Cite as: Colombo-Dougovito, A. M., & Blagrave, A. J. (2023, July). Oh its fine, were not even counting this anyways: The (lack of) remote educational support for rural families with a child with a disability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Free communication at the 2023 Annual Conference for the National Consortium for Physical Education for Individuals with Disabilities (NCPEID), Crystal City, VA
Overburdened educators, uninformed politicians, and conflicting or outright absences of communication between schools and stakeholders created a maelstrom for many parents attempting to maintain some semblance of “normal” in their child’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disparities related to internet access or the availability of internet-capable devices within rural communities compared to suburban and urban areas were overwhelmingly evident; much of which has failed to improve, even as schools continue to offer some form of hybrid instruction by choice or through need. Even more so, few families received as little support as those of rural families with a child with disabilities. Understanding the experiences of such rural families is vital to ensure that disabled children are able to exercise their right to education and that their educational needs are met, particularly as remote or hybrid learning opportunities continue to be offer or prioritized. An exploratory descriptive qualitative approach was used to analyze interview data from nineteen (19) rural families with at least one child with a disability and who participated in remote instruction during the Spring 2021 academic calendar. Data were thematically analyzed, resulting in four themes: (1) “They gave him cut and paste—and he’s blind”; (2) “I’ve never been so happy to go to the grocery store”; (3) “We decided we were canceling Tuesday”; and (4) “I’m afraid we are taking 20 steps back”. Overwhelmingly, parents perceived they were unfairly expected to fill in the gaps of in their children’s learning with without minimal or no support from school districts or their child’s educators. Moreover, parents described being pushed to their mental limits and finding ways through what they were experiencing to best help their child. They found empowerment by divorcing themselves further from the idea of “normal”; multiple parents discuss the need to develop schedules that met individual family members needs and tried to better balance their work and home lives. A greater effort must, therefore, be made to provide supports and flexible accommodations to these families during remote or hybrid instruction, as well as to critically examine our present pedagogical stance toward this educational delivery model. In addition to addressing the physical access needs of rural families, school administrators and educators should develop clear lines of communication with families and offer flexibility with learning practices, which may take a radically different form that what currently exists.