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I ask out of curiosity. I have never seen this exception before! I know I shall not ask any student about their disability. My university is in the Anglosphere.

Using their @universitydomain.edu, a Disability Adviser (from the university's Disability Office) — and the Undergraduate Chair — emailed that one of my students has legitimate basis, and shall be expected to, email from her personal @gmail.com. All her instructors shall not expect her to email from her @universitydomain.edu. But we can still reply to her official @universitydomain.edu, that is set up to forward everything to her Gmail. I know that she's a full time four year undergraduate, not an exchange student.

What can this "legitimate basis" be? What would legitimize someone using their @gmail.com, but hamper them from their @universitydomain.edu?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 1, 2022 at 18:32
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    It would help to know the country. Keep in mind that the ADA requires that the need for the accommodation be commensurate with the burden it puts on the institution. The need for using gmail is likely low (one could set up a relay that sends email sent from a gmail account to an .edu account to be re-sent from there), but the burden on the institution is even lower (you're not going to get very far denying an ADA request by saying "I prefer .edu addresses"). Apr 2, 2022 at 6:37

5 Answers 5

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Gmail supports accessibility features such as screen readers. Possibly those features are not supported, or not supported as well, by the university’s in-house email system. Since the directive to allow the student to contact professors from her gmail account came from the Disability Office, a likely explanation is that the student needs to be able to use those accessibility features because of a disability or medical condition, and made a request through the Disability Office to be allowed to use her gmail account. Based on the university’s policy for disability-based accommodations, and related laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (or comparable laws if this isn’t in the US), the request was approved.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Bryan Krause
    Apr 1, 2022 at 20:37
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I would hazard a guess that Gmail has accessibility features that work for her disability whereas whatever email system they use does not. I have seen some universities where the default email system is still ancient and my wild guess would be it's not screen-reader friendly.

It should, in theory, be possible for her to use Gmail on her end and none to be the wiser but either (a) your university doesn't want people to do that, or (b) the advisor doesn't know you can do that, since setting up forwarding is somewhat easier (this seems more likely).

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    To get her using Gmail linked to the standard system can require a certain amount of configuration in the standard system, with sysadmin privileges (e.g. total auto-forwarding is often blocked for users thoguh it seems to be enabled for outgoing here). Really old university default email systems probably aren't the problem unless the user is tied to webmail for some reason - get the data onto their own device in a clean format (as traditional, standards-compliant email systems can do very well) and assistive tools can work from there
    – Chris H
    Apr 1, 2022 at 13:10
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The answers given are the overwhelmingly likely ones. Though I would add that there is also a possibility of this being tied in to mental health. I have the opposite situation to the student in question: I struggle to open my gmail due to past trauma relating to emails I was receiving there. But my edu email is fine to open.

If a student has anxiety or gets easily overwhelmed, or maybe has chronic fatigue etc, it may take them a while/require support to go through their student emails (personally I get A LOT of emails every day) . They may be repyling more predictably on another email and wish to receive important emails, like from teachers and professors, there.

This scenario is pretty unlikely, but it can happen. I guess it is useful to bear in mind that when it comes to mental health, some people may have difficulty with facing very specific things. It may seem strange to others, but that's the nature of mental healthy disabilities.

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Another possible issue may lie in email security protocols. Concerns about cyber-crime have led many universities to restrict access to servers via 'standard' routes. For example, my university has disabled IMAP and requires mail clients to authenticate using MS Exchange Server and two-factor authentication. I can imagine this could be problematic for users who rely on specialist software and/or hardware, which may not (readily) support the necessary protocols.

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Going completely on a whim here: it may be that the university IT department prefers it that way, without forwarding. Some universities are pretty lax about that, some others [I just found googling] are not. Also, forwarded emails sometimes play nasty tricks either due to people testing it not fully understanding the system or just Gmail shenanigans with labels.

Seriously, this usually works but every once in a while, for some people, it does not. And instead of trying to provide IT support for a person with a disability, it is probably easier to not have to deal with this additional layer at all.

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    It specifically says that their university address is forwarded to Gmail.
    – Barmar
    Apr 1, 2022 at 15:13
  • @Barmar My bad, I've misread it. Pretty much the same logic applies to "send as an alias" though: technically possible, but IT department might have a different opinion.
    – Lodinn
    Apr 1, 2022 at 19:09

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