Post Pandemic Education: Equity for Disabled and Neurodivergent Students



Equity is a key pillar of social justice. This is the practice of achieving fairness by tailoring support based on individual needs, as opposed to the blanket levelling of the playing field, as is the aim of equality. In education, this includes tailoring teaching to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed in education, taking their needs into account.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, education didn’t stop. When the UK went into lockdown, provisions were made to ensure university students could continue learning and completing assignments off-campus. When campuses were open, students forced to isolate could easily access lectures and materials from home to avoid falling behind in their courses.


As a result of these changes, many students (in particular, those with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or mental health conditions) found studying significantly easier, but in a post-pandemic world, these changes have been phased out.


Where has this left students that benefited from these accommodations?


Lockdown Meant We Needed a New Way to Learn


The introduction of lockdown prevented face to face teaching and limited the use of library spaces and as a result, accommodations had to be made to ensure that students could continue with their courses.

Pre-recorded lectures meant that students were able to work at our own pace, with the ability to pause and rewind content. For some students this became a valuable tool for better understanding content, not limited to the liveness of a face to face lecture. In fact, many students saw improvements in grades through pre-recorded content. This online content could also be accessed at any time. While a 9am lecture would often see poor attendance, the same content delivered online, to be accessed any time of the week, would see significantly higher engagement.


Students could set our own schedule. In some cases, this resulted in better focus on studies, as tasks could be completed at the most suitable time. However, for many students, this was not the case. For some, having a set time for lectures and discussions allowed for a regular routine, and losing this made focus difficult.


Of course, the provisions made at the height of the pandemic weren’t perfect; otherwise, the return to ‘business as usual’ wouldn’t have been accepted so gladly by many students.


For some students, on campus workspaces are a crucial place to work - they provide a quiet setting for studying and completing assignments, with internet access, library books available, and food and drinks nearby. In some cases, these resources aren’t accessible off campus.


The pandemic highlighted class inequalities for students, for example, some students relied on accessing the internet on campus as it was unavailable in their home, making home learning difficult. For these students, access to campus facilities was essential to complete their studies.


The Phasing Out of Provisions


With the easing of lockdown restrictions came a return to in person learning. Face to face teaching was reintroduced slowly, with students given the option to attend in person or online. Provisions were still in place though, with less pressure on attendance due to self isolation rules. It became easier to catch up on missed content, and the risk of falling behind lessened.


For students who struggled with attendance, whether due to chronic illness, mental health issues, or other conditions, this lifeline reduced the pressure to be physically present, and meant that they still could still access content and take part in discussions.


However, these provisions have slowly been phased out at many universities, returning to pre-pandemic traditional teaching methods. For those that thrive in face to face learning sessions, this has been welcomed with open arms, but the disabled and neurodivergent students that found they were more comfortable with remote learning are less enthusiastic.


The pandemic taught us that working from home is possible, and the adjustments that disabled and neurodivergent students had previously been told were impractical were implemented on a wide scale.


What Happens Next?


There’s no perfect solution to equity in education for disabled and neurodivergent students. What works for some doesn’t for others, and even a blended approach will have problems. However, because of lockdown, we have learned that provisions can be made to support students, and often, these provisions should be made - they can improve both grades and mental health.


In an ideal world, provisions could be made on an individual basis, tailored to the specific needs of disabled and neurodivergent students. Right now, this seems like a mammoth task. Remote learning may be a solution for many, and it was a successful substitute for face to face teaching during the pandemic, but many students were left behind without regular in-person sessions.


Hopefully, the success of remote learning will encourage the increase in accommodations for students who require different support, giving all of us an equal chance to succeed.