Supporting Students with Disabilities in K-12 Online and Blended Learning

Written By:
Mark E. Deschaine, Central Michigan University

Suggested Citation

Deschaine, M. (2018). Supporting students with disabilities in k-12 online and blended learning. Lansing, MI: Michigan Virtual University. Retrieved from https://mvlri.org/research/publications/supporting-students-with-disabilities-in-k-12-online-and-blended-learning/ 

Appropriately supporting students in online and blended learning environments requires a great deal of instructional planning and preparation. When enrolling students with disabilities in online or blended learning programs, additional planning may need to occur so students can be supported with additional programs and services determined by the student’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or from an accommodations plan resulting from a Section 504 meeting. Either way, these added programmatic concerns often require extra levels of consideration, implementation, and evaluation to determine the appropriateness of the online interventions and accommodations. The intent of this document is to supply educational teams content that will provide support for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of programs and services for students with disabilities enrolled in online and blended learning environments.

Introduction

The field of online and blended learning has a rich history of pursuing personalized and competency-based education. As evidence, consider that at the time of writing this, iNACOL, a major advocacy organization in K-12 online and blended learning had over 50 resources tagged under personalized learning (iNACOL, 2018). This approach to education – an approach that recognizes that each child comes with unique strengths and weaknesses – represents an opportunity to break away from commonly-held mindsets that view students with disabilities from a deficit perspective that often fails to recognize the exceptional strengths these students also possess. All students, not just students with disabilities, benefit from specialized supports and services to differentiate instruction within online programs. Thus, while this report focuses more specifically on supporting students with disabilities in online and blended environments, much of the information here may help all students.

As an aside, it is expected that many readers of this report will be familiar with the background on special education law. Appendix A is provided for those less fluent in this area. Appendix A provides a primer on both Michigan and federal law pertaining to students with disabilities and may be important background context for the rest of the report.

IEP Teams and Online Provider Considerations

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Individual Educational Program (IEP) teams, and those helping to design or deliver the online or blended learning experience, to keep in the forefront of their decision making the difference between the promise of the potential of the technology and the individual needs of the student in question. However, that is not to say that an online or blended learning program will be appropriate for every student and meet every learning need. According to Rice, Deschaine, and Mellard (2018), it is important “… to take a more cautious route because we take seriously the responsibility to make online learning available to everyone, everywhere. To ensure that these goals of increased access are met, educators and scholars need to ask important questions about who is participating in K-12 online learning and whether all students are benefiting (p. 118).

Providing proper supports to students with disabilities in online and blended learning environments requires the attention of all involved in the planning and execution of the student’s educational program and plan as well as the aforementioned comprehensive approach to the child. Attention to sound instructional strategies that differentiate learning opportunities, expected learning outcomes, student-specific supports, and student voice can help maximize student success. Because IEP teams play such an integral role in the educational experience of students with disabilities, each individual role on the IEP team can play an important part in shaping the best experience.

Students

Students have always played a central role in their own learning; but with the advent of online and blended learning opportunities, this role is even more pronounced. Students who are affected by disabilities have an important perspective related to their own learning needs and abilities, and their voice needs to be heard. They need to have the opportunity to express the ways that their learning abilities and challenges can influence the development of a quality support program developed for the online and blended learning platforms.

According to the Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE) with Related IDEA Federal Regulations (Michigan Department of Education, 2018), to the greatest extent possible, students should be members of the planning team that is putting together the education plans, programs, goals, objectives, and evaluations for their special education program; this would extend to online and blended learning environments. To be active participants in this process, students must be self-aware of both their abilities and areas in which they struggle, be able to self-advocate and state their needs to the adults responsible for creating and providing the programs and services, and be able to provide feedback throughout their education so revisions can be made to the programs and supports as necessary. Such awareness will likely be difficult for students with no prior familiarity with online learning. Consideration should be given to preparing students through information about or orientations to online learning prior to completing plans so that students can gain a more informed perspective from which to speak and make decisions.

Instructional Staff (General Education Teachers, Special Education Teachers, Paraprofessionals, and Ancillary Support Staff)

Educators continue to have a central role in any educational program developed for students eligible for special education programs and services. Issues related to curriculum, instruction, assessment, materials, methodology, and technology all need to be attended to in order to ensure that the required supports are in place to assist and allow the students with disabilities to be educated in the least restrictive environment in online and blended learning settings.

Educators need to be open minded about instructional potential and advocate for the presentation of all perspectives during the planning process. The needs of the student, parents, programs, and the teachers themselves should be discussed prior to the implementation of a plan. Consequently, educators need to have a great deal of training, information, ideas, and resources to aid them in supporting the needs of students in online and blended learning environments.

Mentors

Students who have disabilities often need additional peer or instructor supports to help them navigate the instructional opportunities and requirements that they experience in school. When appropriate, individuals who act as supports in educational environments should be active members in the development of educational interventions and the implementation of the programs and services, as well as in the evaluation of the program and service effectiveness. In Michigan, online learners are required to have a school employee – or in some cases, the parent – assigned as a mentor. Peers can also be a source of support to students, modeling appropriate behavior in class and in social situtations, for example.   Although it may not be realistic, ideally, mentors and peers would have the technological, social, and academic skills necessary to help guide their students. In addition, their insights can be of considerable benefit as a source of informal formative assessment to assist the other team members as they attempt to appropriately plan for and support the student. For more information about these types of supports please see the Grand Valley State University’s Statewide Autism Resources.

