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This research paper aims to highlight the revolution experienced in education of disabled students because of implementation of educational technology in the institutes. A major aspect of educational technology for the disabled consists of distance learning and e-learning facilities. Although available for more than a century, distance education for disabled individuals has become easier to avail since the amendments in Individuals in Disabilities Education Act in the 1990's. The paper will study various aspects of both e-learning and distance education and how they have become a source of educating handicapped globally highlighting the benefits, challenges and efforts made by different governments to encourage the disabled to pursue their studies. The entire study will be supported by various case studies depicting the experiences of disabled students while adopting technological education. The research will help the researcher to analyze whether disabled students are able to attain the quality education through technology education and does it really help in achieving a better status in the society.
Technology has always played a major role in the life of every student. Distance education for over hundred years has been serving as an alternative means of education to those students who due to some reason or the other are unable to attend the traditional campus- based classes. Over the time, the entire concept of distance education has much expanded. Today, the student has an option to complete his course either in correspondence style or through technological based courses that are completed through internet. Distance education has proved to be worth the time and efforts consumed by displaying various benefits to the students the major one being a chance to complete education in the most crucial circumstances. It has enabled individuals who are caught up in employment, family duties, disability or living in remote areas a chance to complete their education.
The individuals that benefit most out of distance education are no doubt the disabled students. For centuries the education of disabled students has been a major problem where they were grouped together in separate classrooms and educated by specially trained teachers which de-motivated many of them to the level where they quit their education and decided to not to graduate. However, the scenario did not stay the same forever; many renowned universities upgraded their educational facilities for disabled students after the amendments in individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1997. The act promoted distance education vastly amongst the disabled sector by introducing varieties of technologies that made it possible for students with disabilities to complete their education.
This research paper aims on finding out various aspects of distance education and e-learning procedures adopted by various universities and how they help the students with disabilities to attain their education with ease, also highlighting the various challenges they experience along the way. The paper has also done research on the steps universities all over the globe have taken to promote distance education and e- learning amongst disabled. the research also tells the actual experiences of many disabled students who availed this facility which in the end will help the researcher to conclude through his own research whether the forms of technology education is a reliable mean of attaining quality education and does it help the disabled to create a financially stable place in the society.
E-Learning and Distance Education- Defined:
Distance education is a form of availing education while the student is physically away from the teacher and many a times from the institution as well. Distance education comes in many forms, sometimes a single source is used educate the students and at times two or three sources are combined together so the very best is delivered. Typical distance education process must have a teacher capable of teaching, a student or students capable of learning. Also, there must be a course or curriculum which the teacher has to follow. Despite the fact that in distance education the students are miles far away from the teacher still just like any traditional classroom it is the duty of the teacher to assess and guide the students wherever necessary so they are fully prepared for the exam that may or may not be conducted by the institute. E-learning on the other hand is a much broader term it does not only include the technology of distance learning but also the educational technology which is adopted by schools and universities to educate disabled students with in the campus (Mielke, 1999).
The reason why both distance education and e-learning have been chosen as the core subject of the research is because the existence of one is not possible without the other. The disabled students always have their distance education set up at their homes even if they are associated with any physical campus because like this it is much easier for them to pursue their studies.
Review of the Literature on Disabled Students Discrimination
Treatment of Students with Disabilities:
For many decades the education system has ignored the special education. The disabled were treated in an environment similar to mini schools where they were stuffed in a small classroom handed over to teachers who were also treated as a separate staff. However, today the entire concept of education for disabled students has taken a much wider and a more philosophical approach (Rose & Meyer, 2002).
The needs of better education for disabled students was recognized in 1997 when educator peers started bringing amendments in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Before the act, many of the disabled students were deprived of education because none of the schools wanted to accept them. However, IDEA clearly stated that disabled students have equal right to attain public education. Although six million children with disabilities ranging between six to twenty one years of age take admissions in schools still they often complain that they do not get the same learning experience as the adolescent learners and non- disabled students (Rose & Meyer, 2002).
Taking notice of this, Federal Legislation through two acts Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 along with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1997) imposed all the schools to introduce education facilities for disabled students utilizing communication technology and flexible curriculum materials. After the regulation, many of the universities started offering post- secondary distance education for students with disabilities. As a result, the number of graduations amongst disabled youth increased drastically. In 1978 disabled students attending schools and universities full time was only 2.6% while in 1994 it increased to 9.2% and in 1998 in reached 10%. A report released by the National Council on Disability showed that 17% of the students studying either part time or full time in schools and universities are now students having disabilities and they all prefer to study through the facilities of distance education (Stodden, Whelley, Chang, & Harding, 2001).
