17 March 2023

Accessibility & Online Education

Access to learning and education through the internet has the incredible potential to provide those with disabilities an equal access to education. It is understood that about 8-14% of students in the UK have a disability, as of now the relationship between students with a disability and technology has not yet been widely researched. However, it must be considered that people with various disabilities face many different challenges when attempting to access education. This blog post will discuss how the advent of online learning can provide a pathway for those students with a disability to receive the equal access to education that they may currently lack.

Accessible Learning Platforms

It is generally the responsibility of a developer to build a website to ensure that it is accessible to all. Modern web features allow developers to build websites with features that can help people with disabilities navigate and use web applications. Learning Management Systems (LMS) are platforms for hosting online learning; some examples include Moodle and Google Classroom. Many LMS platforms have made a commitment to following recommendations defined by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), such as ensuring that images have alternative text descriptions and avoiding flashing within web pages. The benefits of using an LMS are that these accessibility features are already built-in and can mean the system is accessible from day one.

The use of online learning platforms can ensure that learning materials are available for all. For example, rather than providing printed worksheets to students in a classroom, the worksheet could be uploaded to an LMS where it can be downloaded or read online. This has the added benefit that Blind or Visually Impaired (BVI) students can use a screen reader to read the worksheet for them, and students who were not present in class, a common occurrence for students with disabilities due to greater than average medical appointments, can still access the work that was set.

For students with Dyslexia, notes and slides which have been uploaded online could have their typeface changed and the font size amended to make it easier to read. Subtitles can be automatically generated for lessons or lectures which have been uploaded online, thus ensuring that recordings can be used by Deaf students or those with a hearing impairment. Students with neurodivergence, such as Autism and ADHD, can use online content to revisit topics that were previously covered, and also work on content at their own pace.

The Role of Tutoring

One-to-one sessions with a tutor can also help to develop academic and social skills for a student with a disability. Providing tutoring sessions can help a student with a disability to improve their academic performance, as well as give them access to peers and trusted tutors, through whom they will have the opportunity to improve their social skills. This can further be enhanced by providing these services online.

By enabling online sessions, students with disabilities will continue to be able to access education, even if they are not able to attend school. Where classroom teaching may not be able to cater for a single person’s disability, online one-to-one sessions can ensure that they can learn in ways that suit them. For example, a tutor can change the pace of the lesson on the fly, making sure that they completely understand the content being covered.

A tutor can also identify how a pupil prefers to learn, and sessions can be built around the student’s personal abilities. A trained tutor can also give lessons in British Sign Language for a Deaf person or someone with a hearing impairment or provide a safe space for a Blind or Visually Impaired person to ask questions about content.

Conclusion

During 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic closed schools for several months, there was a considerable uptake of online learning platforms. Institutions have continued to use these since for the submission of homework and to provide online learning material. As discussed, given the efficacy of such systems for people with disabilities, schools and universities have the opportunity to take full advantage of these systems without needing much more investment.

In the case of tutoring for people with disabilities, universities provide this for their students through the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), which is a financial support scheme to pay for study-related costs. Alongside being able to get a tutor, people who get a DSA can also receive financial support for equipment, such as a laptop or microphone, which can help them access education.

As this topic is discussed further, education institutions will hopefully continue to use these platforms to expand access to learning through the internet, which, in turn, will continue to benefit students with disabilities by ensuring they have an equal access to education.

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