Access U’s Virtual Quarantine Catch-Up

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For a group that already feels isolated on a regular basis, this Coronavirus situation can be especially overwhelming. Access U, Starkloff Disability Institute’s program for college students with disabilities, is doing its part to keep these young people engaged, socially as well as academically.

Access U’s Quarantine Catch-Up is a bimonthly Zoom meeting for college students with disabilities to come together and share their experiences adjusting to the pandemic. The meetings are open to all students, regardless of whether they’ve previously registered with Access U.

Katie Fields, SDI’s College Outreach Coordinator, says students are taking full advantage of the opportunity to learn and interact with their peers.

“We talk about how the pandemic is affecting everyone and what different people are doing to cope. We talk about self-care strategies and how accommodations for school are being implemented in a virtual setting,” Katie explains. “We play little games and do breathing exercises, too. We want to make sure people are caring of their mental health, so we always give students a chance to vent and discuss how they are feeling.”

For students who aren’t familiar with online classes, the sudden switch to virtual coursework has taken some getting used to. In many cases, the transitional period has left little time for the career development counseling Katie usually does with students.

Despite the uncertainty of how colleges and universities will proceed in the fall, Katie remains confident in the ability of her students to adapt.

“My hope is that this last semester will serve as a form of training or experience for what online classes are like,” Katie remarks. “We’re in a good position to continue serving our students, and I believe they will remain just as engaged, whether classes continue to be completely virtual or not.”

For those students who still have time for career development and planning, Katie still conducts one-on-one sessions via live videoconference. She’s even gained a couple of new referrals since the pandemic began.

In an effort to make the Access U curriculum available to as many students as possible, Katie is also in the process of transferring all lesson materials over to Canvas, an online learning platform students can access anywhere, anytime.

“As our numbers continue to grow, it becomes a challenge to find the time to meet with each candidate individually, so we’re looking for ways to serve multiple students at once,” Katie explains. “This is a great opportunity for students to progress through the modules at their own pace, and I can go in and add assignments to keep the process moving along.”

Like so many of SDI’s programs and special events, Access U has enjoyed a relatively seamless passage into the virtual realm. Katie credits resilient clients and a determined staff for the smooth transition.

“Individuals with disabilities are adaptable, and we’re very passionate about what we do and the people we serve,” Katie acknowledges. “We were quick to adjust and implement changes, so our programming has been able to continue without any noticeable hiccups, and our candidates haven’t had to put anything on hold.”

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