The COVID-19 pandemic caused nearly all colleges and universities to transition in-person courses to an online format. In this study, we explored how the rapid transition to online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic affected students with disabilities. We interviewed 66 science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) undergraduates with disabilities at seven large-enrollment institutions during Spring 2020. We probed to what extent students were able to access their existing accommodations, to what extent the online environment required novel accommodations, and what factors prevented students from being properly accommodated in STEM courses. Using inductive coding, we identified that students were unable to access previously established accommodations, such as reduced-distraction testing and note-takers. We also found that the online learning environment presented novel challenges for students with disabilities that may have been lessened with the implementation of accommodations. Finally, we found that instructors making decisions about what accommodations were appropriate for students and disability resource centers neglecting to contact students after the transition to online instruction prevented students from receiving the accommodations that they required in STEM courses during the COVID-19 pandemic. This study illuminates current gaps in the support of students with disabilities and pinpoints ways to make online STEM learning environments more inclusive for students with disabilities.


Gin, L. E., Guerrero, F. A., Brownell, S. E., & Cooper, K. M. (2021). COVID-19 and Undergraduates with Disabilities: Challenges Resulting from the Rapid Transition to Online Course Delivery for Students with Disabilities in Undergraduate STEM at Large-Enrollment Institutions. CBE—Life Sciences Education20(3), ar36.