Distance education is now offered in at least one - third of all universities and schools in U.S increasing the chances of disabled to attain education. Some of the major materials used in distance education are print correspondence, DVD and TV courses and online based courses delivered in numerous formats. Distance education courses are usually interactive and utilize multiple media which is linked to vast amount of web data base and information websites. The National Center in 1997 stated that 16% of the schools and universities are aiming at disabled individuals as potential students especially the students having impaired mobility, hearing, deafness and speech (Stodden, Whelley, Chang, & Harding, 2001).
Due to easy access of distance education it is quite clear that the number of graduations amongst disabled students is much more than it was couple of years back. This gives birth to questioning of outcome of distance education amongst the disabled. Firstly, is the distance education providing the same level of quality education that is being provided in the traditional classrooms? And secondly, after graduating are the disabled students getting good employment opportunities or they are still dependent upon other family members in their household? Answers to these two questions will be answered later in the paper, first lets discuss the various disability laws that have allowed the disabled students to experience better education.
Impact of Laws and Policies on E- Learning and Distance Education for the Disabled:
Ever since the Americans with Disability Act have passed the legal issues have also become more prominent. Now federal law has taken several steps to avoid disabled students discrimination in the higher education. Also, the higher education institutes and teachers are requested to provide the disabled students with effective e-learning facilities both within and outside the school premises where students can enjoy equal access to information technology (Scott, 1997).
Review of Research on Technology Education for Disabled Students
Education Technology required and its Impact on the Disabled Students:
Distance education is not something which is entirely home based there are many universities globally that offer semi-distance education services also known as e-learning for disabled students with in the premises of the university. This initiative by the universities has taken the entire concept of distance education to the next level. The disabled students who do not want to or due to physical reasons are unable to attend regular classes now have separate labs with technological equipments within the university premises that help them in graduating. These labs always consist of one form or the other type of a software or hardware to ensure that all the needs of the students are being met (Fichten, Nguyen, Barile, & Asuncion, 2007).
Assistive technologies required by universities for disabled universities have always been a major problem for the institutes. The reason being, every disabled student has a different set of demands which can be met only by technologies having specific mechanism. To have a better understanding of the different kinds of computer technologies required by disabled students a research was done by three professors namely Catherine Fichten, Jennison Asuncion and Maria Barile of Dawson College, Canada in which they approached disabled students from ninety seven different community colleges along with seventy one individuals appointed by the university to assist them through e-learning process. Known as project AdaptCan, at the end of the questionnaires and survey interviews the researchers concluded that nearly all the universities use similar technology. Identifying the needs of the disabled interviews they also highlighted some of the major assistive technologies that every university wishing to implement distance education within their university premises must have. These technologies included OCR software to convert a printed page into electronic text for the blind and deaf, magnification software for the students with low vision, videos having captions and sub titles for deaf students and software based keyboards for students from which one hand typing is possible. Apart from these electronic dictionaries, mapping software, word prediction software, email and chat programs, voice control software and writing aids are also required by many of the disabled students (Fichten, Barileb, & Asuncion, 2003).
Another research done by professors of Dawson University, McGill University and Jewish General Hospital in 2007 evaluated the rate at which Canadian universities are now adopting assistive technology for disabled students and found out that due to the availability of technology today 93% of the disabled students from eighty one Canadian junior/community colleges they had selected for the investigation are completing their associate degree, while 34% are enrolled in two year programs and 41% are finishing their three year technical program (Fichten, Nguyen, Barile, & Asuncion, 2007).
It is not only Canada that is focusing on assistive technology for the disabled; the other countries are also taking equal measures. In 2003 research conducted by professors of University of Hawaii showed that due to facility of technology the percentage of disabled students graduating with a diploma has raised to 55% over the years and the number of students dropping out has decreased to 31% from 35%. Such facts reveal the success not only the universities but the economy as a whole is gaining just by implementing e-learning in their institution (Stodden, Conway, & Chang, 2003).
