School can be challenging for everyone. For individuals with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (I/DD), the challenges are oftentimes magnified. Students may have difficulty navigating a physical environment – due to lack of ramps, confined spaces, or other limiting factors. Additionally, depending on the individual’s disability, he or she may struggle to focus or align with the schedule of a traditional class.
As we continue to navigate the days of COVID-19, online education is becoming an increasingly popular conversation topic. While it’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to learning, there is also no denying the potential benefits online schooling may provide for many students with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Benefits of Digital Learning for Students with Disabilities
Online learning can present a practical, viable solution for diverse populations of learners, including students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Flexibility. From schedules and timelines to simply maneuvering around, flexibility is a major advantage to online education versus traditional classroom learning. At home, students with compromised mobility can avoid the challenges of travel as well as any difficulty they might encounter navigating the confines of a classroom. Additionally, freedom from fixed class schedules allows students with psychological disabilities and/or cyclical mood disorders to plan their study times in concordance with fluctuations in receptivity.
Comfort. There’s no doubt that many students simply enjoy learning in the comfort of their own home. With support of loved ones instead of facing intimidation from their peers, students are often more engaged and apt to participate. There are also no large crowds that can sometimes be a source of discomfort, which is especially important for students with Asperger’s syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders.
Assistive Technology. Subtitles, digital texts, forums, and other forms of text-based communication open doors for students with hearing impairments. Additionally, with advanced screen readers, students who are deaf and blind can give commands that translate into text on a computer or mobile device.
Support. While a student may be learning remotely, that doesn’t mean he or she needs to be isolated. There are an abundance of online communities and support groups where students can share experiences, connect with common interests, and engage in social interactions. For college students with I/DD, the National Center for College Students with Disabilities (NCCSD) is an important organization that advocates to help individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities achieve their goals in higher education.
Safety. With the threat of COVID-19, safety has become top of mind in all environments. When able to digitally learn at home, students are safe in a controlled and familiar environment.
Potential Barriers for Digital Learning for Students with Disabilities
While digital learning can help students with intellectual or developmental disabilities avoid challenges often accompanied by attending a conventional classroom, it may not be everyone’s perfect solution.
Bandwidth. Visual aids like screen readers, audio transcribers, and specialized keyboards may require more bandwidth than what students have available at home. A reliable internet connection is a must.
Distractions. While there are no large crowds to contend with, the goings-on at home can impair the student’s focus. It’s important to have a dedicated area that is conducive to learning.
Limitations. Although digital learning offers a lot in the realm of flexibility, there are still limitations. For example, digital-based online programs assume students can navigate the content. However, some learning management systems may challenge students with physical, cognitive, or other disabilities. Assistive technology has certain limitations as well. Students should conduct diligent research in order to find their right solution before investing.
Isolation. Online learning isn’t for everyone. Students may miss the camaraderie of classmates and having true facetime with teachers. In this case, students may consider a blended learning environment, which would entail having some classes online and attending a physical location for others. Additionally, online support groups and social media provide potential solutions to combat feelings of isolation. To learn more about how social media can help alleviate loneliness, check out our post How Social Media can Reduce Feelings of Loneliness in Individuals with Disabilities.
With 21st century technology, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are empowered to lead more fulfilling lives. They can pursue higher education, learn new skills, and make connections just like their peers. The dedicated team at Covey believes that all people – regardless of cognitive or physical capabilities – deserve to reach their highest potential.
Covey Connects is a digital-based social and learning curriculum that focuses on two primary areas of development: Life Enrichment and Adult Day Services (ADS). Through Covey Connects, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are given the opportunity to connect with their peers, build their social network, engage in fun activities, learn important skills, and so much more!
We are aware that during COVID, many students may be facing a hybrid of virtual and physical attendance at school. Covey team members are happy to assist with this transition, including visiting your home to help support your student’s digital learning experience.