Online college has helped many students who would have a hard time earning a degree the traditional way – like working students and active military personnel – to get the education they need. A virtual classroom can take away some of the obstacles students with disabilities face on a physical college campus, but the online experience doesn’t always resolve all of the challenges these students face.

The Advantages of Online Courses for Students with Disabilities

For students who have disabilities that make it difficult to get around – like physical limitations that could make it tough to walk across campus – an online education can certainly ease some of the difficulty. Students can virtually attend classes from the comfort of their own home – or, for that matter, anywhere with Internet access.

Online classes often allow students to complete coursework on their own schedules, which can be an advantage for students who need more time when it comes to work in the classroom. They can replay taped lectures and educational videos multiple times if necessary to get the information they need. Students may also be more comfortable contributing to virtual class discussions than traditional discourse in physical classrooms, because they have the time to think out their responses without the pressure of an audience watching.

The Challenges Students with Disabilities Face in Online College

Despite the benefits, students with disabilities may still face challenges in online college courses. Which challenges they may face and how to handle situations proactively are two of the most important things students with disabilities should know about online education before they choose a school.

One problem is accessibility of information for students who suffer from what U.S. News & World Report calls “print disabilities,” which make reading course material difficult. Even with tools like a magnifying screen reader, students can run into accessibility problems with text-based course materials presented in certain formats and file types.

The online learning platforms used by some colleges are less accessible than some of the larger commercial platforms, so precisely how schools present their virtual classroom can really make a difference to students with different kinds of disabilities. This is why it’s important for students with disabilities to research different schools – and how accessible their programs are – before enrolling.

Of course, there are also variations in accessibility of course material from one instructor to the next. To prevent themselves from falling behind and potentially failing the class, it’s important for students with disabilities of any kind to be proactive about their education. This means discussing what they need to succeed early on in the semester with their instructors and with a school’s disability services office. It’s important for students with disabilities to speak up and “advocate for themselves,” U.S. News reported.

Online college might not be a perfect solution for students with disabilities. However, combined with careful school research and the determination to advocate for oneself, it can finally put a college degree within reach.