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Schools Abandoning Accessibility? How the COVID-19 Pandemic Is Revealing Gaps in Online Education

By IGI Global on Apr 16, 2020

Editor Note: Understanding the importance of this timely topic and to ensure that research is made available to the wider academic community, IGI Global has made a sample of related articles and chapters complimentary to access. View the end of this article to freely access this critical research.


The massive shift to online learning is posing a challenge for administrators, teachers/instructors, students, and parents alike, as nearly every school is now closing their physical locations internationally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many classrooms have successfully transitioned into this model, according to a recent Inside Higher Ed article, there is a large population of students who have been “put on the backburner ‘en masse’,” and are unable to access and/or learn effectively in the traditional digital learning environment.

Students with disabilities are facing a greater challenge in these online environments, whether it is students who have a physical (i.e. deaf or hard of hearing, low vision or blindness, etc.), learning (i.e. attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), or mental disability. With teachers scrambling to put their materials online for the rest of the semester, the topic of “accessibility” is often overlooked.

“Since the 1975 inception of Public Law 94-142, known as the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA), how to educate students with exceptionalities has been a controversy,” explains Prof. Pam Epler, from Grand Canyon University, in her publication Cases on Service Delivery in Special Education Programs (IGI Global). It continued to escalate when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act passed in 2004 that stated, “all students with identified special needs had to be educated within the least restrictive environment (LRE).” However, there are no guidelines on what LRE is and it is one of the main subjects for many court cases around education.

Cases on Service Delivery in Special Education Programs
Edited by Prof. Pam L. Epler (Grand Canyon University, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 | Pages: 431 | ISBN: 9781522580690 | EISBN: 9781522580706

A comprehensive reference source that compiles real-world case studies on successful classroom models and practices to provide rewarding learning environments for students with disabilities. It addresses topics such as behavior modification, social development, and teacher collaboration...Learn More.

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic protocol, parents and students alike are finding the gaps and lack of guidelines in the approach to accessibility in education, even though these laws are put in place. Through these laws, there is the creation of educational guidelines 1 that educators over the years have implemented, which include:

  • Understanding How a Student Disability Impacts Their Learning: Through understanding the limitations and needs students have, a better course of action for educators to teach their students can be created. This can include analyzing disabilities students may have in the classroom and modifying resources/asking for additional resources from the institution, understanding the different learning styles of the students, or even understanding the culture of the students. Through this, teachers can incorporate “multiple intelligences and differentiated instruction within educational planning” to provide depth in the delivery of education.

  • Finding the Most Appropriate Service Delivery Model and Understanding Available Resources: Many colleges and institutions will offer assistance programs through their institutions that will go beyond tutoring and include “self-advocat[ing], managing one’s time effectively, organizing oneself and one’s course materials, improving reading and listening comprehension, writing in a scholarly manner, implementing study skills that fit the individual student needs in general and in a specific course, getting prepared to take a test, and effectively conducting research for an assignment.” It is important for educators to understand what resources are available through their institution.

  • Evaluating Your Current Class to Ensure that it is Accessible: For teachers to be proactive in providing inclusive and accessible education to their students, one of the biggest things is to evaluate their current courses and materials. This includes evaluating courses through evaluation theory, rubrics, or questionnaires conducted with the faculty and students to see if the needs are being met.

Additionally, traditional online learning models can assist in creating accessibility with students, such as synchronous sessions.

“Synchronous sessions provide an opportunity for classes to meet in real time. The main benefit of these sessions is that faculty and students can interact in real time,” explains Prof. Beatrice Adera and Prof. Michelle Fisher, from West Chester University, USA, contributors of the Handbook of Research on Virtual Training and Mentoring of Online Instructors (IGI Global).2

Handbook of Research on Virtual Training and Mentoring of Online Instructors
Edited by Prof. Jared Keengwe (University of North Dakota, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 | Pages: 511 | ISBN: 9781522563228| EISBN: 9781522563235

A comprehensive reference is a critical scholarly resource that highlights the issues, challenges, and online engagement experiences to enhance effective teaching and learning in this learning environment...Learn More.

Although synchronous/live online class sessions may need to be modified to for students with disabilities (i.e. visually impaired individuals may need specialized materials, hard of hearing students may need to have the teaching materials in text, etc.), this enables students and faculty to interact in real time and can provide additional student support. It is important for teachers to test their technology, set reminders for the class, and to set a specific agenda.

