How are Adults with Disabilities Dealing with Online Learning?

According to the Pew Research Center, students with disabilities shifting from classrooms to online learning have faced unique barriers. Pew Research Center survey of Americans ages 18 and older conducted in spring 2016 found disabled Americans express lower levels of comfort with using technology. Disabled adults are less likely than those without a disability to say that having a high level of confidence in their ability to use the internet and other communication devices to keep up with information describes them “very well” (39% vs. 65% of all adults).

A separate survey conducted in fall 2016 found that 23% of disabled adults say they never go online, compared with 8% of non-disabled adults (the survey defines disability as a “health problem, disability or handicap currently keeping you from participating fully in work, school, housework or other activities”).

How are your learners with disabilities managing online/distance learning?  Has the shift away from in-person instruction lead to more learners sharing learning difficulties with their teachers?  What additional steps can we take to help ensure learners with disabilities have the support and resources to stay connected during online learning?

Mike Cruse

Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator    


I usually get numerous students with accommodations their HSE but this fall, while I have just as many students with IEP's, very few of them have passed their entire test.  The ones that finally did, were able to come in person before they were successful.  I find that they do not have good digital literacy skills, many are poor  and do not own a computer.  They also are more distracted online and it is much harder to see what they aren't getting.

Hi, Shelia -

Thanks for sharing your experience with the learners that you teach.  I've heard a lot of the same from educators I work with in my district.  I've also read several articles about the unique challenges of supporting learners with disabilities and come across a few resources for trying to bridge the gaps created in virtual settings. 

One example is this Google site for distance learning for special education resources.  It includes Open Educational Resources (OER) that are useful for a spectrum of different age learners.  If members come across other OERs that could be helpful, please share them with us here!

Of course, all the OER doesn't solve the technological resource inequalities faced by many learners.  It's critical that adult education programs look to partner with agencies that can help support learners with disabilities to achieve their education and employment goals.  State vocational rehabilitation partners, while also being impacted by the pandemic, are still a great resource to connect with for adult (and transition-age 14-21) learners with documented disabilities. 


Mike Cruse