation on students with a disability," the spokesperson said.

"Disability Support Services has worked to realign many of its services in response to the requirements of students with a disability in the current online learning environment. "DSS takes a continuous improvement approach to its services."

Vision Australia head of advocacy Chris Edwards said many universities' online learning resources were already unsuitable for vision-impaired students — a problem that had been exacerbated by remote learning.

Students are reporting course materials being uploaded as JPEGs, photocopies or scanned documents not able to be read by screen reader systems.

"For vision-impaired people choosing further education, there are already significant challenges in getting there," Mr Edwards said.


"Then to discover online learning platforms and material is inaccessible to them is not only frustrating, but it can also impact their capacity to complete their studies.

"And we know without tertiary qualifications, the vision impaired are four times less likely to be employed."

Vision Australia wants Australian universities to do an audit of their online learning platforms and ensure they’re accessible to blind or vision-impaired students.

"With so much learning happening online these days, not just during the coronavirus, these questions need to be addressed," Mr Edwards said.

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