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Virtual Testing Puts Disabled Students at a Disadvantage

A report by the Center for Democracy & Technology says disabled students, who may need longer bathroom breaks, screen readers or dictation software, are more often flagged as suspicious by remote proctoring AI systems.

student testing
(TNS) — Courtney Bergan, who has PTSD, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and low vision, had approved accommodations to be able to take breaks between sections to use the restroom, eat and take medications during her LSAT.

But her remote proctor told her she was not allowed to use the restroom and had to remain in camera view while taking her medications.

“By the time I got to the last section of the LSAT, I had to pee so badly that I was just clicking through answers trying to complete the test,” Bergan said, according to a report by the Center for Democracy & Technology.

This story isn’t uncommon, the report states.

“Disabled students are more likely to be flagged as potentially suspicious either by a remote proctor or by remote proctoring AI systems simply because of the ways disabled people already exist and because of disability-specific access needs when test-taking,” the report states.

This includes needing longer bathroom breaks or people who need to use screen readers or dictation software, according to the report.

“Additionally, the mere presence of the technology can cause or exacerbate anxiety, which is itself a disability,” the report reads.

For Bergan, this also means fears for future tests.

“I’m terrified to take other tests, including the [Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam] and Bar Exam, using this tech given my past experiences along with a congenital eye condition I have that causes uncontrolled eye movement, that I suspect will also get my test flagged,” she said.

The Center for Democracy & Technology report looked at new surveillance technologies and how they might disproportionately harm people with disabilities in education, policing, health care and the workplace. Authors Lydia X. Z. Brown, Ridhi Shetty, Matthew U. Scherer and Andrew Crawford then provided recommendations based on those findings.

The problem Bergan faced wasn’t the only one noted in the report.

“While algorithmic technologies may become better at predicting which restaurants someone might like or which music a person might enjoy listening to, not all of their possible applications are benign, helpful, or just,” the report states.

For education, other issues involve using facial detection and recognition technologies when issues like tumors or albinism might prevent it from working correctly and the use of threat assessment software.

“Those students with disabilities or Black students would then be more likely to be misunderstood or subjected to unjust profiling, leading to discipline and harsher punishment,” the report states. “Additionally, those with racially-biased perceptions of disabilities, such as schizophrenia, may interpret benign actions of disabled Black people as violent or aggressive.”

The report suggests working with people with disabilities and in other marginalized communities before using these technologies. It also suggests frequently assessing the software.

Schools should also work with families and students so they understand the technology and the requests or accommodations they can make, the report reads.

“Schools should make clear that students with disabilities may request accommodations and that the process will be easy, and that those requests will be met with judgment-free and empathetic responses (which might require administrator training),” the report states.

And it calls for the Department of Justice and Department of Education to “issue updated guidance clarifying that nondiscrimination, reasonable accommodations, and manifestation determination provisions of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act apply to school discipline and monitoring brought on by tech platforms.”

Many of the issues were due to the COVID-19 pandemic but they aren’t going away as schools, workplaces and more incorporate a remote or hybrid lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean these issues have to continue, the report states.

“Fortunately, there are ways to help prevent this from happening,” the report reads.

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