Parents

Parents are the first teachers of their children and play an important role in their longitudinal educational, social, behavioral, and affective development. As such, parents should be ready to discuss the aspirations and fears they have related to their child’s programs. Additionally, parents have a great deal to offer in discussions related to the desired outcomes of yearly plans and the influence online and blended learning have in meeting those desired outcomes. The importance of parents being active members in discussions and plans that are designed and developed to meet the needs of their children receiving special services in online and blended settings cannot be overstated because they will not have the ease that comes from experience interacting with students and other members of the support team in a traditional setting; instead, they will be navigating the technology and design of a unfamiliar modality of teaching and learning.

Parents are provided a great deal of support, deference, and responsibilities for the appropriate programming for their children who are eligible for special education services in Michigan. A top priority of parental involvement in all IEP programs is related to identifying the student’s strengths and weaknesses and the most appropriate ways to meet their needs. For our discussion, this input of student capabilities extends to the online and blended learning environment and the areas where supports would be necessary. Since their information and input is critical to success in online learning, all parental input and participation should be officially documented by the IEP team.

Many parents who have not experienced online or blended learning may be inadequately prepared for optimal participation in IEP meetings without being provided the information about what to expect with online learning. One resource that may help educate parents is Michigan Virtual’s Parent Guide to Online Learning (2017). Parents wanting more information about their roles and responsibilities related to the educational opportunities for their children are encouraged to contact the administrator of the program responsible for the provision of special education programs and services for their child.

Administrators

Administrators are ultimately responsible for the provision of quality education programs and services for students under their care within their programs. The issues related to providing thoughtful and quality online and blended services and programs for students with disabilities might at first be viewed as a challenging task by most educators. It is the administrator’s responsibility to help allay the fears and trepidations of the students, parents, staff, and faculty through the advocacy for good assessment, quality technological supports, integrity of content delivery, powerful and poignant professional development for all involved, and a commitment towards implementation with fidelity across all aspects of the program.

Administrators often are legally the only ones who can obligate the school to provide services and who have the responsibility to allocate school resources to create learning opportunities outside of the traditional educational community where the student receives instruction. A willingness to explore options and to identify resources is necessary to meet the individual learning needs of the students with disabilities.

Online Providers

Though not typically on an IEP team, providers of online and blended programs are the subject and content experts related to the courses not being offered by the school or district. As such, they should be able to discuss the ways that they have met the individualized educational needs of students in the past and recommend appropriate, student-centered programs and services necessary to meet the specifically-designed instructional supports developed for the student under consideration. Online providers need to reflect upon all feedback provided from other IEP team members as they attempt to improve the courses within the Universal Design in Learning (UDL) framework, thus leading to greater accessibility and success for the students with disabilities.

Representatives from the organization who can speak for the program and allocate supports and resources should be ready to discuss ways that they will be able to address the needs of students who have disabilities from an instructional, academic, social, emotional, or intellectual programming perspective.

Course Designers

Course designers are experts in providing quality instructional experiences so that the goals and objectives of the curriculum can be mastered. These professionals are in a unique position to support the differentiated and individual educational needs of students with disabilities.

Course designers can discuss the scope and sequence of the instruction, the pace with which the instruction can be delivered, and the ways that activities and expectations for performance have been designed to support the needs of students in the general education setting. This information is invaluable to a team that has been assembled to develop individualized supports for students who have disabilities. Course designers must understand how individual educational needs affect the general education expectation and progression of content, as well as potential ways that the course can accommodate individual student’s programmatic needs.

Categorical or Eligibility Criteria and Characteristics

As IEP teams meet to construct their plans, they should ensure the plans are informed by the specifics of the student’s disability. As explained earlier, MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018), provides guidance for programming requirements for students with disabilities. According to MARSE, a student with a disability is defined as:

a person who has been evaluated according to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and these rules, and is determined by an individualized education program team, an individualized family service plan team, or an administrative law judge to have one or more of the impairments specified in this part that necessitates special education or related services, or both, who is not more than 25 years of age as of September 1 of the school year of enrollment, and who has not graduated from high school. A student who reaches the age of 26 years after September 1 is a “student with a disability” and entitled to continue a special education program or service until the end of that school year. (p. 26-27)

The following sections provide content for each of the recognized eligibility categories that exist in the MARSE rules. It is important to recognize that for students to receive special educational services under Michigan law, the school district needs to conduct an eligibility determination. Once eligibility is ascertained, it then becomes the responsibility of the district to make a good faith effort in providing an appropriate IEP with programs and services specifically tailored to meet the needs of the child. Readers wishing a more extensive discourse on the issues of eligibility and programmatic access should contact the Supervisor or Director of Special Education in the district where the student is receiving their academic instruction.

