How a semester without COVID accommodations is affecting disabled students

Isabel Hope, Assistant News Editor

The University of Alabama’s Office of Disability Services discontinued its temporary COVID-19 accommodations application ahead of the fall semester and Jona Pidgette, a junior majoring in biology, said it was difficult as a disabled student.  

ODS previously allowed immunocompromised students or those who live with high risk family members to request temporary accommodations and opt for online class options, but the University eliminated hybrid classes and encouraged professors to teach in-person for fall 2021. 

“Living with an invisible illness during COVID was difficult,” Pidgette said. “Even when people did recognize that my illness put me at an elevated risk, there was usually a response of apathy.”

UA spokesperson Shane Dorrill said the decision to discontinue the accommodations came as UA administration made plans to return to campus. 

“This information was provided to students on July 22 to allow time for students to make related decisions that were right for them, and to consult with academic advisors about appropriate online course offerings,” Dorrill said. “Students with disabilities, including those caused by COVID-19, continue to be accommodated.”

Pidgette said the risk of contracting COVID-19 takes a daily toll and, over the last year, she has felt that a lot of her peers don’t understand her experience. 

“I noticed that people my age excused reckless behavior by saying that it only affects those that are ‘sick or old,’ which made it feel as if my life didn’t really matter,” Pidgette said. “I was expected to go out in public and risk contracting COVID-19 because I was young and looked healthy, but at the same time, people would think it was my own fault if I did have to leave the house. It was a confusing time, and I hope that more people will be able to be vaccinated so myself and others won’t have to experience situations like that again this year.”

As COVID-19 vaccinations became available, the application for accommodation requests was “no longer necessary” according to a statement on the ODS website. The University reported on Monday that 58% of students have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Students who continue to be impacted by COVID-19 due to a clinically diagnosed disability can apply for academic accommodations through ODS. Students who are unsure if they meet criteria for disability-related accommodations can review guidelines.

Pidgette said she believes the University should continue to prioritize the needs of all students, specifically those who are already vulnerable. 

“I understand the need to go back in person. I personally have benefited from in-class instruction, but I also 100% believe that students’ health should be a top priority during a pandemic,” she said. “My hope is that the students that could benefit from online instruction and COVID-19 accommodations will be allowed to continue to use them until we get to a point where it is completely safe for all students to attend in person again.”

The Office of Disability Services could not be reached for comment.