How Online School Empowers Students with Disabilities

5 min to read
How Online School Empowers Students with Disabilities

July is Disability Pride Month, a time to honor the history, achievements, experiences, and struggles of people with disabilities. 

Whether disabilities are seen, like when a person uses a wheelchair, or unseen, such as developmental delays or mental health challenges, people with disabilities are celebrating their uniqueness and showing what they can accomplish with a little accommodation and a lot of support. 

But while we have come a long way since Roosevelt felt compelled to hide his wheelchair, there is still a long way to go to help people with disabilities and learning challenges realize their full potential, especially in K-12 education.

Empowering Students with Disabilities

To help students with disabilities, Congress passed the legislation called Public Law 94-142 in 1975. In 1990, this was later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA Part B)  in a 1990 and was revised again in 2004. IDEA provides federal funding to support services for children ages 3-21 who have disabilities. Through IDEA, states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services. 3-21 who have disabilities. Through IDEA, states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services. 

IDEA requires schools to provide students with disabilities and special needs the necessary services, accommodations and modifications to support their learning.  

Some students with disabilities can learn in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. Some have turned to online schools for a high-quality education that meets their unique learning needs.

An online school student in a wheelchair looks at books.

5 Ways Online School Can Help Students with Disabilities Thrive

Online school can empower students with disabilities and help them overcome the barriers present in many brick-and-mortar schools to help them reach their full potential. Here are five ways online school can help students with disabilities and other learning challenges thrive.

1. Flexible Class Schedules

Students with special needs, mental health challenges, or chronic illnesses often have many appointments scheduled throughout the week during a normal school day, causing them to miss a lot of scheduled class time. 

Online school offers flexible scheduling, giving students the ability to complete schoolwork around their appointments. If the student has a chronic illness, they can work ahead when they feel well so they don’t fall behind when they need treatment. 

“My special-needs child has therapy three times per week, as well as other functions weekly,” said an Iowa Connections Academy Learning Coach. “I am able to schedule LiveLesson® sessions, therapies, and all other functions around each other. The flexible scheduling makes everything so easy.”

2. Flexible Learning Environment

Students that have conditions requiring longer hospital stays or frequent medical treatments can also learn from anywhere so they don’t fall behind—they just need a Wi-Fi connection. 

“By empowering my child to take control of her schedule and deadlines, she was not only able to complete her assignments on time, she was also able to excel, and is now on pace to graduate with honors,” said a Connections Academy parent.

3. Fewer Distractions and Social Pressure

Crowded hallways, lunchrooms, and classrooms can be overwhelming. Online school removes many of the social barriers that distract students with disabilities or other challenges so they can focus on their coursework and academic progress. Removing the social pressures that lead to anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues helps students improve their overall well-being. Although social pressures are removed in virtual school, students with disabilities do have the opportunity to participate with their peers in LiveLessons as well as join different clubs and activities.

“Our daughter has social anxiety and moving to a large middle school would have become a problem for her. We registered her for Arkansas Connections Academy in the fifth grade. She is now in high school and is still thriving,” said Melissa C., Learning Coach at Arkansas Connections Academy.

4. A Safe Learning Space

Online school typically takes place in the student’s home, which already has everything a student needs for their condition. Students can navigate their home environment easily and find the things they need quickly. For students that need a quiet space to calm down and refocus, learning from home provides that ability at any time.

“As a Learning Coach, I have not had to micromanage my son. He has his own learning space where he can doodle or step away to refocus and regroup when needed, and then he can come back to schoolwork when he is refreshed,” said a Learning Coach at South Carolina Connections Academy.

5. Adaptive Learning Environment

Online school is largely done at the student’s own pace, which gives them the opportunity to spend more time on lessons or schoolwork when needed. Students who have trouble staying focused can benefit from watching a recorded lesson more than once to ensure they absorb all the facts. 

Students can meet with their teachers one-on-one to talk through any issues or concerns and to answer questions to support their progress. 

Another Connections Academy parent of a child with cerebral palsy noted that “[Connections Academy is] very much work-at-your-own-pace. I don’t push my daughter. We don’t have to do everything in one day. We don’t work ahead if that’s not what’s beneficial for her.”

An online school student uses adaptive learning techniques to work on an art project.
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