The following eligibility categories exist in Michigan for the provision of special education programs and services: autism, cognitive impairments, other health impairments, emotional impairments, deaf or hard of hearing, visual impairments, physical impairments, specific learning disability, speech and language impairment, and traumatic brain injury. Each subsection below will provide direction about where to go for definitional and determination information and will offer a few pedagogical considerations that might be of use when educators and instructional personnel are providing support programs and services in online and blended learning environments.

Autism

Definition and Determination

For more information on how Autism is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 44-46 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

Since autism is a spectrum disorder, educators will find themselves dealing with a wide range of situations that have an impact on appropriate educational functioning and abilities in an online or blended learning environment. When developing programs and services to meet the needs of students who have autism, the following pedagogical considerations should be discussed:

  • Be ready to support students to help them understand the nuances of social interactions. They will also need support dealing with any misunderstanding of meaning or intent of interactions with others. Students with autism tend to have significant issues related to social interactions with teachers and peers. In an online or blended environment, this might require the teacher and mentor to monitor discussion boards more closely and carefully compose communications with the student, whether it be email or comments on assignments. The on-site mentor can be especially important in helping the student understand and address challenging situations, as can a peer who has been provided with the proper training and expectations.
  • Put requests or directions in writing. Since students with autism tend to be very visual, making instructions and directions as specific as possible helps alleviate any misunderstandings. This is easily accomplished in an online environment. In a blended situation, written instructions should accompany any assignment or activity.
  • Remember that online or blended learning environments can often be complex learning environments, depending upon the technologies and multitasking of activities that occur. Provide students with enough support to help them direct or redirect their attention to the most salient aspects within the instructional moment. The on-site mentor often provides support of this nature through resources and strategies for time management and study habit development.
  • Students with autism often have difficulty with change. Establish a system that provides students enough notice about change in expectations or schedules, since students with autism tend to be very rule bound and like to have routines established and followed. These changes can be easily added to the announcements section of the Learning Management System (LMS), although you may need to remind the student to check that area regularly. Using the calendar feature within the LMS provides a visual for due dates, test dates, and content that is expected to be read. Inform the on-site mentor and parent of changes, as well, so they can provide support to the student if necessary.
  • Know the issues students with autism may have with sensory input. Ensure the multimedia that you use in online or blended learning instruction are not going to have a negative impact on the instruction due to sights or sounds that impede processing of content. This may require gathering additional information from the student, parents, or counselor if the IEP is not available for the online instructor or the mentor supporting the student.
  • Realize that students with autism might have a distorted understanding of their abilities. They might overplay their cognitive strengths and underplay their areas of educational need. Be aware of this potential situation when providing feedback and correction to the student. This might be difficult to deal with in an online environment due to the relative anonymity that often exists within the learning environment. The onsite mentor, parent, and counselor may have additional information about the student’s self-perception to assist online instructors.
  • Work with your planning team members to get a better understanding of how verbal social interactions might affect the student, especially during times of stress. Be sure to include the online instructor, the counselor, and the on-site mentor in these discussions. Students with autism often are very concrete and literal in their understanding of conversations, and things such as smiles, metaphors, idioms, inflection, or intonation might be lost.
  • Include the student, to the greatest extent possible, in planning for instruction. This provides an opportunity to discuss what will be done to meet the student’s needs and gives the student an opportunity to create a trusting relationship with the people supporting the instructional programs. This may be more easily addressed in the blended setting where students are already in the presence of the teacher; however, the online instructor, along with the special education personnel and the mentor can work with the student to ensure the student sees that he/she has support from both sides.
  • Online and blended learning opportunities often are the saving grace for students with autism educationally. Many prefer the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions while being able to focus more intentionally on the content. However, this loss of physical proximity can also cause the staff to misread the student’s responses or progress. It is strongly suggested that online and blended program personnel provide direct one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials for the faculty and staff, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective.

For further educational implications of how autism might affect the online or blended learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Autism or Disabilities. The team might also want to consider the following resources as they plan for supporting students with autism in online and blended learning environments:

Cognitive Impairments

Definition and Determination

For more information on how cognitive impairment is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 28 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

Those wanting to provide appropriate educational programs and supports for students eligible for services under the cognitive impairment program requirements might want to consider the following pedagogical suggestions:

  • Attempt to provide repetition of content using multiple modalities when providing instruction. Most educational materials are written; capitalize on the wide variety of multimedia capabilities afforded by the online or blended environments to help demonstrate content concepts.
  • Take the steps necessary to assess student understanding of content in appropriate ways. Written reports may not allow students to provide the breadth or depth of their understanding in a way that a verbal presentation might. Additionally, online or blended environments provide students with cognitive impairments the opportunity to use differentiated output through technological tools.
  • New or novel situations may cause confusion and have an impact on educational performance. Realize that students may have issues with adaptive behavior. Take the time to explain changes in instructional routines and use this as an opportunity to pre-teach content. Providing instructional videos or screen shots of the specific behaviors that are expected in the online or blended learning environment will assist in the development of new skills. Communicate the changes to the mentor and parent so they can provide support and answer questions the student may have.
  • Be explicit in letting the students know what is expected of them for educational performance. Provide examples from past student work projects so the students with cognitive impairments has a better understanding of the features they must attend to.
  • When appropriate, let students work with peers or mentors so they have another perspective on the academic content. Using the chat, discussion board, or video conferencing features that are part of the online or blended environment will allow students the opportunity to socially interact with peers or mentors as they collaboratively work through the assignment.
  • Online and blended learning opportunities often are the saving grace for students with cognitive impairments. Many prefer the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions while being able to focus more intentionally on the content. This loss of physical proximity can also contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned. It is strongly suggested that online and blended program personnel provide direct one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective.