The universities that already have these technologies their disabled students are not only enjoying the equal educational rights but they are also able to experience other benefits as well such as many of the students believe that distance education and vast use of technology has helped them in improving their well being. They are able to get rid of their loneliness as they can indulge themselves into acts they were not able to perform before. In 1999 a survey was done by Clark and Bellamy's to understand the improvements seen in life of disabled students after the adoption of distance education. Eighty nine students were examined through various chat rooms, discussion groups, newsgroups and electronic mailing lists. 72% confessed they could do a lot more online than in real life, 74% said they have made many new friends and 90% stated they enjoyed all the information that was made available to them. Other researchers done in the time being have also proved that distance education and over all increased usage of internet has helped the disabled individuals in many ways especially in regards to isolation, general wellbeing, loneliness and independence (Fichten, Barileb, & Asuncion, 2003).
Discussion and Comparison of Universities Offering Technology Education for the Disabled:
The technological must haves Fichten, Barileb and Asuncion highlighted in their project for every university offering e-learning and distance education for the disabled are quite accurate. Many of the universities have implemented these technologies with in their premises and those who haven't they arrange for funds to provide the technology in the homes of the disabled so they can complete their education with ease.
Some of the universities as per reviews and journal articles that have made their mark in providing adequate facilities to the distance students allowing them to carrying their distance education process with ease amongst many are University of Washington of U.S.A and Athabasca University of Canada. Although the concept of e-learning and distance education came much before in US.A still it has been noticed that the Canadian Universities offering distance education to the disabled are not in lagging behind in any way and a major credit should go to the extensive research that universities indulge themselves in from time to time regarding their performances on e-learning and distance learning for the disabled students. The Athabasca University of Canada in particular has conducted several studies to upgrade their services. The comparison made below has been made after identifying their several aspects of the universities in context to courses offered to disabled students:
University of Washington
Athabasca University of Canada
No of Disabled Students Enrolled
No of Disabled Students completing the program
Kinds of Assistive Technology Provided
Speech-to-text Technology, and Screen Reader Software technology, Adaptive Lab equipment
Speech-to-text Technology, and Screen Reader Software technology
Funding for Equipment
69% of the students receive training
48% of the students receive training
Looking at the comparison it is quite clear that university of Washington has more facilities for the disabled students then the Athabasca University of Canada. However, it should be kept in mind that the size of university of Washington is much more than the Athabasca University. If we cortically evaluate the Athabasca University it is noticed that they only cater to Physical, Learning, Psychological, Visual and Hearing impaired students (Moisey, 2004) while on the other hand Washington University serves many more categories of disabled individuals namely learning disabilities, orthopedic, health, hearing, visual and speech impaired students. The University of Washington looks after all of its disabled students under a "Do it" program which has been running successfully since 1991. They also have facilities for the students who are going through emotional disturbances. The assistive technology they provide is also according to every disability type (University of Washington , 2004). While in Athabasca University of Canada the technology is limited to an extent that it became the core reason of de-motivating the students to the level where they quit their course in the middle of the semester In the Washington University the trend of disabled student enrollment is seen more in two year programs rather than four year programs this raises questions about the quality of education and environment provided at the university. According to a blind student of University of Washington, "At the University of Washington, I received amazing support. The Disabled Student Services Office has paid volunteers that translated all out text books and paper. However, they only provided us with the books that were covered in the course for more information we had to use digital libraries which I found to be a hassle at times (Hahn, 2006)." Resistance to use technology is often seen amongst disabled people especially the foreign disabled students coming from underdeveloped countries. Also another appealing factor of University of Washington is that once the student graduates it makes effort for their employment by either hiring them in one of their own departments or getting them a job at a place which would ensure financial stability (University of Washington , 2004).
Distance and E- Learning Problems and Solutions through Exploratory Studies:
Today education technology for disabled in the form of distance and e-learning facilities has entered in nearly all parts of the world not only in U.S but other countries such as India, Australia, China, Japan, Canada and U.K are also deriving all the benefits they can out of the information and communication technology to help their disabled populated in attaining education. Many of the countries to promote assistive technology even took out special laws such as UK has the Disability Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005, Australia took out its The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act in 1992 while U.S.A famous and globally accepted American Disability Act of 1990 (Healey, Fuller, Bradley, & Hall, 2006).
