Over 19% of undergraduate students in the US report some form of disability. Even before the pandemic, disabled students faced challenges of accessibility, inclusivity and learning. Now, the sudden and inevitable transition to online learning has affected their routines and steepened their learning curves.
In this blog post, let’s explore the key challenges faced by students with disabilities, and how educators can help them with remote learning.
Challenges in teaching students with disabilities remotely
“Particularly for students with disabilities, the transition to remote distance learning can really impact how they learn and what their needs are.”
— Cyndi Wiley, program manager for digital accessibility at Iowa State University.
Inclusivity: ‘Disabled’ is often used as an umbrella term to denote physical, mental, and/or intellectual dysfunctionalities across a wide spectrum of diagnoses. Creating an online environment that makes students with all kinds of disabilities comfortable can be a complex challenge.
Accessibility: Even before the pandemic, disabled Americans were 3 times more likely to say that they don’t go online and are less comfortable accessing information digitally. This can be a significant obstacle for learning during the pandemic now.
Inequality: Disabled students from less affluent backgrounds face greater challenges in access to a computer and stable internet connection, both of which are fundamental to online learning. This is compounded by factors such as race and gender too.
Resources: During in-person classes, educators make accommodations to teach disabled students in a way that works best for them. In online classes, this becomes more difficult for both the student and the instructor
Helping disabled students with remote learning
If there is one thing we know for sure, it’s that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for students with disabilities. To help devise student success strategies for disabled students learning remotely, here are some suggestions.
Design custom plans for the disabled students in your classroom
As part of your regular lesson plans, take a moment to include modifications or special accommodations for students with disabilities. Create personalised student experiences to drive outcomes. Enable a continuous dialogue between students and service providers to understand individual needs.
Make your content inclusive
Studies show that lack of accessible learning materials and training programs at college level widens the gap for disabled students, directly affecting their employability. This could be in bridged by creating:
- Content with fonts and colours in presentations and learning materials that are readable by all.
- Online stenotype services, closed captions and transcriptions for the hearing impaired.
- Accessible content in simple Word or PDF formats, shared ahead of time and offline, so students can access it at their convenience.
You can also use built-in web accessibility checkers to gauge if your content meets the learning standards for disabled students.
Balance synchronous and asynchronous learning
Bring a good balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning to your virtual campus. A structured, synchronous classroom-based learning helps disabled students build peer-to-peer relationships offering some semblance of normalcy. Whereas, asynchronous learning through pre-recorded lectures and downloadable material offers them flexibility to learn at their own pace, mode and time.
Offer individual attention when you can
Most students build a personal relationship with their instructors, which helps them make regular progress. While this can be difficult online, make time for 1:1 sessions with your students with disabilities. Offer special lessons or allocate office hours for help in areas they’re lagging behind.
Most importantly, engage in regular conversation with your students with disabilities. Ask them what they’re comfortable with and what not, and use this information to customize your lesson plan.
An inclusive educational system is proven to ‘produce superior social and academic outcomes for all students’. With a little effort and suitable technology, educators can empower students with disabilities with access to the same opportunities that their non-disabled peers have.