Online Education Is Necessary for Disability Equality
Chronic health conditions and disabilities are a major roadblock for many individuals wishing to pursue higher education.
Educational institutions in Australia need to think outside of the box in order to make education accessible to everyone.
Greater Education Equality is Needed for Those With Disabilities
While many Australian universities offer onsite support for students with disabilities, more needs to be done to ensure all Australians have access to higher education.
One of the best ways to do this is to readily offer accessible online education.
“Flexible teaching methods, access to technology and managing the disclosure of student disability, helps students to achieve a higher education qualification.”
– National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE)
In this way, neglecting online education also means neglecting disabled Australians wishing to gain new qualifications.
The Challenges Faced by Disabled Students
According to 2014 Department of Education and Training data,
With there likely to be even more students pursuing other forms of training and education outside of undergraduate degrees as well.
More telling than enrolment rates, however, are retention rates. A Hechinger Report study found that only a third of university students in the US with disabilities graduate from four-year courses within eight years of enrolment.
While only 41% complete their two-year courses within the same time frame.
There are not only barriers to enrolment but also a lack of support within the education system, causing students to abandon their studies.
Enrolling is often strenuous for many individuals with disabilities, not to mention expensive. Many people with disabilities earn a low income, and disabled people are also overrepresented in unemployment statistics.
This means that for many people, higher education is simply not financially viable.
Finally, juggling part-time work alongside study just to make ends meet is also not feasible for many people with disabilities.
All of this means that the flexible nature and often reduced cost of online courses is highly appealing to students with disabilities.
While online courses are rising in popularity, they are not necessarily created equal. Just because a course is online does not mean it is accessible.
Those with hearing impairments may not be able to access course materials because no captions are provided, and electronic reading materials may not be accessible for blind students.
Flexible online learning is key to providing educational opportunities to students with disabilities, and should be further modified to benefit all students.
Online Education as a Pathway to Disability Equality
Online education offers up a host of benefits to students with disabilities, indicating to Australian educational institutions that there is an urgent need for more accessible learning opportunities.
For one, online education is far more convenient for those with limited mobility as it eliminates the need to travel.
A home office, on the other hand, can be tailored to suit the student’s needs while also saving them money on travel.
Online classes should also be designed in the most flexible manner possible to accommodate students with various disabilities.
A written text should be available as an audio file so that students can use it with assistive learning software.
Online courses also allow for more flexible interactions, giving students the option of communicating with their professor or classmates with an audio file instead of having to type.
Assignments and activities that build upon each other to result in a large project at the end of the term also give students the chance to work at their own pace, which is not always possible in classroom environments.
Online courses can be thought of as great levellers, as they allow students to keep their disability private if they choose to. With many courses already being based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), there may never be a need for a disabled student to have to disclose personal information to classmates, fostering a sense of comfort and community.
“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a way of thinking about teaching and learning that gives all students equal opportunity to learn.”
– Amanda Morin (understood.org)
Technical aptitude is also developed through online education, equipping disabled students with some highly sought-after skills.
Experience with online learning can also open up remote work opportunities in the future, as potential employers can trust the student to work reliably even if they are not in the office every day.
A stigma still exists around online education and its worth when compared to traditional higher education.
This perception needs to change – online education is not only as valid as on-campus learning, but it is in fact an essential component of the higher education space.
This medium is incredibly viable and valuable for students with disabilities, providing a convenient and flexible learning pathway while increasing their employment prospects.
Online education providers should therefore continue to work towards making their classes accessible and inclusive.
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Online Education Is Necessary for Disability Equality
Chronic health conditions and disabilities are a major roadblock for many individuals wishing to pursue higher education. Educational institutions in Australia need to think outside of the box in order to make…
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