OPINION: Why Accessibility Needs to Go Beyond the Screen


Hailey Stessman

Accessibility and intersectionality go hand in hand. Graphic by Hailey Stessman/The Gateway

For the next four months, I will be sitting in front of a screen, mindlessly watching a classmate’s cat wander into the frame as my professor lectures us on readings I will have most likely procrastinated on. All four of my classes for this upcoming fall semester are in a remote learning setting where the semester will be a mix of scheduled Zoom sessions and self-paced assignments. Despite the current climate of our world, I am actually looking forward to having my classes online.

I can save money on gas by not having to drive the hour’s worth commute to campus every day. I can sleep in later during the week. I can do all of my homework and Zoom sessions from the comfort of my own bed.

However, while remote learning may be feasible for some students like me, that does not mean it is the ideal situation for others. While accessibility may have seemed straightforward in previous semesters, due to this new format of teaching, accessibility needs to be the top priority for all classes, university events, and student organizations.

For example, when discussing how we would organize support groups this year in one of our first Queer and Trans Services meetings, we initially had the idea of having all of our support groups through Zoom. At first, I thought this would be the perfect solution to offering a safe space for individuals to talk in a setting that would not put others at risk of contracting COVID-19. To me the point of action was clear until someone brought up an important point.

“What about those who are living in abusive or unsafe households or have not come out to family members or friends? How would they feel supported in a group that is supposed to offer them a safe space when in reality they would be worrying about others hearing them?”

Up until that point, I had not thought about the issue of navigating socially distant support groups in toxic households or environments. As someone who lives in a setting where my sexual orientation is supported, I would not have to worry about the volume of my voice or my laptop when talking to other peers in the LGBTQ+ community in a support group. Our outlook and approach to accessibility this semester and for all foreseeable semesters needs to be through an intersectional viewpoint.

Intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor at Columbia University and University of California Los Angeles, “addresses interlocking systems of oppression and recognizes that people’s identities, experiences, and access to power are complex within oppressive systems.”

Just because our interactions on campus may be limited by a screen, that does not mean that accessibility should be limited as well. Now more than ever, students’ accommodations need to be met with the utmost of effort and consideration. There needs to be an established understanding that students and every person on campus including faculty members, live different lives. Thus, solutions and accessibility on campus must be inclusive of everyone’s experiences.

For many students, campus is a safe haven. It is a place where they feel supported, safe, and protected. For some individuals, campus is the only environment where they can truly be themselves. Now is not the time to give up on those students and take that feeling of support away. Distance is not an excuse to settle for the most convenient solution.

Intersectionality and accessibility need to be intertwined; not just for this semester, but for the rest of our lives.