In 2020, pandemic lockdown measures required schools to switch classroom education to remote learning. Unfortunately, this left many students out in the cold, especially those with learning disabilities. For many of these students, online learning makes education difficult or even unattainable.
However, it’s also clear that remote schoolwork is not going away any time soon. Is it possible for online education to be more accessible for students with learning disabilities? We’ll take a look at some of the challenges that remote learning presents and what can be done about it.
The Digital Divide
The pandemic highlighted the challenges of what’s called the digital divide, especially for remote learning. Some students cannot use or access technology such as computers, tablets, or other electronics, creating a gap that leaves them unprepared for our digital world. Learning disabled students often fall into this category.
How do students fall into the digital divide? Some school districts cannot afford to provide students with the technology they need for remote learning. However, even if a student can obtain the necessary tech and access, their disability can still make remote learning a challenge.
Some of the difficulties these students face include:
- Changes in routine are often troubling for students on the autism spectrum. For some, in-person interaction with a teacher they like is a necessity and they refuse to attend online meetings. They may also struggle to go online at all if they don’t understand that staying home does not mean that it’s a day off from school.
- Students with ADHD are easily distracted even in a classroom. Learning from home presents an even greater challenge to keep them focused on schoolwork.
- Hand-over-hand learning and school-supplied therapy services are far more challenging to offer remotely.
- Many disabled students struggle to socialize. Removing the classroom can potentially isolate them from peers, putting their mental health at risk.
However, remote learning may be a preferable option to protect the health of some children. Disabled kids with compromised immune systems or autoimmune diseases may not be able to safely return to school. And some students struggle with social distance and wearing masks or require hands-on assistance.
How can schools create an accessible education for these groups of learners?
Working Together for Accessibility
While there are no easy answers, these students will need out-of-the-box solutions. Hopefully, the 2020-2021 school year has taught administrators, teachers, special ed professionals, and parents some important lessons they can implement as a team during IEP or 504 plan meetings. These teams must work together to brainstorm ways to make online learning accessible for their students with each member offering insight that the others have not considered.
The team should discuss what specific challenges the student has and how they can be accommodated. For example, if a child will not attend a virtual class meeting, they may be able to use an online learning tool or work with an audiobook. Students may also be able to create an individual project that demonstrates they understand the subject, like a handmade craft or even digital artwork.
If a student does not have one of these plans in place, parents need to consider getting one if their child has lost school services due to a disability. This will ensure that he or she does not fall behind while schools are closed or using hybrid learning plans.
Schools will also do well to find successful case studies, for example, in the business world, where accessibility must be addressed. While few websites are designed with accessibility in mind, smart companies are improving website accessibility to serve a greater audience. Remote learning sites and services should take the same approach to better support students who require it.
A Better Approach to Virtual Learning
The good news is that thanks to the challenges of 2020, virtual learning is changing for the better. Increased demand means increased innovation and, no doubt, imaginative and useful platforms and applications that can make remote classwork attractive for any learner. This allows teachers and other special education staff members to personalize their approach to teaching, therapy, and support for disabled students.
Here are some ways different team members can approach finding solutions:
- Educator strategies for remote learning should include thinking about how to best leverage technology that the student already enjoys. They should also find ways to promote remote student collaboration and engagement to encourage interaction among remote students.
- Parents need to precisely communicate what problems remote learning is presenting for their child so that the team can find creative ways to address this.
- Administrators and coordinators need to ensure the student has technology in his or her hands that is a good fit for whatever remote learning solution is chosen, rather than just assuming a laptop is always the best choice.
For students with disabilities, remote learning can be so difficult that they lose weeks or months of education and services. However, by working together, educators, parents, and administrators can find solutions to bridge the digital divide for these learners. Virtual classrooms should not be a block but a door that opens a world of opportunity to learning disabled kids.