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Is Online Education Better for Students With Disabilities Than a Traditional Degree?

Oct 15, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Students with disabilities face a diverse array of challenges in going to school—either at a traditional campus or online. Both formats have their pros and cons, and different types of schools may be better for different types of disabilities—or from individual to individual. However, for some students, online education can be an advantage. Here’s a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks for students with disabilities in going to school online.

Benefits of Going to School Online

An online classroom is easier to get to. For students with mobility issues, getting around campus can be a problem. Not all classes and dorms are handicapped-accessible. And for some, driving to class on a regular basis can be difficult. With accredited online colleges, you can sit in class without leaving your home—a serious advantage for students who have mobility challenges.

In an online classroom, you’re not singled out. Not every student with disabilities feels singled out and conspicuous in a traditional classroom. But for those who do, the feeling can be uncomfortable. In an online class, everyone doesn’t automatically know you have a disability—and for some, this can be freeing. However, it’s important to let your professor know of any special needs you may have at the start of the semester to make sure your needs in the class get met.

You’re not locked into a schedule. For some students with disabilities, making a regular early-morning or evening class schedule can be a challenge. That’s why so many love online classes—because you can study when it fits best in your schedule. Online classes are often great for nontraditional students of all types because of the scheduling flexibility they offer.

You have options in how you learn. Online programs often offer a wide array of learning mediums—from reading and writing papers to watching videos, learning interactively, and working in groups. If you know a certain type of learning is a challenge for you and another type is one that really works, it’s fairly easy to ask the professor to tailor your lessons to that specific way of learning. You have a lot of tools when atttending an online college that you don’t necessarily have in a traditional classroom.

Drawbacks of Online Schools

A lack of in-person support. For some students, the in-person component of support is important. In an online degree program, you most likely won’t meet in person with the people responsible for the school’s support staff for students with disabilities. That may make it more difficult to communicate your needs.

A lack of structure. For some types of learning disabilities, focusing on schoolwork can be a challenge—and this can be exacerbated in an online environment, where you must be very aware of your own needs and proactive in getting them met. You must also rely on your own determination and time-management skills, as your time will not be very regimented. This presents a challenge both for students with and without disabilities, but for some students with disabilities, it can be a bigger hurdle.

Getting an education isn’t easy—either online or on campus. However, online programs do offer some benefits that a traditional classroom won’t have. With online education, you can get to class easily, even with mobility and scheduling issues. You’re not tied to a specific schedule. You’ll have to be an advocate for yourself in making sure you get your needs met in the classroom—but you don’t have to feel conspicuous in asking. Online education isn’t for everyone—but it may be for you. 



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