Providing equal educational opportunity for all citizens has been the goal for each country. However, this has not been effectively achieved due to various disabilities associated with a section of students. In the process, most countries have tried to engage better learning processes, such as distance learning, as measures towards supporting the learning ability of students with disabilities. They have incorporated Adaptive Technology (AT) in order to not only allow easy accessibility of educational materials by these disable students but also ensure their full understanding of projected educational texts or images. This write-up examines the benefits and challenges of distance learning for physically disabled students. It also points out some AT devices that can be used to support learners with physical disabilities and other disabilities in distance learning environment.
Distance learning has certainly been used as a supportive tool in learning for students with various disabilities. According to Tanners & Rao (2008), distance learning incorporates Adaptive Technologies (AT) which has increased access to learning materials and instruction for students with disabilities. This has legally and ethically supported active participation of students with various disabilities in distance learning courses.
As pointed out by Tanners & Rao (2008), physically disabled students normally have problems with physical mobility, especially when travelling or navigating from one college classroom to the other. However, distance learning benefits such students since they are able to access online education programs at their homes thereby completing degree requirement without physical mobility challenges. Equally, online educational programs have enabled students with gross motor disabilities to effectively choose courses that best suit their needs and abilities.
Despite such contributions, distance learning has posed certain challenges to physically disabled students. For instance, students who are visually impaired are unable to make sense of the web-based picture used. Equally, students with mobility problem may have a problem matching the speed of the other team members in online chats as those with visual impairment also experience problems in identifying educational instructors.
According to Tanners & Rao (2008), a computer-based program equipped with voice recognition software can effectively be used in supporting visually impaired students in the distance learning environment. This system will read out text in synthesized voice, which could easily be understood and interpreted by physically disabled students. Additionally, a two-way video conferencing with real time capitation can be used in supporting deaf students. This will ensure that pre-recorded multimedia materials are translated to deaf students through video content using sign language.
On the other hand, students with autism and learning disabilities can be supported in distance learning by using iPods or computers with text-to-speech software. These technologies with additional speech synthesizers would highlight specific texts and read them back to them loud enough. The students would thus be able to best comprehend educational material thereby enhancing their learning process.
In conclusion, it is essential to develop effective AT devices that would allow easy accessibility and interpretation of educational material to various disabled students in distance learning.