“A specific benefit of distance learning for disabled people is its flexibility.”

Why waste time struggling with access, facilities or transport issues? Distance learning means that your home can become the classroom.

Naturally, studying at college or university is a big move for anyone. For disabled people it may not even be the thought of the educational side of things that puts them off. Peripheral issues, which have nothing to do with the challenges of the courses themselves such as traveling to classes or adaptations on campus can play on the minds of disabled people making decisions about their place in education.

Distance learning is a method of taking a course remotely, where course materials are usually accessed online or on television (such as famously for the Open University).The student completes work and sends it back for assessment.

The idea of distance learning is not a new idea but has certainly had a ‘shot in the arm’ in recent years from new technology such as Skype and other social media and online systems making it far easier for students to experience education and gain qualifications without the need to enter a classroom.

Here are a few notes on distance learning…

Whilst it’s clear that colleges and universities go to great lengths to make their buildings accessible it is still the case that some disabled students are required to put up with a certain level of inconvenience. They may have to use a different entrance than their peers, say, or wait whilst a particular part of the campus is fitted out with the adaptations that’ll make it possible for them to succeed in their chosen course.

With distance learning, there is no campus, so there are no accessibility issues to speak of. Most distance learning students study at home, in a spare room or at the kitchen table etc. Strictly, speaking you could take a course from wherever you are in the world, assuming you have an internet connection.
Even where people might struggle to use a computer, adaptations to keyboards and other accessible software packages can be applied as needed.

Another peripheral challenge to studying is travel. Whilst there are accessible methods available for most instances, travel can prove tiring for disabled people, especially if they need to be at a certain place for say, 9.15am when lectures start. (In the workplace, you may be able to negotiate different hours but at university, for example, the lecture happens when the lecture is timetabled.) For some disabled people this notion is off-putting – but of course, distance learning presents no such challenges.
Students also worry about the costs, not just of tuition but of maintenance (accommodation and living costs). Because distance learning students are based this issue is largely mitigated as well.

Another specific benefit of distance learning for disabled people is its flexibility. Disabled people will know that an exacerbation of symptoms can destroy the best laid plans for weeks at a time. This can mean, of course, that they could miss valuable lectures, workshops and deadlines for coursework –and exams.
Distance learning isn’t usually tied to a timetable, enabling people with commitments, such as family or who need to factor in unexpected occurrences such as those relating to their condition, to work around them.
Of course, the interruptions will cost time but this is far better than having to rush around to find notes made by fellow students in your absence, when you may not be ready to return to study.

Personal tutor
Depending on the course you undertake (and provider) you’ll probably be given a course tutor to help guide you through the material, steering you towards finding the answers.
Whilst you’ll usually communicate by email, students taking subjects such as at GCSE or vocational level, may be able to access telephone support.

Most distance learning courses have no particular start or end date and are not tied to semesters or terms. It is worth noting however, that for some qualifications different modules of a course may need to be taken within a certain time frame to achieve qualifications – or renewed every so often. (Before commencing a distance learning course it is worth asking the course provider about how long the course might take if you study at a certain rate etc.)

Once you’ve completed essays or other coursework it can be sent to your tutor for marking or assessment. The feedback can be really valuable for making improvements to your next piece of work.

Entry requirements
Distance learning is most associated with undergraduate degrees but there are courses at all levels and including vocational subjects as well the more traditional. Most courses will have some entry requirements, perhaps regarding English language or numeracy competencies/qualifications but there are also courses available to study with no entry requirements at all.

You may be eligible for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) funding to help with study costs. The funding is not age or income related. Some course providers will let you pay tuition fees in instalments.

According to website:

“More than 270,000 undergraduate students are taking their first degrees via distance learning, together with some 108,000 postgraduate students.”

See also:

If you want to attend university…

Distance learning is a solid alternative to campus based courses but it’s not for everybody. There are disabled people that want the full campus experience.
It’s important to remember that disabled people have every right to go after the education they want, in whatever format. Under the Equality Act, 2010, education providers are prohibited from discriminating against people on the grounds of their disability, irrespective of whether they choose to learn on campus or remotely.