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Together While We’re Apart: Interview with SSD Director Emily Shryock

By Jessica Sinn

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image of Emily Next in out series of “Together While We’re Apart,” we reached out to Emily Shryock, assistant director of Services for Student with Disabilities (SSD), to learn more about how she and her team are helping students, faculty and staff during this extended time of online learning.


First and foremost, how have you been doing over the past few weeks?

All of us have had our lives changed in big and small ways over the last month. My service dog Maple and I are hunkered down at home, settling into our routine of working from home and going for lots of walks in our neighborhood. I am learning to prioritize some of the self-care practices I enjoy, including art projects, spending time in my yoga hammock and connecting with family and friends for phone calls and videochats.

Have there been any changes to SSD’s services/resources since the campus closure?

SSD has moved our operations to an online/remote format since all our staff are working from home, but we continue to be available to support students and instructors via phone, email and Zoom. The only service that is no longer relevant is our test proctoring since all students are taking their exams at home instead of on campus. A complete list of the changes to SSD services is posted on our website: https://diversity.utexas.edu/disability/2020/03/update-on-ssd-operations/.

What are some common challenges—and even benefits—of online learning for students with disabilities?

Online learning can remove a lot of the common barriers that are present in face-to-face classes. Issues such as physical accessibility of classrooms, the need to travel to campus, and restrictions on technology use are all eliminated when students have more control over an environment where they learn. If material is available asynchronously students have much more flexibility in when they engage with class material and can work around things like sleep schedules, medication effectiveness and activity of symptoms.

However, just because something is online does not mean it is automatically accessible; online content should be designed in ways that are accessible to the majority of users and include things like captions on video or audio content, descriptions of images, and the ability to access content at more than just one point in time. SSD and the Faculty Innovation Center have been working on creating and sharing resources for instructors to consider when designing online content to maximize accessibility in their course design.

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Maple Shryock, hard at work at her home office

Would you like to share some words of encouragement to students during this difficult time of transition?

Creativity, adaptability, living with uncertainty and persisting in the face of challenges are traits many students with disabilities have had to develop simply because they live in a world that wasn’t designed with their needs and abilities in mind. These skills are certainly applicable to the current times we are living in right now! As students continue to pursue their professional and educational goals I want to remind them there is still a lot of support available at UT to help them through the rest of the semester. Don’t hesitate to reach out to ask questions or connect with resources if you need support.

Are there any upcoming virtual events that you’re excited about?

Since I have more time in my schedule now I have been participating in a lot of free webinars and professional development opportunities. The Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University has been hosting panel discussions called “Crip Camp Conversations,” which are moderated panel discussions about different topics associated with the Disability Rights Movement and the new award-winning film, “Crip Camp.” If you want to participate in the next conversation on April 18th, you can register here: https://sfsu.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Ks4FNPfcSQac7iI55Sr_wA.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

All of us are going through unprecedented changes to our lives. Please remember to be kind to yourself and others during this time.