Adjusting Online Classes Fit for Students with Learning Disabilities

Teaching students with learning disabilities is both fun and challenging.

Online classes seem to be a more effective way for students with disabilities to learn. But the problem is that not all online classes are equally accessible to students with disabilities. 

Online education is very promising, but a lot of students are struggling to access class materials. And, in one way or another, educational institutions are not doing their best to prepare their teachers to give their learners the quality education that they deserve. 

According to L. Scott Lissner, president of the Association on Higher Education And Disability, “Some places have let the drive to offer online instruction get ahead of thoughtful planning. There are a number of institutions that do it well – whether it is offering captioning or print access or helping the quadriplegic student – but there are enough places that are not doing it well.”

With this in mind, how can students with disabilities fit then in online classes?

Table of Contents

The Challenge of Online Classes for Students with Learning Disabilities

Unawareness to the Learning Disability of Students 

Expressive language disorder, attention deficit disorder, dyslexia, and reading processing disability are some of the most common learning disabilities. It is not a secret that these disabilities affect how a student learns. 

And while some students are comfortable enough to expose their disability, others are not open to talking about it. In fact, other students choose to enroll in online classes to hide their learning disabilities.

Online classes become a relief to them because they do not receive the extra attention that they could elicit when attending face-to-face classes. 

But the lack of disclosure on the learning disability of students makes it hard for online teachers to support them and cater to their needs. 

What makes it even harder for teachers is that they can’t question or determine whether a student has a learning disability. This results in a misunderstanding of the needs of the student. 

The teacher might give a recommendation on how the student performs without knowing that the learner has a learning disability. Thus, the recommendation isn’t accurate.

Internet Connection and Electronic Device

Another challenge that comes with online classes is that not everyone has access to the internet. More so, not all students have their own electronic devices. 

Fast internet connection is only mostly available in highly developed countries. Third world countries rarely have access to a decent internet connection, which makes it hard for students to access their classes. 

Furthermore, there is no assurance that all students have their own electronic devices that they can use to attend their online classes. This is most especially true to students whose families are not as rich as others do. 

It’s even harder for a family to support online education if they have more than one child who needs to attend online classes.

How to Help Students With Learning Disabilities Adjust to Online Learning 

Students with learning disabilities need more attention and a lot of patience.

Helping a student with a learning disability to adjust to online classes is not easy. But certainly, it is not impossible. 

Here are some ways on how you can help a student with a learning disability to adjust to online classes. 

Leave an Open and Constant Communication

Open and constant communication is very important when teaching students with learning disabilities. Your lines of communication should always be open to them at any time of the day, even when you are fast asleep at night. 

Teaching students with learning disabilities requires you to go the extra mile to accommodate their needs. 

In most cases, students with learning disabilities will not directly ask for help. It is up to you on how you will notice them and on how you will address them. 

If a student with a learning disability encounters a difficulty, do not leave it unaddressed for a long time. There is a tendency that the student would no longer bother asking for help next time. 

One of the most overlooked aspects of communication is feedback on assignments. Communicating with a student with a learning disability isn’t just about asking them what the problem is or talking to them. You can also do it through the feedback that you give them their assignments or activities. 

As always, open and constant communication is the key. Communicate to your students in as much as possible to help them adjust and survive online learning.

Be Compassionate 

Being compassionate is very much helpful when teaching students with learning disabilities. To be compassionate means to understand them and give them leeway as needed. 

For example, you can give them an extension to the deadlines and work with them individually. You can also communicate with the disabilities services office to help them access assistive software. 

In as much as possible, do not level your expectation to them as you do with regular students. This doesn’t mean that you discriminate or belittle them. 

What this means is that you should show more compassion to them. They need more help from you due to the learning disability that they have. 

But of course, the quality of education that regular students are receiving shouldn’t be compromised, which makes balance the key. 

Be Accommodating 

It isn’t surprising to learn that students with learning disabilities need more attention. And as a teacher, you should be able to accommodate their needs in as much as possible. 

This is going to be hard but surely, it will be worth it. Do not let them feel that they can’t reach you out or you do not have the time to attend to their needs. 

