E-learning is unmistakably a part of the new normal. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, online education will continue to affect students of all ages. But while remote learning has greatly improved accessibility in some ways — for example, helping students without reliable transportation — it has hindered it in others.
For both children and adults with disabilities, e-learning brings a new set of obstacles to navigate that didn’t exist before. For parents and caretakers who assist students with special needs, seeing these obstacles can understandably lead to worry and sadness.
Luckily, there are simple steps that you can take to alleviate the accessibility issues that come with this newly remote world.
Here are some of the struggles that learners with disabilities may encounter and what you can do to tackle them.
E-learning Makes It Harder To Focus
Productivity can be difficult for anyone learning remotely. When you’re at home, there are often more distractions. Plus, attending class through a screen tends to be far less stimulating than interacting with educators and peers in person.
When you’re facing a disability that can already impact your ability to focus, such as ADHD or autism, productivity becomes even more difficult to maintain.
A good first step to addressing this issue is establishing a solid learning environment and routine.
Atera suggests creating a designated learning area away from common distractions, like cellphones, TVs, and video games. This can be a simple desk setup with a computer and required learning materials all in one place. Students will gain a greater sense of school-life balance, so when sitting at the dedicated desk, it’s clearly time to learn.
If helpful, place fidget toys in the learning area to promote focus.
Routine is just as important. Students with disabilities may find it hard to sit still for hours at a time. Schedule breaks — every 20-30 minutes, if possible — to exercise, play, or simply move and set timers as reminders and cues to get the brain back on track.
Socialization Is Limited
Socialization is a major need for many learners with special needs. Younger children especially depend on the classroom as a place to develop social skills and learn how to navigate the world. Plus, consistently connecting with school staff and peers is essential for the well-being of students with disabilities, who may find it more difficult to establish a strong support network.
Without in-person interactions, students may even find it harder to communicate in general.
To continue developing relationships while e-learning, students can take part in school clubs or community organizations that offer inclusive social activities. Many local recreation centers, for example, offer virtual programs nowadays.
Being proactive about scheduling one-on-one time with peers (and even family members) can also help students grow and maintain a strong support system and social skills. Finding a study buddy gives students a chance to socialize, while also getting them more engaged in their education.
Parents and students with disabilities can also benefit from working with school psychologists or other counseling resources. Since e-learning can be isolating, taking this action can promote mental health and expand your support network.
Cybersecurity Can Be a Concern
Cybersecurity is of utmost importance for all e-learners. More remote education can mean more bad actors attempting breaches. For students with disabilities, this can mean stolen medical records and loss of other important information.
Parents, caretakers, and school staff can help protect students by installing antivirus software and frequently updating e-learning technology. While it’s important to respect students’ privacy to an extent, some monitoring of online activity can help detect threats before they become bigger problems.
Speaking to students about best cybersecurity practices and red flags in clear, simple language can help students safely navigate the online world, too.
To make cybersecurity easier, parents of minors can also consider adding parental controls to e-learning devices, so kids don’t stumble across dangerous or inappropriate content.
Asking for Help Is Key
Navigating the accessibility issues that come with e-learning can be stressful for students and caretakers alike. But don’t forget: You don’t have to do it alone.
Before starting any course or school year, chat with teachers about your or your child’s special needs, so they can help provide accommodations, like extended testing time or adjusted coursework. Consistently working with the special education department at your school can also help ensure therapy and remote learning needs are met.
Consider looking into community resources, too. For example, students with disabilities who are women in need may be able to access education grants through the Live Your Dream Awards. There are also local and national organizations that help bridge the digital divide by providing technology — sometimes including devices like screen readers — to those who need it most.
Advocate for Your Needs
Every student has different needs when it comes to e-learning. The action steps suggested in this article can help you safely receive all the benefits of in-person education in a remote world. With web accessibility required by law in the U.S. and Canada (and beyond), it’s your right to advocate for yourself or your student — and you may find many people and organizations ready to help.
Noah Rue is a journalist and content writer, fascinated with the intersection between global health, personal wellness, and modern technology. When he isn’t searching out his next great writing opportunity, Noah likes to shut off his devices and head to the mountains to disconnect.