For further educational implications of how cognitive impairments might affect the learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Cognitive Impairments or Disabilities. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Other Health Impairments

(h4)Definition and Determination

For more information on how other health impairment is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 33-34 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

The complexity and multiplicity of issues that students eligible for services under the other health impairments programming rules requires professionals to consider a wide variety of pedagogical interventions. Some of these might include:

  • Understand the impact that the student’s condition has on their stamina, patience, and ability to interact with others in the environment. Students that are emotionally or physically stressed may not have the ability to process content at the moment, and the use of recorded content either for instruction or student assignments might allow them to participate more fully in the program. Although online and blended learning environments might be a less stressful situation, with more relaxed social interactions, at times, these settings can cause a great deal of stress on the student experiencing the impact of their health impairments.
  • Educational programs, even those delivered in online or blended learning formats, often require students to attend to long periods of content or activity. For students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) it might be important for them to have instructional content or activities broken into smaller segments, thus allowing them to focus on the objectives in a way that does not cause undue stress or anxiety.
  • Often, students with other health impairments are unable to meet deadlines for tests and assignments due to medical issues related to their impairments. When this happens, the use of the technological features of the LMS might assist with the need to extend time to complete assignments. Medical conditions and the progression of disease or injury affect students differently. Recognize these situations when putting together units of instruction and personalizing instruction for these students.
  • It is important for the IEP Team members and instructional staff to understand the ways that the progression of the disease might affect the educational functioning of students in online and blended learning environments. Different seasons, or stages of the disease might deleteriously impact the student’s functioning more than other times.
  • Due to the variety of health-related issues that might be covered under this category of service, recognize that the incorporation of specialized equipment or assistive technology might be necessary for online or blended learning instruction. It is important for all members of the team to be familiar with the extra supports that the assistive technological capabilities provide, the limitations of the systems, and the impact the assistive technology has on both learner and teacher behavior.
  • Working closely with the Assistive Technology consultant to ensure that all systems are compliant with the technical standards necessary to meet federal and state guidelines though the resources provided by the Alt+Shift program through the IDEA Grant Funded Initiative through the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education (Michigan Office of Special Education, n.d.). Taking this step increases legal compliance to technical issues and situations, and more importantly, helps to provide appropriate supports for the student.
  • IEP Teams should provide an appropriate level of adult or peer supports necessary to help assist the student with medical issues to better understand initial content, to practice or rehearse instructional strategies, or to appropriately assess educational functioning.
  • Online and blended learning opportunities often are the saving grace for students with health impairments. Many prefer and may require the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions while being able to focus more intentionally on the content. This loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned. It is strongly suggested that online and blended program personnel provide direct one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective.

For further educational implications of how other health impairments might affect the learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Other Health Impairments or Disabilities, Assistive Technology Consultants, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, or School Nurses. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Emotional Impairments

Definition and Determination

For more information on how emotional impairment is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 29-30 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

Most teachers have the ability to meet the cognitive and affective needs of their students in the general education environment. Students that have issues with affective, social, or emotional interactions with teachers and peers often require more nuanced attention to the way in which social interactions occur within the learning environment, since these have the distinct potential of having a dramatic impact on student academic achievement. To this end, teachers providing service in online and blended environments might want to consider the following:

  • Recognize that all students eligible for services are different. Some students might exhibit extremely outgoing behaviors, while others might exhibit behaviors that are very withdrawn and isolated. This might be difficult to identify in your interactions with the students in online or blended learning settings. Working closely with the team – especially the mentor – to identify how the student presents themselves in face-to-face settings might provide ideas for ways to effectively support behaviors in the virtual environment.
  • Make expectations clear and be very consistent in application of consequences in order to provide a structured environment. This can best be done by having rules, procedures, routines, policies, or expectations specifically addressed in educational and behavioral materials. Online and blended learning environments have a great deal of structure built into the program. For example, the length of instructional videos can be curtailed to meet the instructional needs of students. The IEP Team should use this structure as a support when making behavioral requirements known to the student.
  • Provide the students with self-monitoring resources, such as check lists, rubrics, or planning guides. This helps them visually scaffold expectations and provides cognitive supports when affective challenges present themselves. Using multimedia examples that focus on the expected work and behaviors is a good way to assist students’ understanding, and practice good online and blended learning academic and social behaviors.
  • Be proactive in your schedule and pacing of content to ensure that unstructured time and activities have clear parameters and expectations for personal, as well as interpersonal behavior. Proactively providing clear examples of acceptable behavior is a good way to support expectations for social interactions. Digital citizenship and acceptable use policies provide supports when dealing with expected student behaviors in online and blended learning environments.
  • Realize that students might need to be gradually introduced to some instructional formats or delivery systems due to specific aspects of their disability. For example, group work might need to wait until the student is able to demonstrate the ability to work productively with others on tasks. Using the full range of resources available in the LMS might allow you to differentiate or personalize student responses or assignments when the assigned format might be a challenge to the student.
  • Encourage students to engage in the identification and labeling of their own internal emotional states, and to share those in an appropriate way with the instructional staff. Allowing the students to address issues before they become problems is particularly important to establish and maintain accepting and supportive learning environments. Having student supports built into the online or blended learning structure can be useful when students need extra support or assistance during synchronous and asynchronous sessions.
  • Offer one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective. Online and blended learning opportunities can be a welcome option for students with emotional impairments. Many prefer and may require the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions while being able to focus more intentionally on the content; however, the loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned.

