Distance Learning and Students With Disabilities

Distance learning may be beneficial for those with disabilities (Photo by tachyondecay)

At first look, distance learning would seem to be a great opportunity for those with disabilities, but it depends on the type of disability. Those who have physical disabilities that affect their ability to attend classes, may indeed benefit from attending class from the comfort of their own homes. The interposition of a computer can make it difficult for others to even realize that a classmate has a disability, especially a physical one. But for those who suffer from learning disabilities, or problems with vision or hearing, the online environment may prove challenging.

Distance learning generally requires more of a commitment than does traditional learning. Online classes do not normally meet on a daily basis, and students must be self-disciplined to complete assignments and homework. Students with ADHD must make more of an effort to maintain their own schedule and to stay focused during class meetings. Students with vision problems may have difficulty sorting out the ever-changing images on a computer screen, and those with impaired hearing may have trouble understanding classmates and instructors during interactive sessions.

If you have a disability, and are interested in distance learning, you should consider doing research into what you are getting into before signing up for any classes. Talk to school officials and faculty, to find out which learning platforms are used, whether the classes are synchronous or asynchronous, whether you will be required to participate in group projects with other students, and what accommodations have been made for disabled students. Some types of accommodations include screen readers and captioning capabilities.

Disaboom.com, which provides information and resources for people with disabilities, suggests asking the following questions of the school you are interested in attending:

  • What experience does the program have with students who have my type of disability?
  • What accommodations have been made to support students like me, and does the program furnish any needed assistive technology? Is there any charge?
  • What are the testing requirements? Is an exam proctor needed?
  • Is there a disability services director who will be my go-to person if I am struggling with any class, instructor, or overall program issues?
  • What flexibility does the program offer if my disability occasionally makes it difficult/impossible to meet course assignment deadlines?
  • What, if any, other disability-support services does the school offer me?

Another option is to try one online course, especially one that is free, before enrolling in a degree program. The free class will give you a chance to test out your knowledge of the technology, practice your self-starter skills, and determine whether online learning is for you, without risking a large outlay of money.

Of course, as with able-bodied students, the main predictors of success are determination, preparation, and perseverance. You must be able to stay focused on your own goals, and be self-motivated. Distance learning is not for everyone, especially those who prefer the social interaction available in traditional classes. Know your limitations before you begin, and practice your time management skills as you progress through your online class.

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