Following an email from the Disabled Students Program announcing new changes to their note taking system, UC Santa Barbara students and Commission on Disability and Equality members are voicing concerns over inaccessibility of the program’s new structure.
UC Santa Barbara’s disabled students program peer notetaking services program will still be available for students who cannot utilize the university’s adaptive technology options, director Gary White told the Nexus in an email statement.
Wednesday morning, UCSB students registered with the disabled students program received an email with the subject line: “DSP: VERY IMPORTANT! Peer Notes No Longer Available F22,” the Nexus reported. The email announced that students would no longer be able to request a peer notetaker through the DSP system and instead encouraged them to employ the university’s adaptive technology options.
According to White, however, the prioritization of technological solutions like Smartpen and Glean — digital notetaking programs that the university argues are more effective for helping disabled students — does not mean that peer notetaking services will be eliminated completely.
“We are moving towards prioritizing digital note-taking services instead of the peer note-taking system that we have used for many years,” White said in the email. “We will continue to work with students to evaluate their unique needs and make a connection between them and the request for a peer note-taker.”
The disabled students program (DSP) also clarified in a private meeting on Sept. 1 with representatives of the Associated Students (A.S.) Commission on Disability and Equality (C.O.D.E.) that Note Taking services will remain in the DSP services portal, according to C.O.D.E.’s Internal Affairs Co-Chair Jay Shreedhar.
C.O.D.E. and Shreedhar worked to compile a mass of public and private outcry against the initial announcement, which they shared with DSP in the Sept. 1 meeting. There, DSP said the Aug. 31 announcement was “phrased in a poor way,” and was working on a followup email to clarify confusion, according to Shreedhar.
The changes surrounding the notetaker program stem from student eligibility changes, according to White. Starting in the fall disabled students wishing to use a peer notetaker will need to make the case for why notetakers are necessary for them and why the school’s replacement options of Smartpen and Glean are inaccessible, rather than directly requesting a notetaker as had been the standard up until these changes.
“Peer notes will still be available when there is a demonstrable nexus or relationship between disability and the request for a notetaker,” White said in a followup email to DSP students on Thursday. “Students previously approved for notetaking will no longer have access to the notetaking requests tab in the portal (unless they reach out to their specialist and are approved to continue receiving peer notes).”
Shreedhar said the university’s changes to the notetaker program do not benefit disabled students.
“In my opinion, it’s a really bad move,” he said. “It’s ableist. It’s assuming that disabled people will universally benefit from this and that if they don’t, they need to do some extra work in order to prove that they don’t universally benefit from it. It sucks.”
DSP justified the shift toward its “adaptive technology options” in the Wednesday email as “empowering” by putting students in charge of their notes.
“This transition has been explored for two years now as the benefits of adaptive tech over peer notes have become clearer,” White said in the Sept. 1 email. “We know that tools like a Smart Pen, Glean software, and other productivity tools can be used by almost anyone, anywhere, and foster a valuable skill set that is transferable to the workplace and beyond.”
Shreedhar disagreed with the shift toward adaptive technology options.
“I don’t think this is empowering at all,” Shreedhar said. “While they have many other options for encouraging students to move to adaptive technology, they don’t need to do it by force by taking away a lifeline that a lot of students depend on. Empowerment is about choice, and when people don’t have that choice, or when they have a lot of red tape blocking one of the choices in the situation, it’s not truly empowerment anymore.”