Disability Services ensures equal access for students

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a variety of changes to the Mason student experience. This “new normal” can be especially challenging for students with varying abilities. 

Disability Services—an Office of University Life serving 2,000 students with a wide spectrum of disabilities and conditions—acted quickly to adapt its programs and services to ensure equitable academic access in this new environment. For example, students with autism or ADHD needed support to best adapt to new routines in quarantine. During finals, students who would have utilized the Disability Services Testing Center on campus for extra time or specific technologies needed to be accommodated in a different way.

“Disability Services prepared for the massive shift to virtual learning without skipping a beat,” Disability Services Director Naomi Martinez-Jones said.

The 11-member team forwarded phones, took desktop computers home, and created access to shared files.

“We immediately communicated to our students that face-to-face meetings in offices would now be conducted via WebEx, Zoom, or on the phone,” she said.

The shift was more complex for other students. Martinez-Jones explained that, some students initially experienced difficulties transitioning to learning at home and needed support to make their new environments work for them. Disability Services staff adapted coaching roles. They worked with students to understand their at-home environment.  Based on that environment, they discussed study time, study location, daily schedules and how students could get virtual access to Mason tutoring, faculty office hours and other support.

The staff continues to modify their practices to serve the changing needs of all students

To initiate services, students must complete and submit a Disability Services Intake Form along with any appropriate impairment/condition/disability documentation. Disability Services staff confer on cases to best support students. 

For those students eligible for academic accommodations, Disability Services provides written notification for instructors, who activate appropriate alterations to meet the students’ learning styles. Additionally, Disability Services collaborates with Housing and Residence Life as well as Dining Services to develop suitable modifications/accommodations in those areas.

As the Fall semester approaches, Disability Services will continue to ensure students have equitable access, either in person or virtually.

“A great example of the work we do is navigating when face coverings pose substantial barriers,” Martinez-Jones said. “For those students who cannot wear a traditional face mask, we will work together to find appropriate alternatives, for instance a clear face shield or increasing the social distancing space.”

“Also, for students who have health conditions that warrant them to remain with virtual learning but need a specific class to fill a requirement, we are working with the Provost’s office and various departments to individualize our students’ schedules, when appropriate,” Martinez-Jones said.  

The following accommodations, provided at no cost by Disability Services, are available to all Mason students on all campuses, including at the Antonin Scalia Law School and Mason Korea: 

  • Classroom and Academic Support
  • Disability Services Testing Center
  • Housing
  • Meal Plans
  • Emotional Support Animals
  • American Sign Language Interpreters

Additionally, Disability Services offers two fee-based support programs:

  • The Mason Autism Support Initiative provides intensive support services to students on the Autism Spectrum, which assembles a team to assist students achieve their college goals.
  • The Executive Functioning Program provides individual services to students diagnosed with disabilities related to executive functioning skills.

For additional information on how Disability Services is responding to COVID-19, visit the Response to Covid-19 webpage.

“We are here to support students, faculty and our entire Mason community,” Martinez-Jones said. “We’re making sure that Mason is accessible for all.”