The strategies and suggestions contained within the student’s IEP will go a long way in helping to support and structure learning expectations in an online or blended environment.

For further educational implications of how emotional impairments might impact the learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Emotional Impairments or Disabilities, School Social Worker, School Counselors, and School Nurse. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Deaf or Hard of Hearing

Definition and Determination

For more information on how deaf or hard of hearing is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 30-31 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

The ability of teachers and educational staff to effectively support students in online or blended learning environments who are deaf or hard of hearing might be outside of the experiential base of most educators. Since much of the online or blended environment requires the use of multimedia materials, it is important that teams consult with professionals trained in the educational programming for students with hearing issues, as well as professionals who are trained in the use of assistive technology, both on the learner’s systems, the teacher’s systems, and with the LMS and platform. Other considerations include:

  • Working closely with the Assistive Technology consultant to ensure that all systems are compliant with the technical standards necessary to meet federal and state guidelines though the resources provided by the Alt+Shift program through the IDEA Grant Funded Initiative through the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education (Michigan Office of Special Education, n.d.). Taking this step increases legal compliance to technical issues and situations and, more importantly, helps to provide appropriate supports for the student. In online and blended learning environments this might include, but is not limited to, sign language interpreters, interveners, closed captioning, or assistive technology devices.
  • Taking the time to provide students with the training necessary for them to feel comfortable with assistive technology systems so they are competent users of those supports within the online or blended learning environments. Having staff, faculty, parents, as well as students receive training on these supports provide a basis of understanding for program assessment and evaluation.
  • Augmenting instruction through written materials. Instructional staff should also ensure that there are written supports for the social interactions that occur within the LMS. In online and blended environments, this means these supports should be embedded within every aspect of the LMS.
  • Being proactive in ensuring that the auditory aspects of the instructional environment are compatible with any student hearing aids or cochlear implants. Create time for instructional faculty, support faculty, and the students to “test drive” any systems before the student is expected to use them in the online or blended learning classroom.
  • Ensuring that the acoustics of both the student’s learning environments, as well as that of the teacher, have been checked for their instructional effectiveness. Attend especially to the background noise that might result when other students participate auditorially. Providing all students technological dos and don’ts related to the need to minimize background noise when speaking benefits all students but is especially important for students with hearing impairments.
  • Remembering that students who are deaf or hard of hearing often use visual cues and are tuned in to the lips and face of the speaker for cues. Ensure that all participants in the online or blended learning environment face the video camera and speak in a way that supports the visual needs of the students.
  • Using appropriate lighting to support the student’s ability to gain visual information, thus making better sense of the educational and social expectations within the online and blended environments.
  • Being aware that providing visually busy content to students with hearing impairments may cause confusion and create misunderstandings of content that could be difficult to remediate.
  • Ensuring that the visuals used to support instruction in online or blended learning settings focus on the key instructional goals, objectives, and elements.
  • Offering one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective. Some students prefer the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions in online and blended learning environments while being able to focus more intentionally on the content; however, the loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned.

For further educational implications of how deaf or hard of hearing impairments might impact the learning environment, please onsult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Hearing Impairments or Disabilities, Audiologists, Sign Language Interpreters, or Program Interveners. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Visual Impairments

Definition and Determination

For more information on how visual impairment is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 31-32 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

As with supporting students eligible for services under deaf or hard of hearing criteria, students eligible for services under the visual impairment criteria will probably need the support of specially trained professionals to assist the educational team in identifying ways to support students in online and blended learning environments. These additional areas should also be considered for supporting students in an online or blended learning environment:

  • Identify the team members responsible for providing students with visual impairments assistive technology and personnel supports for appropriate programming. Make sure that the system is compatible for all online and blended learning instruction and activities. Double check the impact that any new programmatic instructional elements add to the course content.
  • Work closely with the Assistive Technology consultant to ensure that all systems are compliant with the technical standards necessary to meet federal and state guidelines though the resources provided by the Alt+Shift program through the IDEA Grant Funded Initiative through the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education (Michigan Office of Special Education, n.d.). Taking this step increases legal compliance to technical issues and situations, and more importantly, helps to provide appropriate supports for the student.
  • Provide the students proactively with the training necessary for them to feel comfortable with assistive technology systems so they are competent users of those supports.
  • Provide the student screen readers and supports when appropriate to meet their level of visual needs in online and blended learning environments.
  • See that teachers take the time to work proactively with instructional designers and assistive technology consultants so that course design is consistent throughout the LMS, visual clutter is reduced on the pages, contrast of texts and colors is maximized, the use of frames on the page is limited, and proper heading structures are used for content.
  • Realize that students with vision loss might have difficulty seeing the entire screen or instructional content. Often, they learn in a linear fashion since they only receive information from specific parts of the screen.
  • Take the time during instruction to summarize the content that is covered in text form, highlighting the main features that you would like the students to focus on or that form the basis of the content being read.
  • Consider the list of accessibility requirements for web content contained within Hoffman, Hartley, and Boon (2005).
  • Offer one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective. Some students prefer the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions in the online and blended learning environments while being able to focus more intentionally on the content; however, the loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned.

