Beit Berl is known for welcoming and supporting students with disabilities. During the pandemic, the College's Support Center for Students with Disabilities went above and beyond to provide innovative services and technologies to each and every student, to ensure that they would all successfully get through these challenging times.
Approximately 600 students at Beit Berl have disabilities, including various types of learning, physical and cognitive issues. Around 140 of them receive ongoing assistance from the Support Center throughout their studies. Ever since the pandemic struck one year ago, the Support Center's devoted staff has been in constant contact with these students to make sure that they continue learning as effectively as possible.
"Beit Berl is special because of our approach," highlights Sharona Elias-Marcus, Beit Berl's Accessibility Coordinator. "We fight for each student – together. Everyone wants to help because we believe it is important not to be limited by one's disability."
When the campus shut down last March and distance learning became the norm, the Support Center for Students with Disabilities immediately began working with all its students to help them adjust to the new conditions and to provide assistive technology when necessary. "We are constantly in touch with our students and listen to their needs," explains Ariella Hellwing, Director of the Support Center. "We offer tailor-made services to each student, according to their specific needs, as well as general services."
The College was quick to provide special resources during COVID-19. "We immediately purchased reading software in English, Hebrew and Arabic to help students with reading disabilities and those with impaired vision; and hearing-impaired students received a sign language service," notes Elias-Marcus.
Many students required new tools to be able to use their computers and the Support Center team lost no time designing programs to help them study remotely. Students with disabilities were also granted new academic adjustments during the pandemic, for classes as well as specifically for taking exams. In addition, a new Big Brother/Big Sister program was established this year, where honors students with disabilities mentor 1st-year students with similar disabilities and help them adjust to academic life. The program has been very successful and will continue.
One of the most acute necessities during the pandemic was to equip students with disabilities with the skills to study effectively from home. "We offered many workshops on computer use and study habits. At first they were only open to students served by the Support Center, but later we realized that the entire student body could benefit from these workshops and we started offering them to everyone," says Hellwing.
Prior to the pandemic, the Support Center offered only in-person workshops during the daytime. When these workshops switched to a Zoom format, they were scheduled for evening hours and demand surged. Whereas in the past, approximately 15 students would typically attend each workshop, the turnout jumped to 40-45. Hellwing reveals that they now plan to continue offering workshops via Zoom and later in the day, even after the pandemic subsides.
Students aren't the only ones benefitting from the Support Center's activities and services during the pandemic. Quite a few faculty members who themselves have disabilities have also turned to the Center for assistance during the past year.
Thanks to its personalized and innovative approach, the Support Center has successfully stepped up to the challenges imposed by Covid-19, and its staff's strong commitment towards Beit Berl's students with disabilities has made it possible for this community to continue their studies.
Pictures from top:
Beit Berl student Adis Sibhet, who is deaf, uses an automatic speech transcription software provided by the college's Support Center.
Nassim Masroa, who has impaired vision, speaks with Sharona Elias-Marcus, Beit Berl's Accessibility Coordinator. Nassim is part of a special program that helps train teachers with disabilities and Sharona is his supervisor.
Sharona Elias-Marcus with student Nir Jann, who has a physical disability.