Online Counseling: Serving Students With Disabilities
By Dennis O. Cambara M.A., DSPS/RISE Counselor/Instructor at the Chabot College Disabled Student Resource Center (DSRC)
Last month, the Online Counseling Network invited me to present in a series of webinars about how colleges are using ConexED to increase student access to online counseling and advising. As a counselor/instructor for the Disabled Student Resource Center at Chabot College, I shared the following insights about how my department is using the ConexED platform.
Eliminating Barriers With Student-Centered Technology
For students who have a disability or illness, coming to campus can be a barrier. Online counseling makes it possible for students of all abilities to participate in college support services.
ConexEd enables a more robust experience than emailing back and forth or discussing needs over the phone. The platform has many features that allow counselors to not only interact meaningfully with students but to facilitate learning. They include the following:
- Self-scheduling for online meetings. Students can self-schedule appointments for online counseling. This allows them to seek support on their terms in a location that’s best for them.
- Access from any internet-connected device. Students can connect from their computers/laptops, as well as their tablets, iPads, and smartphones.
- Collaborative tools. Students can get interactive, real-time help on documents and presentations with online highlighters, text-boxes, shapes, arrows, and more.
- Digital signatures. Students can sign forms with the counselor in the online session. When a student signs a form, their counselor is notified which form was signed.
- Chat box. Students can communicate with their counselors as if they were texting. This is a great feature if the student’s mic isn’t working or if they’re non-verbal, deaf, or hard of hearing.
- Closed captioning. Students can read the transcript of your meeting, which is especially helpful for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have learning disabilities (but everyone can benefit from this universal design tool). Although closed captioning in the platform is not completely accurate, the feature is constantly improving. To increase accuracy, I recommend using a headset with the mic close to your mouth, and making sure you enunciate.
Adapting On-Campus Methods for Online Advising
Counseling students with disabilities online can be intimidating because you have to learn how to navigate e-learning tools while still meeting students’ unique needs. Many of us have a style for conducting face-to-face counseling sessions, and it takes time to establish a style using a virtual platform.
With practice and intentional effort, you can easily replicate methods used for face-to-face appointments in an online environment. Here are three steps you can take to start adapting your on-campus style for online advising:
- Consider allocating time throughout the week just for online counseling. This will give you an opportunity to master the e-learning tools and start to get a feel for your online style.
- Carve out extra time for potential technical difficulties. Depending on their technology skills, your students may have issues. These challenges can eat up your counseling appointment, so it’s important to allow extra time to meet student needs during these situations.
- If you run out of time, schedule a follow up appointment. Online counseling appointments are more unpredictable because of the possibility for technical challenges. Be prepared to work through these difficulties with students and model calm behaviors while getting back on track. If you need more time, schedule it.
Expanding Online Counseling at Chabot College
When I started at Chabot College, only two counselors were using ConexED to counsel students. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of working with my DSPS director to expand our online counseling services.
I’ve recently been working on proposals for conference presentations to demonstrate this new way of working with our student population online. I’ve also presented at campus-wide committee meetings, Flex-day, training activities, and have collaborated with other campus departments that want to start using ConexED.
My goal at Chabot College is to help the whole campus replicate on-campus services for an online environment. This will expand services for every student, while providing more equitable access to students of all abilities.
As an educator in post-secondary education, I understand that technology is the way of the future. With ConexED, I can eliminate barriers and do more to help students with their personal and academic growth.