Finding a sustainable, accommodating job can be difficult for someone with a disability; while the unemployment rate for those without disabilities is about 8%, for individuals with a disability, it is a whopping 15%. As with the general population, the level of education and training after high school that a person with disabilities receives is a key factor in their ability to find work. The unemployment rate for all groups with a four-year degree or higher is only about 4%.
Traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities present unique challenges for students with disabilities, despite remedial efforts taken by schools to comply with the mandates of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (section 504). All colleges are required by law to make some accommodation for students with disabilities under Section 504, and those that receive federal aid must equip students with necessary services, auxiliary aids and make other accommodations as needed (academic and physical) so that students with disabilities can take advantage of academic institutions.
Unlike primary, middle and high school students, college students have the primary responsibility to identify and prove their disabilities. They must also request the services and accommodations they need to succeed on campus and in the classroom. Elementary and secondary schools are required by Section 504 and Title II of the ADA to provide free appropriate public education (FAPE) to all students; this directive requires that the school identify the child’s needs, and provide any accommodation and assistive devices necessary. Additionally, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) put the responsibility of creating an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for the student squarely with the K-12 schools.
Colleges are not so required, and a student with a disability must have more documentation in hand than simply an IEP in order to receive the services he or she needs. Colleges may, and typically do, ask the student to prove his or her needs by supplying diagnostic tests and even prescriptions. Students who require auxiliary aids must justify the need, even for tape recorders, note-takers and taped texts, and the college need not supply the assistive device requested, but need only make a reasonable accommodation.
Choosing a School
Since most schools must comply with the ADA and Section 504, students with disabilities can rest assured that their school will provide at least a basic level of accommodation. Students at online institutions, however, often report being more satisfied with their academic experience because the program is accommodating by its nature, and does not have to be modified to meet student’s needs. Students with disabilities note that the online learning environment is already adapted to their unique challenges since digital communications, including online forums, email and chat are the norm. Rarely are online students aware that their peers might have disabilities; students are treated equally and those students with disabilities do not have to endure the spotlight that often comes when they attend a traditional college.
The curriculum of nearly all online classes is designed so that students may work at their own pace. This flexibility appeals to many students, including working adults, but is particularly helpful for students with disabilities. Instructors typically make class materials available via open access on a virtual whiteboard so that all students may refer back to lessons and replay lectures as frequently as they need. And because everything is available all the time, students participate at the times that are convenient for the student – not the teacher or the institution.
Although online classes are naturally accommodating, some students require additional modification and assistance. Online programs offered by accredited college are regulated by the ADA and Section 504, the same as brick-and-mortar schools; therefore, online colleges provide disabled students with all necessary accommodation, including auxiliary aids such as video text displays, readers and talking calculators.
With the harsh reality that job seekers with disabilities are nearly twice as likely as to be unemployed in today’s stagnant economy, individuals with disabilities must arm themselves with every advantage. Obtaining a four-year degree from an accredited online college will provide students with disabilities the skills and education needed to build a successful career.
ADA Home Page
The Association for Higher Education and Disability
Disability Resources on the Internet
National Council on Disability
U.S. Department of Education