These points are just scratching the surface on providing inclusive online education and each student often has their own unique set of circumstances and needs, overall it is important for parents, educators, administrators, and governmental officials to recognize the true challenges of providing education to those with disabilities. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, it is showcasing the gaps within the current educational system and is a true test of the wave of inclusivity and accessibility practices many institutions are touting. Without the collaboration of the school systems, the government, and institutions, teachers are facing an uphill battle in providing the necessary resources for their students.

“Research is adamant about the lack of continuity in the law and knowledge that continues to plague shared leadership in the special education community. Without a shared voice of leadership in special education, our moral compass will always sway in any direction it would like because it can.” - Prof. Pam L. Epler (Grand Canyon University, USA).

In support of educators and institutions impacted by the global pandemic of COVID-19, the latest research and information for online education and accessibility is available, including the Cases on Service Delivery in Special Education Programs (IGI Global), edited by Prof. Pam L. Epler, from Grand Canyon University, USA. This critical publication compiles real-world case studies on successful classroom models and practices to provide rewarding learning environments for students with disabilities.

This publication is currently available in electronic format (EISBN: 9781522580706) through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore at a 50% discount, and is featured in IGI Global’s InfoSci®-Books database (5,900+ e-books). Recommend this publication and the InfoSci-Books database to your library to have access to this critical research, as well as thousands of other research resources, including the chapters below, in the IGI Global InfoSci-Books database.

Complimentary Research Articles and Chapters on Accessible and Inclusive Online Education:

In response to the timeliness and importance of this topic, we have made all of the below articles and chapters complimentary to access. As such, please feel free to integrate these resources into your research and share them across your network.

Featured Publications Surrounding Accessibility and Online Education:

Learn More
Recommend to Library
Research Anthologies on Accessibility and Diversity in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice
Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A. (Executive Editor of IGI Global)

Copyright: © 2020 | Pages:1,040 | ISBN: 9781799812135|, EISBN: 9781799812142

Through this book examines emerging methods and trends for creating accessible and inclusive educational environments and examines the latest teaching strategies and methods for promoting learning for all students.

Learn More
Recommend to Library
Special Education Design and Development Tools for School Rehabilitation Professionals
Prof. Ajay Singh (Texas A&M International University, USA), Prof. Mark Viner (Eastern New Mexico University, USA) and Prof. Chia Jung Yeh (East Carolina University, USA)

Copyright: © 2020 | Pages: 320 | ISBN: 9781799814313 | EISBN: 9781799814337

This publication is a comprehensive research publication that examines special education practices and provides in-depth evaluations of pedagogical practices for improved educational experiences for students with disabilities.

Learn More
Recommend to Library
Inclusive Theory and Practice in Special Education
Prof. Henriette van Rensburg (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) and Prof. Shirley O'Neill (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)

Copyright: © 2020 | Pages: 425| ISBN: 9781799829010| EISBN: 9781799829034

This scholarly publication is an essential research book that examines current shifts in the field within the overarching philosophy of inclusion and inclusive education. It reports recent research that focuses on the experiences of teachers and students in classrooms and ways of enhancing the practices of inservice teachers and early career teachers, as well as the preparation of preservice teachers.

Learn More
Recommend to Library
Handmade Teaching Materials for Students With Disabilities
Prof. Shigeru Ikuta (Otsuma Women's University, Japan)

Copyright: © 2019 | Pages: 396 | ISBN: 9781522562405 | EISBN: 9781522562412

This scholarly publication provides emerging research exploring the theoretical and practical aspects of materials and technology made to help teachers in providing content and aid for students with disabilities and their applications within education.

View All Publications With Content Related to This Topic

To view all IGI Global titles related to COVID-19, download the comprehensive title list:

Download Comprehensive COVID-19 Title List (Excel)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of IGI Global.

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1 Epler, P. L. (2019). Cases on Service Delivery in Special Education Programs (pp. 1-431). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-8069-0

2 Adera, B., & Fisher, M. (2019). Best Practices for Online Training and Support for Online Instructors. In J. Keengwe (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Virtual Training and Mentoring of Online Instructors (pp. 378-396). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-6322-8.ch018
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