For further educational implications of how visual impairments might affect the learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Visual Impairments or Disabilities and Orientation and Mobility Specialists. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Physical Impairments

Definition and Determination

For more information on how physical impairment is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 32-33 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

Students affected by physical impairments will probably require a great deal of physical environmental modifications to support their mobility and learning needs. Programs that support students who have physical disabilities through the use of online or blended learning need to have a solid understanding of the ways that the student’s educational functioning might be affected by physical conditions and be able to adapt learning environments creatively to meet their specific educational needs.

In general, educators might want to consider the following when providing supports to students affected by physical disabilities in their online and blended learning environments:

  • Make sure that all learning environments, including the student’s educational space in the home, are physically accessible and not mobility-limited.
  • Make considerations for students who use wheelchairs, walkers, prosthetics, or other mobility aids and structure the learning environments to support the adaptive equipment.
  • Understand how the impact the physical issues related to their impairment affects students’ stamina for educational programming.
  • Take the time to understand the complexities that the student will experience when using assistive technology aids, devices, programs, and machines.
  • Be cognizant of the impact that limited physical mobility, both gross and fine motor activity, might have on the student’s ability to fully participate in online and blended activities with their peers.
  • When teaching or providing content, pace your instruction at a speed that supports the physical limitations of the student in the online or blended learning environment.
  • Provide copies of all notes, lectures, and handouts to assist with note taking in class. Have other students provide copies of their notes for use by the student with physical disabilities.
  • Realize that the student might have difficulty with both expressive and receptive aspects of learning. Depending upon the impact that the impairment has upon the student, they might have difficulty actively participating in group activities, group discussions, or in direct social situations.
  • Offering one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective. Online and blended learning present different opportunities for some students with physical disabilities. While the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions may make it easier to focus more intentionally on the content, the loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned, and office hours are one way of monitoring progress.

For further educational implications of how physical impairments might affect the learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Physical Impairments or Disabilities, the Occupational Therapists, the Physical Therapists, and the School Nurse. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Specific Learning Disability

Definition and Determination

For more information on how specific learning disability is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 36-38 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

Students affected by specific learning disabilities often have difficulty in areas of academic performance, and meeting the demands placed upon them in the learning environment. Quite often, students exhibit inconsistent patterns of school performance, having strengths and abilities in some areas of school performance, but not in others. Educators interested in providing appropriate instructional and program supports in online and blended learning environments are encouraged to look at the student’s functioning in the areas of written expression, reading ability, and mathematics. More specific suggestions include attending to the following:

  • Allow students to slow down the rate or pace of content provided in online or blended learning environments through the use of assistive technology. This provides students opportunities to review content they might have missed due to speed of presentation or the complexity of the content.
  • Incorporate assistive technology programs and devices when necessary and appropriate to support individual student success. Work closely with the Assistive Technology Consultant to ensure that all systems are compliant with the technical standards necessary to meet federal and state guidelines through the resources provided by the Alt+Shift program through the IDEA Grant Funded Initiative through the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education (Michigan Office of Special Education, n.d.). Taking this step increases legal compliance to technical issues and situations and, more importantly, helps to provide appropriate supports for the student.
  • Realize there is a great deal of variance in the academic performance of students identified as having specific learning disabilities. This variance requires educators to be extremely specific in their orientation to meeting academic needs based upon individual student academic need in the blended and online learning environment.
  • Align text with the depth of cognitive load. This helps students with reading deficits deal with the complexity of text and ensure that materials provided in instruction are written at the level needed to meet academic curricular criterion.
  • Provide students opportunities to demonstrate competency of the content by using alternative methods for assignments. Have multiple ways to assess course content and provide students options for task and assignment completion.
  • Understand that real time chat sessions and lectures might need to be augmented or personalized in online and blended learning environments because some students may not be able to understand accurately what is being shared due to the speed of the verbal or written content.
  • Encourage group study supports outside the main instructional setting. Providing and encouraging student peer groups helps students process content and practice skills away from class. While this may be easier to accomplish in a blended setting, teachers and mentors may assist online learners in forming peer study and/or support groups.
  • Provide an exam format in the student’s most successful modality or response format. Online and blended learning offers multiple ways for instructors to support differentiated student output, using software and apps, for student work product, as well as assessments.
  • Offer one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective. Online and blended learning present different opportunities and challenges for students with specific learning disabilities. While the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions may make it easier to focus more intentionally on the content, the loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned, and office hours are one way of monitoring progress.

