The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted students with physical, learning, neurodevelopmental, and cognitive disabilities who are enrolled at large public research universities, according to the Student Experience in the Research University (SERU) Consortium survey administered from May to July 2020 of 30,099 undergraduate students at nine universities. Approximately 6% of respondents (n = 1,788) reported having at least one disability (physical, learning, neurodevelopmental, or cognitive).
Students with physical, learning, neurodevelopmental, and cognitive disabilities were more likely than students without disabilities to experience financial hardships during the pandemic, including unexpected increases in spending for technology, unexpected increases in living expenses, and loss or reduction in income (from family members or personal wages from off-campus employment). Furthermore, students with disabilities were also more likely to experience food and housing insecurity compared to students without disabilities.
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. Students with those disabilities also experienced higher rates of major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder than students without disabilities. Students with disabilities were also less likely to live in safe environments compared to students without disabilities.
As institutional leaders continue to adapt to higher education during the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage them to consider the impact different instructional modalities may have in perpetuating disparities for students with disabilities.