DAC Pandemic Recommendations

Update Feb 2022:

February 27, 2022: With news that mask mandates would soon be lifted on campus, we participated in a Joint Statement to President Sands and Provost Clarke, asking for continued mask mandates in classrooms and other densely populated spaces. This statement speaks to masking as an issue of inclusion: the university cannot at one time say it supports diversity and inclusion while at the same time excluding those who cannot participate as safely on campus once mask mandates are removed. The disability community knows too well the specter of long covid and sees covid-19 as a mass disabling event.

We continue to stand by the recommendations we made in Summer 2020 — see #2: don’t walk back accessibility. Mask mandates serve as an accessibility measure when rates are high — disabled and other “vulnerable” people would otherwise be unable to participate, they would be actively excluded with mandate removal — and let’s face it: we’re all still vulnerable.

Updates Fall 2021:

August 18, 2021: We circulated this open letter to President Sands and Provost Clarke, as part of an effort with others on campus to push for greater access (and encouragement) of remote options, especially for those with immunocompromised family members (who are not covered by ADA accommodations anyway) and those who do not have the diagnoses (chronic autoimmune conditions often take a decade to get diagnosis, for instance) to get ADA workplace accommodations, and to account for people who are otherwise at-risk in being required to teach or attend in-person modalities.

August 24, 2021: This response from the president and provost, addressed to the community member who shared the Open Letter with them. The president and provost think that our usual systems of accommodation work. No mention of the family members of immunocompromised people or parents with hard work-life situations who cannot use the usual systems of accommodation.

The same day, the faculty senate finished their electronic vote in favor of supporting the Open Letter.

August 25, 2021: The Accessible Campus Action Alliance dropped its updated guidance to their document “Beyond High-Risk” that we oft-referenced Summer 2020.

August 28, 2021: The Roanoke Times ran a story about the Open Letter and university response.

Thank you to the members of the Disability Alliance and Caucus for working together to put together these recommendations.  The below  reflects concerns from the ACAA Statement, and also reflects local concerns and implementation of recommendations. We have shared these recommendations with President Sands, Dr. Pratt-Clarke, Dr. Wilkes, and other administrators in a meeting on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. The following is the document we compiled and shared with them.

The Disability Alliance and Caucus affirms the ACAA Statement on Campus Reopening. Our recommendations below reflect specific enactments we’d like to see pertaining to this statement, from information we’ve gathered within our local communities and specific in application to Virginia Tech. For each of our recommendations, we have provided justification, as well as details about how we’d like to see it implemented and administered. 

The ACAA statement recognizes overlapping concerns of communities who have been heavily impacted by covid-19, including black and indigenous people of color whose communities have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, and especially disabled people within those communities. The statement emphasizes the vulnerability of all people, while recognizing that harms are not distributed evenly and that multiply-marginalized people face greater risk. 

1. No Documentation for Pandemic Accommodation

Recommendation: Our first major concern lies with the misleading belief that the disability offices of this institution have the capacity to deal with a pandemic and public health beyond their work with individual accommodations for individual disabled people. The ADA Office should not be the authority here. 

The ACAA Statement, Best Practice 3: “Universities should not require disclosure of personal medical, financial, or familial information to the institution in order to receive access.” We recommend that we focus on the community, not the individual; accommodations and new work situations should be made available without paperwork or questions.


  • ACAA: “There are many barriers to receiving medical disclosures…” We can discuss these many barriers if you are interested, but include worries about retaliation, stigma, barriers to seeing a doctor and getting documentation, and structural factors to access healthcare.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act was not built for public health concerns. 
  • It was not built for people with vulnerable family members or from highly impacted communities. 
  • Many disabled people won’t want to document for work or school purposes, as higher education fails time and time again to shift its culture beyond seeing individuals as a burden. 


We want Virginia Tech to be a national leader in these efforts, instead of watching our university be lambasted by media focusing on inhumane return-to-campus practices that ignore the still-present public health crisis and its rippling realities. Let faculty members, staff members, and students work from home and get the accommodations they need without documentation, without taking away their ability to go to work or taking away their offices, and allowing for flexibility in work schedules for those who need to go onto campus for their work but may prefer less busy times or times when childcare coverage is more available. 


This policy will actually save many hours of hassle on the administrative side. We already know that the start of a new school year impacts both the ADA and SSD offices heavily – they don’t have the capacity for this work (even if it lined up with their mission, but it does not); they are also chronically underfunded and shouldn’t be asked to take this on.

2. Don’t Walk Back Accessibility – CART, ASL, PPE

Recommendation: Let’s not lose progress and promise on disability and accessibility. CART (live captioning) and ASL (sign language) are all the more important right now. We’re of the understanding that there were clear plans in the works for a fund for ASL and CART for non-class meetings (departmental seminars, conferences, social events). We know budget woes will kill projects; we don’t want to see this sacrificed, as it is essential to community inclusion. We want live ASL and transcription, and a centralized budget for it so that people actually use them for their online social-academic events and other programming that “gels” a cohort, department, and a life academic.