For further educational implications of how specific learning disabilities might impact the learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Teacher Consultant for Students with Specific Leaning Impairments or Disabilities. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Speech and Language Impairment

Definition and Determination

For more information on how speech and language impairment is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 34-35 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

Speech and language issues can influence the way that students receive and understand content, as well as the way in which they are able to demonstrate competency, provide feedback, and interact with others verbally and socially. It is important for professionals supporting students with speech and language impairments in online and blended learning environments to be aware of the specific ways in which the student’s learning needs are affected by their disability. Some common considerations are listed below.

  • For students with receptive speech and language impairments:
    • Reduce auditory and visual distractions within the online or blended learning environment. Extra stimuli in the learning environment can confuse and interfere with the student’s ability to attend to instruction, listen to comments, follow directions, and respond appropriately to interactions.
    • Provide cues to students so they can distinguish when instruction has begun, so they can better focus on the interactions during that segment of the course.
    • Provide visuals and concrete examples during instruction. These provide supports for when the verbal components of the instruction have been completed.
    • Make sure that your speech can be heard and understood by the student. Speak slowly and clearly, at a reasonable pace, and provide opportunities for questioning.
  • For students with expressive speech and language impairments:
    • Provide students opportunities to demonstrate competency of the content by using alternative methods for assignments. Have multiple ways to assess course content and provide students options for task and assignment completion.
    • Provide students extra time to respond when they ask or answer questions.
    • Realize that students might have difficulty participating in discussions or group work due to their difficulties with articulation, fluency, or voice.
    • Consider using written discussion boards within the online or blended learning LMS as an alternative to group work.
    • Work closely with the assistive technology support team to minimize the exacerbation of the student’s speech production problems by the auditory hardware that is used by all the students. It may be necessary to work the issue out through technological intervention.
  • For any student with speech and language impairments, offer one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or from a technology integration perspective. Online and blended learning present different opportunities for students with speech and language issues. Many prefer and may require the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions while being able to focus more intentionally on the content; however, the loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned, and office hours are one way of monitoring progress.

For further educational implications of how speech and language impairments might impact the learning environment, please consult with your team members, especially the Speech and Language Consultant. The team might also want to consider the following as they plan for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Traumatic Brain Injury

Definition and Determination

For more information on how traumatic brain injury is defined and determined in Michigan, please refer to page 46-47 of the MARSE (Michigan Department of Education, 2018).

Pedagogical Considerations

The reasons for eligibility under traumatic brain injury vary widely. Each student presents a differing educational scope of need. Make sure that you consult with appropriate medical personnel to understand how the student’s injury might affect functioning within online or blended educational learning environments. We know more than ever before about brain anatomy and the impact that insult or injury to specific regions have on the processing of information. Although we have come a long way, the science of learning and understanding localized to sections of the brain are not exact. Some broad considerations that teams should attend to include:

  • It is important to realize that the student has acquired this injury because of a traumatic event. Emotional issues in dealing with the acceptance of his or her condition might get in the way of cognitive ability. Make sure that appropriate team members are available to assist with any affective or behavioral manifestations that might occur due to acceptance of their injury. In online and blended learning environments, this might present itself in anger, depression, or withdrawal from the academic work, or the people within the setting.
  • The area of brain that has experienced the trauma will have a dramatic impact on the needs and the abilities of the student in the online and blended learning environment. To support this, provide content that allows students to experience their content in the modalities they are most capable of using, and minimize the use of content in the modalities they have the most difficulty with.
  • When you design the instruction, make sure that you capitalize on the capabilities that exist within the LMS of the online and blended learning course to provide multiple ways to consider content using visuals, auditory files, texts, and multimedia content.
  • During instruction, focus instructional materials in the student’s least affected modality, while still providing instruction in the modalities that are affected by the injury. This multisensory approach to instruction helps the student receive content and information in multiple channels.
  • Provide the students with the opportunity to restate back to you what it is covered in class and for the requirements for activities.
  • Offer one-on-one “office hours” or tutorials, at least initially, until all involved have a better feel for the areas of strength and need that might exist from the learner’s perspective, the instructor’s perspective, the mentor’s perspective, or a technology integration perspective. Online and blended learning opportunities present a comfortable alternative for students with traumatic brain injuries. Many prefer and may require the low stress and impact of reduced face-to-face interactions while being able to focus more intentionally on the content; however, the loss of physical proximity could contribute to confusion about performance for all concerned, and office hours are one way of monitoring progress.

For further educational implications of how traumatic brain injury might affect the learning environment, please consult with your team members. The team might also want to consider the following as they for supporting students in online and blended learning environments:

Additional Considerations

Along with the above consideration, there are a few additional areas that should be considered when developing supports for students with disabilities in online and blended environments.

District Policies and Procedures

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the student’s local district or management company to develop and provide special education supports for students with recognized needs under federal and state mandates. Programs need to have appropriate and effective policies in place to ensure that those responsible for the development and provision of online or blended learning programs have the support and direction necessary to ensure that the programs meet the regulatory, fiscal, compliance, and managerial requirements that the organization adheres to for other programmatic offerings. In addition, issues specific to the provision of online or blended learning programs need to be considered when the policies and procedures are promulgated and revised.

