How Online School Can Benefit Students with Disabilities
If you visit this blog often, you’ve probably read several of our posts explaining that a nontraditional schooling method like virtual school can be a great fit for many students with different personalities, interests, and learning styles. You may not know, however, that online learning perks such as scheduling flexibility and advanced technology can also be valuable for students who have medical limitations and disabilities.
Take it from Jeffrey Crouch, who is blind and a recent graduate of Great Lakes Cyber Academy (GLCA), a Connections Academy®—supported school. Jeffrey knew that having his former guide dog, Benson, in a traditional classroom would be difficult and inconvenient, so he switched to GLCA for a more suitable and supportive academic environment.
During his time at GLCA, Jeffrey helped the school improve its accessibility efforts and even became a user consultant for Connections Academy. With more scheduling flexibility, he was able to maintain his busy schedule as a proactive advocate for accessibility while still keeping up with schoolwork. Jeffrey is the president of the Michigan Association of Blind Students and of the Genesee County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind in Michigan. He plans to attend college and pursue a career in forensic psychology.
To learn more about Jeffrey and his experience with online school, check out the Q&A below!
Q: What has been your most rewarding experience with Connections Academy?
A: I would have to say my favorite experience was being able to meet all the wonderful staff in the Columbia, Maryland, office. I had the opportunity to go and meet everyone after working on pieces of legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. I love being able to speak about the program and how flexible Connections Academy was for me. Connections Academy allowed me to go beyond what I would’ve been able to do in the traditional brick-and-mortar school, including having a guide dog, volunteering with the Red Cross as the disaster information technology leader for thirteen counties in Michigan, volunteering as the lead dispatcher for the citizens’ radio patrol in Flint, Michigan, and being the president of two organizations.
Q: What do you do as a user testing consultant? What is your favorite part about being a user testing consultant?
A: I look at websites and make sure that that the information on [each of those] sites can be read by anyone using a screen reader. My favorite part is knowing that the work that I put in will improve the experience of a blind student someday.
Q: How did you become a user testing consultant for Connections Academy?
A: When I first began as a student in 2013, I experienced problems with the platform. I reported these problems to the teachers, who in turn sent [my report] up the chain. Ultimately, after a couple of years, the people in one of the departments along with the principal contacted me, and I began consulting.
Q: Could you provide some insight for seniors who are looking for colleges that have not only websites that are accessible but also outreach and support programs promoting accessibility for their students?
A: All college websites have to be accessible according to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The level of accessibility varies greatly from the bare minimum, which isn’t that great, to fully accessible. In terms of the support and outreach programs at the college, I would recommend having blind / low-vision students join the National Association of Blind Students’ email list. This list has blind students from all around the country who fight for accessibility in colleges and places of higher education. We also have people who post questions relating to anything [having to do] with high school / college. The website for reference is nabslink.org.
Q: What advice do you have for parents with students who are blind?
A: Be the best advocate for your child that you can be. As your child grows up, teach him or her how to be [his or her] own advocate. I would also suggest getting involved with an organization made up of people who are blind. There are many of them out there. I’m personally biased, since I’m the president of the Genesee County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan, and the president of the Michigan Association of Blind Students, which are [both] affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). The NFB believes that blindness isn’t a characteristic that defines you or your future, and that with love, hope, and determination, you can transform your dreams into a reality in order to live the life you want.
Q: How was your experience with online school?
A: I love online education. I could say it a thousand more times. The accessibility challenges that I faced were small. I know Connections Academy is committed to accessibility, and the people there do a great job. I would have given up long ago if it weren’t for the positive and welcoming environment that I was brought into. Instead of turning me away, the school was supportive and understanding. I was talking to someone this evening about switching to GLCA because I believe so strongly in online education—and I think they’re going to do it. It’s amazing, and I wish I could go back and do it again (okay, maybe not all again).
Virtual school can be a beneficial and rewarding option for a wide range of students, including those with disabilities like Jeffrey. How has learning in an online environment benefited your student? Share your story with us in the comments!