Related recommendation: Make PPE available for departments in a similar manner. Asking departments to cut their budgets while also asking them to purchase PPE is asking people to skimp on protective and accessibility measures during a pandemic. We know organizations skimp on accessibility under circumstances where they aren’t given easy access. We would hate to PPE to fall into this category.


  • Longstanding need and request for CART and ASL funding – for the past 5 years.
  • Encourages units to include accessibility in their planning from the outset.
  • Makes it easier for disabled people to make the request when they know the people they ask won’t be angry at them for it. Yes, this really happens.
  • Live captioning is currently unavailable through Zoom without additional contracting for the host organization. (Ashley contracted with Verbit for today’s service.) 
  • To quote the ACAA Statement, Best Practice 6: “Universities should make an explicit commitment not to use financial crises to cut accessibility in pedagogy, counseling, digital supports, and other areas of work.” 


Have and advertise the central ASL/CART fund through the Provost’s Office, which has more information for faculty members already on its website when compared with other offices. It will be much easier to find here for faculty and students. 


We would like to see the fund administered by the Provost’s Office because that is a place that faculty and staff will feel comfortable approaching. If it’s left to an office that does disability work, it gets confusing about whether they serve faculty/staff or students — but we want this for the community. It needs to be administered from an office (1) where it is findable and (2) where the general community use is understood with no documentation for disabled attendees.

Also note: SSD will also likely need increased funding for CART while more classes are online – for students with auditory processing disorders, who are hard-of-hearing, and are deaf. This fund should not take away from needed, accommodations-based, classroom-oriented CART services to individual disabled students. 

3. We Need A Policy to Protect Staff Members

Recommendation: The university should commit to its workers. This bridges several concerns. (1) We want to see remote work as the default, and justification to the university from units wanting to have face-to-face activities. (This includes classroom instruction, but is not limited to being a faculty-student concern alone.) (2) We want the administration to make sure staff members and graduate students making under $50,000/year do not have their salaries reduced, and do not see cuts in hours for hourly workers. (3) We want the university to expand health insurance coverage for workers who have not been eligible.


Despite talk of progressive pay cuts, we already know hourly staff members have been laid off or have had their hours reduced, particularly in food services, but also lay offs in health services.There need to be no reductions in hours such that people lose their health insurance or housing during a pandemic. Keep everyone insured and work to make employees who have not been insured insured. This is rooted in the imperative to protect people in this community through the pandemic. This is no time to disincentivize health visits and covid testing by taking away people’s means for paying for healthcare. Reduced hours and layoffs impact who can access good healthcare. It brews a more intense health crisis to act in ways that jeopardize individuals’ healthcare during a pandemic.

Remote work should be the default for all staff, faculty, and students, with justification or reasons given for those who need to work on campus, rather than the other way around.

We root this request in the ACAA that calls for universities “to commit to justice and care-driven concerns for health.” Work and health are deeply connected, and this is not the time to place the backbone of this university at risk or ask them to shoulder financial burdens that could be better carried by others.


Consider hazard pay for essential campus workers, rather than reductions in income.

Consider expanding hourly people’s hours such that they are eligible for health insurance during a pandemic.

Some employees, in order to work from home, might need to be reassigned duties. We have suggestions for this work:

  • We’re going to need more captioning with more classes online: this is a good, teachable, and potentially hourly skill for people who need temporary reassignment — and serves accessibility needs for an online campus.
  • We may need *more* teaching assistantships distributed at the college-level for online class work, especially as different types of research undergo delays. Online teaching is more labor intensive, especially as some classrooms, labs, and studios will need creative ways forward.


This may vary, but we’d like to see a guarantee from the President and Provost – and the empowerment of bosses from such a guarantee – that workers making under $50,000 a year will not see reductions in hours and/or pay, even if it requires temporary reassignment in order for people to work at home as needed through the pandemic. We have ideas for those creative reassignments. It’s important that people keep/get their healthcare right now.

4. De-individualize the Plans / Community Health

Recommendation: The language and planning we’re seeing from the university – from messaging about a “Wellness Commitment” to policies that faculty can make their own decisions on how to teach – emphasize personal responsibility for one’s health. In other words, it’s every person for themselves in assessing their own risk and enacting plans for their own safety — and then trying to convince their boss/supervisor/advisor/professor to be kind enough to let them enact. We want to see more community approach and public health thinking that sets defaults for instruction and behavior that encourage/incentivize behavior that coincides with thinking about the collective, rather than the individual. We are all vulnerable during a pandemic – though not all equally so. The individual “high risk” approach is inappropriate.


Not everyone assesses their own risk properly, has the tools to communicate that risk effectively to their supervisor, or has the right information and background in public health and epidemiology to assess the risk of Covid-19. We know of 75 year old VT professors planning to teach face-to-face and people scared to disclose conditions that make them particularly at risk because of retributive action. We’re reading about summer outbreaks on campuses in other university sports programs. Especially when there are financial incentives to bad community health action, we’re seeing bad choices (in terms of community health). 

ACAA Tells Us to Prioritize Relations of Care — “to treat vulnerability as a universal condition made worse by the pandemic, rather than an individual problem.”


