Part II: Web-based Learning for Special Needs Kids
by Logan Smith
Unfortunately there is no single law or court decision that requires educators to provide online courses to be easily accessible to students with disabilities, only a scattered handful of state and federal laws that apply to the overall treatment of disabled persons seeking education, some of which were enacted before the Internet even existed.
There are three major laws that apply to higher education for the disabled:
1. Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act, which was passed in 1973, before the internet and web based learning we know of today. This Act requires that federally funded institutions cannot exclude or discriminate against people with disabilities.
2. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for programs and services provided by public entities to discriminate against students with disabilities or to exclude them from equal access to their services.
3. Title III of the ADA is similar to Title II, but further applies to places of public accommodation.
One report by Project Forum at the National Association of State Directors of Special Education proved that a lot of online courses are not very welcoming to the disabled population and that some classes are not made accessible to them or even offered at all. While the state schools cannot exclude disabled students from using their services, it seems that the larger problem is that these schools are not tailored for persons with disabilities. Tailoring classes is where the problem lies.
While online learning and learning management systems can offer a variety of learning tools, such as videos and graphics, these enhancements may be useless to students with visual or hearing problems. In order to truly cater classes to disabled groups, there has to be a lot of proactive and “outside of the box” thinking. The creation of these classes will take a considerable amount of time and money.
Luckily, Project Forum at National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), which is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education, is making strides to improve online learning for the disabled. In a recent report, they note their key issues as addressing the high cost of research and development for these programs and to set aside state and federal funding to ensure access to students with disabilities. Furthermore, the department is in the process of creating a Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities and they plan on putting over $1.5 million behind into the project.