The Benefit of Continued Hybrid Online/In-Person Courses and the Legal Duty to Accommodate Students with Disabilities
by Katherine Benson
This paper makes the argument that hybrid learning - where both online and in-person instruction is made available - is an example of universal design that should be embraced by post-secondary institutions moving forward. The paper goes on to explore what reasonable accommodation means in the face of COVID-19 as well as the legal framework within British Columbia that requires post-secondary institutions to accommodate disabled students. This paper makes the argument that delivering classes which could successfully be offered in an online format in an in-person-only format while COVID-19 remains active in the community violates both the BC Humans Rights Code and universities’ contractual obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to disabled students.
The Argument in Favour of Universal Design
Universal design is the concept of designing spaces so that they can be used by the greatest number of people. Hybrid learning is universal design because it allows students to access either in-person classes or online learning depending on their preferences and accessibility needs. This type of flexibility has long been recommended by educational experts as a way to better include students with disabilities in the learning process; however, hybrid learning also helps parents who require increased flexibility, reduces the financial barriers to accessing post-secondary education, and supports students experiencing episodic personal emergencies. Offering post-secondary classes in a hybrid style therefore reduces the educational barriers and will lead to more equitable post-secondary education. This past year has proven that many courses can be delivered through online means, and we should not let the valuable lessons that we have learned throughout the pandemic go to waste.
The Duty to Accommodate Students with Disabilities
This paper extensively explores the legal obligations to accommodate students with disabilities within British Columbia. It argues that section 8 of the BC Human Rights Code – which protects people from being arbitrarily denied access to services customarily available to the public – requires post-secondary institutions to provide online courses for students who are uniquely impacted be COVID-19. It argues that not providing online options for lecture style classes likely constitutes discrimination contrary to the Code.
The paper In Favour of Universal Design: The Argument for Continued Hybrid Online/In-Person Courses in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic with a Focus on Students with Disabilities is now available online: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3875075
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Katherine Benson (she/her)
Clinic Head, Law Students' Legal Advice Program
J.D. Candidate || Peter A. Allard School of Law
The University of British Columbia