While online college is a good choice for students with disabilities in several ways, these students should know going into their online education that they may still face a number of challenges – more so at some schools than at others. Two important things students with disabilities need to know about earning a college degree online are the importance of researching different schools and the need to act as their own advocates, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Choose Your School Carefully

Online college is supposed to be accessible – the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires it, according to U.S. News. However, exactly what it means for an online course to be accessible for students with disabilities is largely left open to the interpretation of individual schools.

Some schools have tools in place to aid students with various disabilities. Captions in video lectures are helpful for students with hearing impairments. Print access and various file formats that can be opened in special reading equipment may be necessary for students who suffer from “print disabilities,” those which make the act of reading course material difficult, U.S. News reported. Many online colleges use commercial learning platforms, which U.S. News reported tend to be more accessible than their counterparts created by individual schools.

However, not all schools succeed at making online courses truly accessible. One way students with disabilities can minimize the impact of their disability on an online education is carefully researching online colleges and choosing a school with accessible courses, according to U.S. News. This research can take time, limit students’ school options and prove frustrating. However, it’s still a better process than enrolling in a program without researching it first and then discovering that your disabilities prevent you from learning the course material as presented.

Be Your Own Advocate

If online college students never inform their professors or the school’s disability services office of a problem, then they have no one to help them if a challenge arises. It’s important to be willing to advocate for yourself, U.S. News reported – and the sooner, the better. By working with disability services staff and course instructors, students can make sure they have the tools, time and information they need to succeed in their online college courses.

It’s important for online college students with disabilities to know what they’re getting into, including the accessibility problems and other challenges they may face during their education and how to cope with those challenges. Research can help them choose a school where accessibility problems are less likely to happen. Early, proactive communication with the appropriate people, like course instructors and a school’s disability services office, can make sure steps are taken to minimize the impact of the disability and that help is available if needed. Online education doesn’t necessarily take away the challenges created by a disability, but with the right preparation, it can still go a long way toward making a college education a reality.