The professors have adopted these technologies while teaching the disabled students from power point presentations to web- based discussions for later class discussions and complete deliverance of the course online. The manner in which the universities and the professors are now making use of technologies it has become quite clear that these education technologies are here to stay forever.
However the question still stays unanswered as to despite all the technology imposed on the disabled students is it really helping them in attaining a quality education? And is it able to meet the demand of all types of disabled students? Also, it has been seen that even with all the technology and the support many of the disabled students leave the courses without completing them. Why does this happen? What are the problems that the disabled face during e-learning that are disappointing to such an extent that they quit education and choose to stay dependant for the rest of their lives? Several of the studies have been referred to answer these questions. Also a conclusion has been derived analyzing the experiences of disabled students from all over the world.
To highlight the problems and then to define the solutions mainly three researches have been taken into consideration. The first one is an exploratory study conducted by various professors of Canadian universities namely Catherine S. Fichten, Vittoria Ferraro, Asuncion, Jennison Chwojka, Caroline, Maria Barile, Mai N. Nguyen, Ryan Klomp and Joan Wolforth. They took a sample of two hundred and twenty three students with disabilities from fifty eight universities. They also chose twenty eight professors who in the last three years had taught at least one disabled student along with thirty three e-learning professionals. All the four groups were approached though online questionnaires (Fichten, et al., 2009). While the second study done by Mick Healey, Mary Fuller, Andrew Bradley and Tim Hall targeted the disabled students of Higher Education Institution. The disabled students are 20% of the entire population present at the university and come from many different backgrounds such as Canada, Australia, India and Japan which made this university a perfect spot for analysis of the problems faced by disabled students globally. The researchers have extracted the information from the students through questionnaire survey, one-to-one and group interviews, case studies, and observations (Healey, Fuller, Bradley, & Hall, 2006). The third research was conducted by participants of the Technology Strand of the National Summit. Their study mainly concentrated on three problems issues with hardware and software, issues with content presentation and improper training of assistive technology to the students and professors (Burgstahler, Smith, & Coombs, 2002) Review of the three studies shows that the problems faced by disabled students which become a barrier in deliverance of quality education are almost the same.
All the surveys showed that the students were most perturbed because of inaccessibility of learning management systems and websites. This problem was announced to be extremely surprising because the entire concept of distance education depends upon websites and other online material (Fitchen, R, & Asuncion, 2005). This problem is better labelled as software issue and occurs during development, transmission and reception (Burgstahler, Smith, & Coombs, 2002).
Many students also have issues with the way the content is delivered to them. If the website content is not in linear form it causes trouble to the extent that it is regarded as useless by many of the disabled (Burgstahler, Smith, & Coombs, 2002) Another problem that came upfront was that students were not provided with audio and video materials. Although there are many videos nowadays that have captions on them but in absence of caption and low voiced videos the students are unable to understand what the lecture is about (Fichten, et al., 2009). One deaf student defined his problem as 'The sound of the online videos was just terrible, many of the videos had captions but if we ever got any resource from outside the university library that would cause us a problem (Healey, Fuller, Bradley, & Hall, 2006).PDF files appear to be a very big issue for the disabled students. While scanning a PDF the images cannot be edited nor the sections can be copy pasted because of which students with vision impairment cannot see what is written. PDFs having images also cannot be run though a screen reading technology as they have no words to be read. They need to go through special OCR software but it works really slowly especially if the paper is heavily annotated. There are presentation issues attached with power point presentations as well that becomes problem for the students having visual and hearing impairments. Visual impaired students have difficulty in seeing the presentation and students with hearing disabilities have a tough time watching the presentation and at the same time taking notes. And when the lights are off the students also have difficulty in making out what the language interpreter is doing (Fichten, et al., 2009). These are some of the issues regarding accessibility to content. Another grave complaint that many of the disabled students confessed was the lack of assistive technology for them in the schools and universities. Many of the universities also have insufficient keyboards, site licences and contain difficult to install software. Also at times the e- learning material provided by the students is also less (Fichten, et al., 2009).
