Meggan Johnston and Digital Accessibility Services

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It’s no secret that navigating life in college can be difficult, and for students with disabilities, the higher education experience brings on an entirely new set of obstacles. Seeking assistance for these kinds of challenges in an unfamiliar environment can be intimidating, especially in light of the changes brought on by COVID-19. However, the director of Depauw’s Student Accessibility Services, Meggan Johnston, assures that through this difficult time, she’s here to make the transition a lot smoother for the students she works with. “My number one job in all that I do is to be an advocate for access,” Johnston said. 

As the director of Student Accessibility, Johnston is in contact with many different members of Depauw’s community. One of her key responsibilities is to “work with any student with a barrier to a major life activity,” Johnston said. “We provide accommodations to students with disabilities… It’s a very broad category of services.”

She aids approximately 100 students with academic accommodations and another 50 with specific housing and dining needs. Johnston describes her work with these students as “one-on-one” as she meets with them individually to discuss helpful resources, courseload acclamation, and time management. She also helps them adjust to using assistive technology such as “readers, audiobooks, and other things of that nature.”

In addition to this, Johnston works closely with faculty members to assist with the implementation of accommodations for students. This part of her job requires her to aid faculty as they integrate these services into their specific courses.

Depauw’s student accessibility services have faced some difficulty as they transitioned to working remotely. Johnston explains that a lot of the work she did prior to the pandemic was in person, therefore adjusting to working remotely has had its difficulties. “One of the challenges we’ve run into is that what might work for a student in an in-person class… may be totally different than what that student needs in a remote environment,”Johnston said. 

Doing school work remotely has also “broadened the lens” of what accessibility services means according to Johnston. She expressed that students who never needed accommodations prior to online learning are now seeking assistance as “many are now identifying barriers they have in the remote environment that they didn’t think about before.”

Though the occasional obstacle has come up, Johnston mentions that some of the changes that the department have had to make were actually beneficial. Setting up accommodations for first-years, she said that she is “always in a scramble” during the first week, but because of remote learning, Student Accessibility Services began meeting with students throughout August. Johnston expresses that this is a practice she’d like to continue post-COVID-19 and said, “it’s made me realize how much more we could be using these types of technologies.”

Johnston emphasises her commitment to the work that she does, describing that she is committed to working one-on-one with students. She also explains her devotion to creating space for diversity, saying that she’s “passionate about bringing all of [her students’] identities to the table.” 

So, while COVID-19 and remote learning have made way for many changes to Johnston’s department, she makes it clear that these challenges won’t do anything to impede the work that she is doing. No matter what, Johnston remains dedicated to assisting students and “helping to make a more inclusive community through providing access.”