If possible, make time for them as soon as you can. Answer their questions patiently and assist them until they get what you mean.

Give One-On-One Instructions 

Each learner is diverse. No two learners learn exactly the same way. More so, if they have learning disabilities. 

Conducting one-on-one instruction will help cater to the different needs of students with learning disabilities. Through it, you can give them enough attention. 

You can also personalize your instruction when you give one-on-one classes. Furthermore, you are given the avenue to learn more about them so that you could understand them better.

This could also be the way to understand where they are coming from. 

Through one-on-one classes, students with learning disabilities can learn more. They can also be more open since no one is listening to them except you.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Classes

Online classes for students with learning disabilities come with advantages and disadvantages.

Online classes are a practical and workable way to address the needs of diverse learners, most especially with students who have learning disabilities. 

Conducting online classes for learners with disabilities is a good avenue for continuous learning despite everything that is going on around (e.g. the global pandemic due to COVID-19). 

Shifting or enrolling in online classes give learners more privacy and flexibility. It is also more convenient for them to attend online classes. 

There are a lot of assistive apps that learners with disabilities could use to make online learning successful. But before pursuing it, here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of online classes that you should consider. 


It is more convenient. 

One of the most obvious advantages of online classes is that learners don’t have to travel every day to go to school. Instead, they can have their own study area at home where they are more comfortable to learn. 

The convenience that online classes provide to learners, most especially those with physical disabilities, is almost immeasurable. 

Furthermore, teachers are more available in online classes. In most cases, they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

In online classes, everything is readily available for learners. You can have anything you want and you need to learn with just a few clicks. 

It offers flexibility. 

The flexibility that online classes offer is favorable for students with learning disabilities. They are given the freedom to learn when they feel like studying and rest in as much as they want as long as learning doesn’t stop. 

This also makes it possible for them to wear what they want while attending their online classes. Or, they could study with a certain person they are most comfortable with. 

Online classes also help them avoid uncomfortable social situations which could pressure them. It is also very helpful to students who need more time to compose their thoughts before they can answer a question.

It is less stressful for learners with disabilities. 

Online classes are less stressful for learners with disabilities since they are given the freedom to review their learning material as often and as long as they need it. There is no such thing as time pressure when it comes to online classes. 

Learners with learning disabilities like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD, visual processing disorder, dyslexia, and the like are also safe from aural or visual over stimulus and distractions. 

Instead, they can learn from digital text, forums, subtitled lectures, and email-based communications. Also, students with low or no vision can simply use a digital voice recorder or note-taking apps to learn.


Procrastination is a Problem 

Online classes make it easy for learners to procrastinate. Since no one will tell the students what to do and when to do it, there is a high tendency that they will end up doing their task last minute. 

It is understandable that students with learning disabilities need more time to digest a lesson. But they should also not make it a point to accomplish all their requirements in the given period. 

Not all online learning tools are equally reliable. 

Let’s face it, not all digital texts are accessible and keyboard friendly. Some of them might even have a proprietary format that makes it hard for students with the visual, motor or physical or sensory limitations to access them. 

On the other hand, visual acuity, pop-ups, and overlays can make web browsing difficult for students with motor neuron disease. Flashing lights or images could also cause seizures to students with photosensitive epilepsy. 

Furthermore, students with low vision or color blindness might encounter problems in determining certain colors, fonts, and formats. In some cases, captions aren’t enough to tell what the whole story is.


Online learning is both a good and bad thing for learners with disabilities. But when used right and with proper guidance, online learning could be one of the best ways to accommodate the needs of different learners. 

Related Questions 

Are there apps that accommodate the needs of learners with disabilities?

Yes, there are a lot of apps that accommodate the needs of learners with disabilities. Just make sure that you choose the best app that caters to the needs of your child. Some of these apps include TapTap See, VL2 Story Book Apps, Talking Calculator, Be My Eyes, and so much more.

Is an online class better for learners with learning disabilities?

It depends. Online classes and face-to-face classes have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, assess where your child is most comfortable with before finally deciding if you are going to enroll him in an online class or not. 

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