Distance learning for people with disabilities

An old yellow mailbox: a reminder of days gone by. (Photo: Liane / pixelio.de)
The mailbox is a thing oft he past; internet has taken over. (Photo: Liane / pixelio.de)

A great number of professions, for which mostly intellectual faculties are required, are very attractive for people with physical disabilities. Most of the time, the requirement for such a position is to have completed your studies. However, this alone often represents a great challenge for many graduates dealing with disabilities.

Indeed, life on the campus is not always compatible with special needs. However, it is now possible to complete your studies without even having to leave your home. For people with disabilities, distance learning constitutes an excellent way to acquire qualifications for your professional career. Thanks to internet and the like, there is no need to go daily to university. Especially for people with disabilities, factors such as bad weather or removed location can prove to be significant hurdles.

Another advantage of studying from home is that you are free to organize your time to suit your needs the best. As long as you are able to do the assignments within a given time frame, it is up to you when you actually complete it. Whether you choose to do it in the morning, in the afternoon or at night depends on your preferences, your capacities as well as your own discipline. Indeed, how long it takes to complete a learning unit will be determined by the student rather than from the teacher.

An open laptop, placed on a lounge table near the sofa. (Photo: Rainer Sturm / pixelio.de)
Not only can you study from home, but also write your examinations. (Photo: Rainer Sturm / pixelio.de)

Internet as a central means

Even having to walk to the mailbox is no more necessary. Nowadays, for distance learning students, conventional mailing services play an almost insignificant role. Internet really represents the main means of communication. Tests and homework can be sent to the teacher per email, who, inversely, will also send feedback electronically. Students and teachers also have access to a virtual learning environment, allowing them to correspond easily and making it possible, for example, to download learning material or to write preliminary exams.

However, not every part of distance learning will be virtual. Depending on the faculty or university, you might be required to attend some lectures. The number of such events is usually not so high and can be known in advance. This makes it usually easier for students to attend them even though it involves more efforts on their part.

Events such as final examinations normally require to be present, for the obvious reason of controlling that no one is using books or other learning material.

Writing exams from home

However, some institutions have established so-called “regional centers”, where students can write their exams instead of traveling across the whole country.

But for people with a heavy form of physical disability, traveling, whether near or far, can prove to be such a strenuous effort that writing an exam right afterwards is no more possible.

However, solutions exist even for such a situation. The University of Hagen in Germany, for example, offers the option of writing the exams from home. In such a case, an official from the university will supervise the student at home. Furthermore, the same disadvantage compensations will be offered for distance learning as for campus studies for any student with disabilities. Such measures may include time extension for writing exams.

Two people shaking hands (only the hands and the arms are visible.) (Photo: Benjamin Thorn / pixelio.de)
What is relevant when looking for a job are your qualifications. (Photo: Benjamin Thorn / pixelio.de)

Barrier-free

This example shows that universities are aware that for people with disabilities, distance learning represents an attractive possibility to acquire good qualifications. This is continuously taken more into account by various universities and institutions, whether through more accessibility to digital learning material or barrier-free buildings.

Whoever decides to pursue studies through distance learning because of some physical limitations must not fear to be categorized as an “employee with disabilities” when searching for a job. Quite the contrary: with distance learning, you are in best company. “Most of our employees have already participated at least once in distance learning”, says Jennifer Frame from the human resources department at Dow Europe. This does not concern solely intern training or courses. “Many of our employees pursue some correspondence courses parallel to their work at some time or other, in order expand their professional perspectives.”

Diploma through campus studies or distance-learning

To our question, if it makes any difference if a diploma is acquired through distance-learning or through campus-studies, Jennifer Frame gives an important piece of advice: „If a job requires a particular diploma, we do not pay as much attention to how it was acquired as to from which university it was acquired.”

Whereas in the beginnings of distance learning the choices of studies were rather limited, there is today a wide range of subjects to choose from. A growing number of universities give the possibility to do studies by distance. There is also a continuously growing number of offers. Indeed, the target group does not include solely people with disabilities. Many people who are professionally active also want to expand their experiences and knowledge can decide for such an option.

Contrarily to the most usual criteria which come into question when attending a university, such as accommodation, location, environment or personal interests, there is only one, for distance learning, which is particularly relevant: the qualification and the acknowledgement of the diploma. From there on, nothing more stands in the way of acquiring your professional qualifications from home.      


Text: Justin Black - 02/2013

Translation: MyH – 02/2013

Photos: pixelio.de, MyHandicap