Another interesting fact that became visible through these studies was that barriers in distance education are not only related to technology when it comes to disabled students. In fact they also faced other issues because of their health problems for instance a student with an impaired leg complained "several times I cannot reach the class on time and I miss most of the vital information (Healey, Fuller, Bradley, & Hall, 2006). Nearly two third of the students protested that they could not cope up with the pressure. A student dealing with both arthritis and Dyslexia confessed, "Oral exams I clear with no difficulty but difficulty starts in written exams. Multiple choices are a great help I also face a tough time in course work as it takes allot of time for me to write and surprisingly the university did not cooperate they gave me no deadline extensions. Many disabled students create problems for themselves because they are shy for instance one student with diabetes said, "I often experience a hypo during exam but I am always shy to tell the examiner" (Healey, Fuller, Bradley, & Hall, 2006).
Final and the most major problem highlighted by both the Canadian professors and participants of the Technology Strand of the National Summit is proper training of how to use the technology. It has been observed that the teaching staff is usually not aware of how to use the technology. And in distance education since the professor rarely meets his students he often forgets the sensitive aspects of their disability as a result he would send a student with vision imparity with PDF files or a student with hearing disability a video without captions (Fichten, et al., 2009).
All of these problems become the core reason why disabled students are unable to enjoy quality education and thus becoming de-motivated quit their studies before graduating actually finishes. Solving these problems is extremely important because the number of disabilities all over the world is increasing dramatically. A research has proven that a person whether able or disable if knows how to use the technology present at his work place his chances of getting a raise are more.
The problems related to deliverance of content can be solved if the universities start following Web Content Accessibility Guidelines of the World Wide Web Consortium or Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (Burgstahler, Smith, & Coombs, 2002). Since there are now millions of universities offering e-learning to disabled students the process of convert their content on to the guidelines will take a lot of time till then the families become can more supportive by helping the disabled students such as by reading the notes out loud if they are PDF format or cannot be magnified or write down the assignments. Even writing the papers was considered as an appealing idea by both the students and the teachers. Of course, since the problems are numerous the steps that need to be taken to solve these problems also have to be plenty for instance disability service providers suggested the professors should undergo training as to how to use assistive technology. Also more assistive technology is required by many of the universities especially video equipment which would enlarge the face of the instructor enough for the student to read his lips. Extension for online exams and assessments is the demand of nearly all the disabled students they should be provided with this facility as they seem quite eligible for it (Fichten, et al., 2009). Other problems such as no access to many websites or access to old and outdated data is something that universities need to look into and make sure the recourses are open and are offering up to date data (Burgstahler, Smith, & Coombs, 2002).
Is E-Learning and Distance Education Helping Students with Disabilities to Attain Better Employment Opportunities?
A research done by Sheryl Burgstahler of University of Washington proved that application of e-learning and distance education have made it possible for the disabled to enjoy better employment opportunities in the economy. The information technology nourishes numerous abilities within the disabled individuals which allow them to have a successful adult life. Through participation in various academic programs the students establish traits of independency and productivity which helps them to carry out their professional life with efficiency. The education technology has also opened doors to various high tech career fields as well (Burgstahler, 2004).Some of the skills and abilities that disabled students create after using e- learning and online courses are computer skills which allows them to manipulate data, perform computer operations, surf the web. Due to all these skills they are able not only able to adapt themselves in a high tech working environment but also adjust themselves easily to the rapid changes taking place in a work place (Barett, 2008 ). Before distance education and e-learning was made common the education rate amongst disabled individuals was very low as a result the employment rate was only 15% but now those who complete high school are able to take 30% of the entire disabled people while those who complete post secondary education is 45% and those having a four years college degree is 50%.. The figures clearly show that education technology has done wonder for the disabled students and with proper application of its tools any disabled student can easily improve his career outcome (Burgstahler, 2004).
E-learning and distance learning has no doubt brought a massive change in the lives of the disabled students. The tools of educational technology if studied properly by the disabled students give them a chance to enjoy positive career outcomes. However, if all the above problems relating to e-learning and distance education are not solved by the universities and the schools then there is a possibility that quality of education becomes very low as a result the disabled students might not be able to get any jobs. This is why solving these problems on immediate basis has become a major issue. Not only U.S. but several other countries have made the efforts of improving the lives of disabled by taking out their education and equal right laws however, this is not enough the universities should also make efforts by bringing relevant changes in policies and procedures to enhance the level of quality provided to these special students at colleges and universities. They should realize that disabled individuals are a very major part of the economy and they cannot be left like this to depend on their other family members. If this happens it will disrupt the entire economy rather latest technology should be provided to the disabled so they stay up to dated and thus attain high paid jobs which as a result will also straighten the economy.