The transition from physical to virtual classrooms has been a challenging experience for many students. However, despite affecting an estimate 18% of Australians, students with disabilities or who require additional learning support have largely been forgotten from discussions about this shift online, with educators and parents sharing concerns that these students can no longer access the support they need.
The very act of using technology in education inherently poses challenges for some students. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that people with disabilities, as a group, are less likely to feel comfortable using technology.
The Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training emphasise that as learning moves online, there is a greater need for accessible, adaptable, and universally designed learning materials. “In education, this means the development of course content, teaching materials and delivery methods to be accessible for and usable by students across the broadest diversity ranges. Universal design principles will also make content compatible with a wider range of technologies and allow everyone to view and interact with the content in the most comfortable environment.”
The Javed Abidi Foundation is an Indian organisation dedicated to disability advocacy. As schools now depend on technology daily, they recommend certain practices to ensure that students with disabilities can receive equal opportunities to achieve in academic contexts. These include the inclusion of captions and transcripts for lectures, and sharing presentation slides and worksheets in advance for students who have difficulties reading. “All care and steps must be taken to make online education accessible now. It must not come as an afterthought.”
It is important to remember that many children and teenagers, regardless of academic ability, don’t cope well with change. They will need support during online learning and will continue to need support once schools return full-time. Resources for schools and parents can be found on the Learning Difficulties Australia website https://www.ldaustralia.org/