UVic students with disabilities campaign for e-learning options

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When college classes went live at the start of the pandemic, Julia Denley was finally able to watch her classes without the intense pain that made concentration nearly impossible.

Denley suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder of connective tissue that causes his joints to become hypermobile and easily dislocate. Neurological complications make it difficult for him to stand without significant pain.

A biology graduate from the University of Victoria, Denley has been preparing for her degree for around eight years but said she was in her third to fourth year because she had to drop semesters when she missed too many classes. because she was sick. .

She often dislocated a joint while walking between classes and came to a class with severe pain that distracted her from the lesson in front of her.

“I was spending the whole class grinding my teeth and trying not to pass out,” she said.

When the pandemic forced online classes in 2020, it felt like “a breath of fresh air after feeling like I was drowning for years in an inaccessible environment,” she said.

With the return to in-person learning this fall, however, Denley said his education was taking a hit. She is enrolled in courses offered online, but the courses she needs to graduate are not available to her.

Denley is part of a group of students with disabilities at the university campaigning for online learning options alongside in-person classes.

Sophie Papp, campaign spokesperson and part-time UVic student, said the past 18 months have shown online courses are possible.

Online options benefit students who face physical barriers to getting to class, or who are immunocompromised and do not want to risk exposure to COVID-19, as well as international students who cannot make it. in Victoria, Papp said.

The UVic Faculty Association supports the campaign’s goal of improving accessibility, said Victoria Wyatt, member of the association’s executive committee.

However, concerns have been raised about privacy when it comes to posting class discussions online, as well as the potential to increase the workload of faculty members by requiring them to moderate learning by person and online, said Wyatt, associate professor in the department. art history and visual studies.

“I think it can be resolved, but it cannot necessarily be resolved without additional support,” she said.

Karen Johnston, associate director of public affairs at UVic, said a working group is currently consulting with members of the academic community on course delivery methods, with any changes likely to be based on course requirements. and programs.

UVic offers more than 100 online courses during the fall semester, including many of the most popular first and second year courses and some second year courses with large numbers of international enrollments, a Johnston said.

The university has two classrooms equipped with technologies that allow students to attend in person or online in real time.

“We are excited to hear feedback from instructors and students who could help shape our classroom infrastructure in the future,” said Johnston.

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