Survey finds students with disabilities disproportionately affected by pandemic

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A survey by the Student Experience in the Research University Consortium collected responses from more than 30,000 students across nine large public research universities. The survey found that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted students with physical, learning, neurodevelopmental and cognitive disabilities.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted students with disabilities who are enrolled at large public research universities, according to a survey by the Student Experience in the Research University, or SERU, Consortium.

The survey was conducted by SERU, an academic and policy research partnership between UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education and other institutions, and was administered from May to July 2020, according to a SERU press release. It assessed five areas of student well-being, including the transition to remote instruction, the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, students’ health during the pandemic, their belonging and engagement and their future plans.

“Students with physical, learning, neurodevelopmental, and cognitive disabilities were less likely to believe that they feel like they belong on campus and less likely to agree that the campus supported them during the pandemic,” the survey states.

The researchers surveyed more than 30,000 students at nine large public research universities, according to Krista Soria, SERU assistant director of research and strategic Partnerships.

 The survey added that these students were more likely to experience financial hardships, as well as food and housing insecurity, during the pandemic.

According to the survey’s findings, students with all disability types — physical, learning, neurodevelopmental or cognitive — were more than three times more likely than students without these disabilities to experience food insecurity.

Challenges posed by the pandemic can also negatively affect students’ existing conditions, Soria said in an email.

“Students with ADHD often express that their home environments are too distracting for them to effectively complete their homework, students with major depressive disorder are experiencing unprecedented levels of isolation and loneliness, and students with generalized anxiety disorder are encountering significantly higher levels of anxiety due to the ambiguity surrounding the pandemic and uncertainty about the future of their education,” Soria said in the email.

The survey’s results suggest that 53-70% of students with disabilities experience major depressive disorder, compared to 34% of students without disabilities.

The researchers recommend that faculty do not require students to turn their videos on in Zoom and that they embed resources in learning management systems pertaining to food and nutrition, mental health and wellness in order to reduce stressors felt by this student population, according to Soria.

“Faculty, staff, and administrators should take a trauma-informed approach to teaching students, working with students, and developing policies to support students this semester,” Soria said in the email.

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabrina_dong_.