We need to think about this in terms of community health — how to keep each other safe and distribute resources to protect the most vulnerable, rather than treating this as something we each assess for ourselves. We have some additional suggestions here to deal with hard cases that will arise. We’ve talked about whether having a small committee of staff members and students to resolve and mediate disputes and encourage creative arrangements during this pandemic wouldn’t be useful. We want it so that bosses/advisors/professors/chairs (those in power) cannot simply veto remote work, and without requiring expensive, invasive documentation. Not all supervisors are great or are informed about public health, and this can’t all be about proving oneself worthy of deserving remote work due to disability or family status. We’re giving bosses more and too much power right now to bulldoze over concerns from disabled and otherwise vulnerable people. The disability community has a lot to offer in terms of thinking about creative work solutions that respect health and safety. 

We need everyone to be thinking about each other (and as a campus that is part of a community) – and that needs to show up in how you are talking about things. Not in the sense that everyone has a personal responsibility to take care of one another, but in terms of the overall health of the community. While individual responsibility and Ut Prosim are invoked to point to our community spirit, in practice it ultimately proliferates danger and shifts the focus and responsibility away from where it is needed most. There’s a huge communications gap here. 


This requires reworking the language by your PR team – but also a commitment to thinking about us all as vulnerable, providing clear information, prioritizing “the health of the campus community on the whole” (ACAA Best Practice 1). 

5. Information and Transparency

Recommendation: We have major concerns about the validity and reliability of any information regarding Covid cases across campus. The University should, at a minimum, be prepared to provide daily updates on:

  • Number of known cases among students and employees – and information to housekeeping/facilities that would aid in where to be particularly vigilant
  • Number of known cases in the county
  • Capacity to quarantine on-campus students
  • Available space in local hospitals (beds, ICU space, and ventilators)  — We know that Montgomery County only has 22 ICU beds, for instance.

It would be useful to keep tabs on this number and the university’s plans/thresholds for when we might “pivot” again in the Fall, given this information. Even if infected residential students remain asymptomatic, for instance, the ripples out to our communities matter.


  • We are currently being asked to keep ourselves safe without enough local information. 
  • Cases on campus (already) that people know about are currently gossip because there’s no information is provided from the top.
  • We are currently planning around university planning where we don’t know how the university plans — this is true of most staff, faculty, and students right now. 
  • University decisions are mystifying in the absence of information about decision making.

Implementation & Administration

  • The first thing on the Ready page should be the Community Stats. It should also be made clear who is responsible for the Ready page.
  • Facilities, housekeeping, and dining staff *need* prompt and specific information about the places they work and are expected to clean when there has been a covid case
  • We need clear information, and need it prior to the public too. This includes information from administrations about work and teaching plans. During the pivot, academic advisors were hearing from students about the new grading system before the university told them about it. 
  • From the Faculty Senate Survey: “Please be sure to establish a good system for rapid and transparent information about current and pending COVID cases as they may emerge in the campus community this Fall. Perhaps a system-wide alert via text or email that lets someone know if COVID exposure has occurred in a particular class/department/building. This could be an “opt-in” option on the existing campus-wide emergency alert system. Please also include an online dashboard that is updated regularly with new information about number of tests done, cases, where they are, etc… it seems like it will be important to broadcast alerts down to the building/classroom/day/time level if in-class meetings are to be held.”

Final Note

In the spirit of Ut Prosim, we offer to continue to work with the administration to improve accessibility. We offer, as the Disability Alliance and Caucus, to meet with you and relevant administrators during September or October to talk about Spring planning, planning for long-term trauma, long-term support, and long-term planning for accessibility, community, and public health during Covid-19 pandemic. We would love to work with you to make Virginia Tech an exemplar in response to Covid-19 and its longer-term impacts on our Hokie community. 

We can also make ourselves available for intermittent feedback, especially as (and if) you want to work out some of our recommendations.

Update Sept 2020, based on VDH UVa Model Concerns: There are immediate steps to be taken when a surge of cases is anticipated.

Surge Recommendations: In response to the predicted surge in COVID-19 cases for the New River Valley Health District, the Disability Alliance and Caucus offers five additional recommendations to minimize risk while supporting education: 

  1. Urge the Blacksburg Town Council and local business owners to return to carryout and delivery only; close the VT dining halls for everything but to-go and delivery options.
  2. Suspend in-person instruction for the next two to four weeks (based on models used by VDOH).
  3. Encourage students to set up online, safe social events (online gaming, Netflix parties, etc.) to stay connected and foster community.
  4. Free, unenforced parking for the next three weeks. Cars are mobile social-isolation units; make it easy for people to pick up food, get what they need from their offices, and move at any time during the day. Encourage single-rider cars so that those who must use public transit are safer (i.e., can stay more socially distant on buses, fewer encounters with potentially infected people).
  5. Make it possible for people who insist on gathering to do so outside with masks. Don’t drive people indoors to gather in close proximity. Cancel sports, but permit tailgating in accordance with local ordinances on group size and masks.