Face coverings will be mandatory for students attending in-person classes in University College Dublin (UCD) this Autumn Trimester. Students in all levels of education in UCD will have to wear face coverings in class; especially where social distancing of 2 metres cannot be maintained. This has led to questions of accessibility for students unable to wear masks for extended periods.
A survey by Irish Autism charity AsIAm of school pupils’ parents has revealed that face coverings could pose difficulties for autistic students, limiting accessibility to their lessons and supports. There is an extensive list of “reasonable exceptions” to face masks being compulsory, but in educational settings, this must be met with allowances from institutions.
UCD students have voiced concerns about wearing face coverings for long periods of time. Aoife, a 3rd year Law student in UCD, told the College Tribune that she would find it difficult to wear a mask as she is visually impaired and must wear glasses. She was concerned about her focus in classes as she would struggle to see and would be “frustrated […] trying to keep up with the lecture.” Aoife said she often uses a visor instead of a mask in her workplace, but highlighted potential issues of accessibility.
UCD SU Education Officer and former auditor of UCD Disability Inclusion and Awareness Society, Hannah Bryson, told the College Tribune that she cannot wear a mask for a long period of time and she is “looking into getting a visor instead”. Bryson sought to “remind students and staff that not everyone can wear masks” and to “keep in mind that students or staff may have a disability that you cannot see” preventing them from wearing a mask. She asked students and staff to accept it if an individual says they have a medical condition and not to ask any further questions as they have a legal right to privacy under the new COVID-19 legislation.
UCD has said they plan to maximise on-campus learning through “seminars, small group activities and practical elements of courses”, which will necessitate the use of face coverings. In shops, there are exceptions as to who must wear a face covering; however exceptions for third-level settings have not explicitly been stated yet. UCD has also said that if students are in a position where they need to shield, they can fill out a form to request online-only delivery and support for that.
A spokesperson for the UCD Access and Lifelong Learning Centre told the College Tribune that the Dean of Students, Jason Last, is to head a group established to develop guidelines to aid returning students. The group is to include the Welfare Officer for the Students’ Union (SU), Ruairí Power. The spokesperson also stated that UCD is drafting guidelines for students at higher risk to return to campus; online alternatives will be made available to those unable to come to campus.
Ann Jaffray – Reporter