For years, students demanded that UT make classes more accessible for students with disabilities. Students argued that increasing the number of online classes would ensure students with disabilities could pursue their education without putting their health, or even their lives, at risk.
UT told students such change was impossible, consistently emphasizing the importance of in-person classes by offering limited online courses and enforcing strict attendance policies — especially in the College of Liberal Arts.
However, halfway through the spring semester, all classes went online. What UT claimed was impossible was not impossible at all.
Moving forward, the College of Liberal Arts must offer a greater and more diverse number of classes online to make UT accessible for all students.
COLA offers very few online classes. Before classes moved online, UT Austin offered 193 web-based classes in the spring, but only 26 of those classes were in the College of Liberal Arts. Of these 26 classes, only four were upper division.
Government and public relations senior Caroline Graves tried to take web-based classes for as long as she could. Taking classes online allowed her to more easily manage her chronic illnesses.
“Online classes are just kind of easier to handle with all of my disability and illness issues,” Graves said. “But, I’m getting into those upper division courses that just aren’t offered online, so I have to take them in person.”
Online classes are often self-paced and do not require students to travel to and from campus. Students can still participate in their classes and engage with other students and professors, as all students did this past spring and many will do again this fall.
“When you have disability issues, chronic illness issues and/or mental health issues, not having to go to a physical classroom everyday, interact with people in person, or travel all the way to campus and your classes is a lot easier to manage,” Graves said.
Students can be forced to follow strict attendance policies and attend in-person classes even if they have accommodations from Services for Students with Disabilities.
“My doctors give me permission to have flexible attendance because my health is unpredictable,” communication and leadership senior Sam Miles said. “If my professor says ‘No, attendance is mandatory,’ then that is my flexible attendance policy.
One of Miles’ foreign language classes had a strict mandatory attendance policy, and attendance comprised a large percentage of students’ grades.
“I would just force myself to come (to that class) if I wasn’t feeling well,” Miles said. “I’d end up missing even more of my other classes. I ultimately made my seizure condition way worse and then I needed to go into the hospital.”
Several students at UT are petitioning the University to require professors to make some of the accommodations introduced this semester permanent. These students urge professors to post lecture slides online, offer virtual office hours and provide pre-recorded, captioned lectures.
“There’s just so much stuff online now,” Graves said. “I feel like that proves that these accommodations are possible and they can be implemented.”
UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said that a planning committee is working hard to ensure the 400-plus classes scheduled to be online in the fall will be high quality and meet UT standards.
A similar effort on a smaller scale could make more classes accessible for more students year-round. Graves says that students at UT and other universities have asked for increased online classes and resources for years.
“It’s always been, especially in regards to attendance policies, that (providing more online classes)would be really difficult on UT’s end and you wouldn’t get the educational experience that you need,” Graves said.
However, former UT President Greg Fenves insisted that this past spring semester, “the insightful lectures and discussions that define the UT experience” continued, even though all classes became web-based.
UT needs to expand the number of online classes it offers, especially within the College of Liberal Arts. Allowing more resources and classes to be available online will make UT more accessible for all students.
Zaksek is a Plan II and women’s and gender studies junior from Allen, Texas.