Disability Specific Adjustments: Long COVID
COVID-19 took the world by surprise, and we are continuing to grapple with this world-wide pandemic in 2022. Since rearing its head late in 2019, there has been over 6 million deaths (although this is believed to be under-reported) and over 500 million confirmed cases. Over 63% or 12.2 billion vaccine doses have been administered.
After more than two years we are still dealing with ongoing waves of heightened infections, virus sub-variants, evolving vaccination advice and access, and a ‘new normal’ in the way we work, study and play.
For people with disability COVID-19 continues to heighten personal concerns around health and safety. And, as health advice around preventative measures changes, a persistent anxiety exists for people with disability or health conditions.
In addition, for those who have had COVID-19 it isn’t always something you say is 'done'. Long COVID or post-COVID syndrome has now emerged as a lasting health condition for many people - although there is much work still to be done around research and management.
Impact of Long COVID or post-COVID syndrome
Long COVID or post-COVID syndrome survivors are finding that months on from their infection they are still struggling with the ongoing effects of the virus, and have reported symptoms persisting for months, impacting various facets of their lives.
According to the World Health Organisation  studies across the UK and USA show variations of between 10% and 30% of those who had COVID-19 may experience Long COVID. Anyone who had COIVD may experience Long COIVD regardless of the severity of the initial virus. Symptoms can appear immediately after or manifest months later.
According to the Australian COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce  the most common symptoms of Long COVID include:
- shortness of breath
- cognitive dysfunction.
There are also a wide range of secondary symptoms. These symptoms can exacerbate existing conditions. These include:
- respiratory symptoms: breathlessness, coughs
- cardiovascular symptoms: chest pain, palpitations
- generalised symptoms: fatigue, fever, pain, reduced functional activity
- cognitive impairment: ‘brain fog’, loss of concentration or memory issues
- neurological symptoms: headache, sleep disturbance, pins and needles and numbness, dizziness, mobility impairment, visual disturbance
- gastrointestinal symptoms: abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, weight loss and reduced appetite
- musculoskeletal symptoms: joint and muscle pain
- ear, nose and throat symptoms: tinnitus, earache, sore throat, loss of taste and/or smell, nasal congestion
- dermatological symptoms: skin rashes, hair loss
- psychological symptoms: low mood, anxiety, PTSD, depression.
People experiencing these symptoms after contracting COVID-19 and the proceeding months are recommended by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) to consult regularly with their GP and allied health professionals to help them manage ongoing impacts.
The RACGP has also created a patient resource ‘Managing post-COVID symptoms’ to assist with charting symptoms to assist recovery in collaboration with health professionals.
Disability Practitioner Strategies
For students returning to tertiary education after their illness may need supports, considerations and reasonable adjustments to address the impact of the syndrome on their attendance, participation, and performance in their studies.
While COVID-19 or Long COVID is not a recognised as a disability per se it is a health condition which needs to be managed like many other health conditions that students may experience while studying.
In addition to the teaching and assessment strategies, there are a range of services and equipment that are commonly facilitated by Disability Practitioners as reasonable adjustments for students with the common symptoms of Long COVID such as fatigue, respiratory issues and/or cognitive issues. These include:
- the provision of recorded lectures or a notetaker
- access to peer lecture notes
- access to student access study centre
- arranging the specific scheduling of tutorial allocations
- access to assistive technology, such as speech recognition software
- access to assistive technology or scribe in examinations
- examination timetable to allow for adequate time between exams and are scheduled for times that maximise student’s energy levels due to health condition, that is morning or afternoon exams
- provision for moving around in class and examinations, for example stretching, lying on floor
- provision for additional toilet breaks during examinations
- The recapping of lessons at the end of each session for the benefit of students who struggle to concentrate.
As post-COVID syndrome enters common vernacular and understanding, educators and disability practitioners will need to continue to develop their knowledge on the subject and build a better understanding of how to help students facing this challenge.
Further information about supporting students is available in our section on COVID-19
The workbook below has been develop by disability practitioners in the USA via AHEAD to provide support to students with Long COVID.
As a disability practitioner it may be helpful to be aware of inclusive teaching and assessment strategies that can assist all students. ADCET has identified some specific strategies that may be useful for students with Long COVID under Health Conditions Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Strategies