Remote Learning for Post-Secondary Students with Disabilities: Is It Helpful? (French version available)
Now in our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, different forms of learning provide students with a simultaneous feeling of accessibility and restriction. Some people may prefer online learning, and some may prefer in-person learning, but it is not usually a choice left up to the students. As COVID-19 restrictions can change at any time, students unfortunately must be ready to shift learning environments.
For students with disabilities, whose experiences with school may already need pre-existing accommodations, the shifting class environments add to more troubles. However, for some students, the introduction of a remote option can be beneficial.
This begs the question: what exactly are the pros and cons of remote learning for students with disabilities?
How Do Students with Disabilities Navigate Remote Learning?
Students with disabilities experience remote learning differently, and not only in contrast to students without disabilities. Experiences with remote learning depend on the type and severity of disability.
For example, a person who is only affected by a physical disability will have a different experience with remote learning compared to a person who is only affected by a learning disability. Therefore, the vast spectrum of people and experiences means that the pros and cons will be different for everyone.
Advantageous Situations of Remote Learning
For students with physical disabilities or chronic pain, the lack of a commute to school is helpful. For some students, they may have to skip or drop classes because the in-person environment might be inaccessible. Additionally, there can be cases where their disabilities prevent them from attending in-person class consistently. Depending on the course, consistent attendance can be the key to success, but this is not always achievable.
Attending class through a computer screen means that students with physical disabilities can manage their health on their own terms, without sacrificing their education. Potentially inaccessible buildings and tiring commutes are no longer issues that can stop people from pursuing an education.
Disadvantageous Situations of Remote Learning
For students with learning disabilities, remote learning may not be helpful. Many students require a repetitive schedule that stays the same: any changes from their norm can be hard to adapt to. Additionally, remote learning unfortunately means a lack of support. For students that may require more personalized support, one-on-one support is harder to provide in an online environment.
Some students, those with ADHD for example, may receive accommodations such as the ability to write tests in a separate, quiet room, as distractions interfere with learning. For those who must do schooling at home, a quiet environment is not guaranteed. The option to attend class in-person is a good solution for this.
The Future of Remote Learning
Remote learning existed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It existed as an option for post-secondary students, albeit on a smaller scale. There is hope of the pandemic becoming an endemic — when the virus is still here, but not spreading as rapidly as it once was — but the world has not reached that point yet. Due to this pandemic status, remote learning is likely to stay in the future.
Many post-secondary institutions around the country have reintroduced in-person classes, with varying conditions. Some schools have removed the need for masks and proof of vaccination on campus, while others still have those precautions in place. Currently, there is no one form of learning that satisfies everyone, but hopefully some sort of balance can be found.
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