Q&A: Do Online Schools Accomodate Students with Disabilities?

Question: Do online schools make accommodations for students with disabilities? If so, what types of accommodations are available?

Answer: This is a great question. Online schools are still educational institutions and most schools make general accommodations for students. It is the students' responsibility to provide documentation from a doctor or licensed professional on the disability and what accommodations are needed.

In elementary, middle and high school, the majority of students who need specific accommodations have an individualized education plan, commonly referred to as an IEP. This is a legally binding document that educators, parents (and in some cases, students) develop together stating what modifications and adjustments need to be made in regards to learning or test-taking for the student. IEPs address physical, developmental and emotional disabilities.

In college, there aren't IEPs. However, colleges and universities must make "reasonable accommodations" to students who are qualified for the program. "Reasonable accommodations" are defined in general terms by the federal government under the civil rights law, but more specifically by each school. For online schools, accommodations can be made with the help of the teacher and school overall.

I've had several students over the past few years who have needed accommodations. In all cases, I was notified by the school, prior to or at the beginning of class, and given a list of the necessary accommodations. Many accommodations are fairly simple, such as un-timed quizzes or extended due dates. Others may involve restructuring assignments or decreasing the word count. I've also had a student who had an assistant because she was unable to communicate online by herself. While the school didn't provide the assistant, the school was aware of the student's educational needs and worked with her, as best as possible, to assist with success.

While most schools, especially if accredited, will make these accommodations, it does depend on the disability and what is considered "reasonable." In some situations, students may benefit from self-paced courses. For more information on how students with disabilities can prepare for post-secondary education, read this article on the U.S. Department of Education website.

Beverly Browning

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including the University of Phoenix, Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!