Acceptable use policies ensure that programmatic resources are used in a way consistent with appropriate educational programs and services. Having systems developed and maintained in a way to meet the regulatory and legal issues associated with the laws listed above should be ensconced within the policy and procedures for the program. Finally, issues related to acquisition, lending, upgrade, and support need to be stipulated so all participants understand their limits and responsibilities when appropriating the hardware, software, and resources within the online and blended learning program.

Professional Development

Professionals that support students in online or blended learning environments often have a great deal to learn about the most effective way to support student learning with technology. Increasing curricular demands, as well as increases in technological capabilities, often stretch the professional development needs and capabilities of professionals. This is further exacerbated when students’ specific needs, codified in individualized programming requirements, add increased demands for professional development supports for faculty and staff working in online and blended learning projects.

One of the greatest challenges for effective professional development supports revolves around the infancy of the research base related to effective programming for students impacted with disabilities within online and blended learning environments. The best things that educators can do is to apply what we currently know about effective online education, effective special education programs and services, quality instruction and methodology, and combine those into a plan that is tailored to meet the individual learning and educational needs of the student impacted by disabilities.

Financial Considerations

Providing appropriate programs and supports often requires school programs to make an investment in instructional materials, transportation, training, equipment, personnel, and facilities. All these areas will need to be addressed when providing programs to support students impacted by disabilities within online and blended learning environments.

Many potential local, state, federal, and grant resources are available. Districts and programs wrestling with the provision of effective online and blended learning options for students should have discussions with their school business officials, child accounting personnel, and directors of special education to ascertain the financial supports and resources that are available, as well as any financial compliance considerations that need to be adhered to before embarking upon planning for the online or blended learning educational program.

Other Supports and Resources

It would be incredibly difficult to discuss all the potential challenges that might exist when districts or programs plan for effective instruction for students impacted by disabilities. Therefore, Appendix B although not intended to be exhaustive, might provide an opportunity to discuss areas that need to be resolved for effective programs and services in online or blended learning environments to occur.

Summary

Supporting students impacted by disabilities in online and blended programs, at first blush, might appear to be a daunting task. There are many technical, legal, logistical, instructional, and educational considerations that need to be made for effective programs and supports to occur. However, for many students impacted by disabilities, the online and blended learning environment might be an opportunity for them to attend to the academics and supports required for educational achievement through targeted educational opportunities, projects, and supports that online or blended learning might offer them.

There are considerable issues that need to be addressed before programs launch into the provision of services that are specifically designed to meet the individualized education needs of students eligible for special education programs and services. This document provides a broad level of support to encourage appropriate development of programs and services for student eligible for special education services. However, this is not an exhaustive coverage of all issues. Discussions with appropriate staff within the district need to be held to identify existing and future supports for effective online and blended learning options built around the student’s individual learning needs.

References

Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs (n.d.). ATAP: Summary of the AT act. Retrieved from https://www.ataporg.org/ATActSummary.

Burgstahler, S. (2001). Real connections: Making distance learning accessible to everyone. Retrieved from ERIC database https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED475789.pdf (ED 475789).

Center for Educational Networking. (2018). Center for Educational Networking. Retrieved from https://www.cenmi.org/.

Deschaine, M. E. (2018). When policies that impact students with significant disabilities in Michigan backfire. In Conchas, G. Q., Gottfried, M., Hinga, B., & Oseguera, L. (Eds.). Policy goes to school: Case studies on the limitations and possibilities of educational innovation (pp. 25-38). New York, NY: Routledge.

Grainger, R. S., Alpin, C., & Ponnappa-Brenner, G. (2008). Supporting learners with cognitive impairments in online environments. TechTrends, 52(1), 63-69. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11528-008-0114-4.pdf

Hoffman, B., Hartley, K., & Boone, R. (2005). Reaching accessibility: Guidelines for creating and refining digital learning materials. Intervention in School and Clinic, 40(3), 171-176. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/10534512050400030601

iNACOL. (2018, September 7, 2018). Resource Search. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from https://www.inacol.org/resources/resource-search/?search=&resource_topics=18&resource_types=0&years=&authors=0&organizations=0&sort=date

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004). Retrieved from https://sites.ed.gov/idea/

Kinash, S., Crichton, S., & Kim-Rupnow, W. S. (2004). A review of 2000-2003 literature at the intersection of online learning and disability. American Journal of Distance Education, 18(1), 5-19.

Michigan Department of Education. (n.d.). Flexible learning options. Lansing, MI: Author. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/MARSE_Supplemented_with_IDEA_Regs_379598_7.pdf.

Michigan Department of Education. (2018). Michigan administrative rules for special education (MARSE) with related IDEA federal regulations. Lansing, MI: Author. Retrieved from https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/MARSE_Supplemented_with_IDEA_Regs_379598_7.pdf.

Michigan Legislature. (n.d.). Michigan Revised School Code (Act 451 of 1976). Retrieved from https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-act-451-of-1976.pdf.

Michigan Legislature. (2018). Michigan legislature – Section 388.1621f. Retrieved from http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(fxaovw5od4hfxa0ggkufdsfz))/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-388-1621f

Michigan Office of Special Education. (n.d.). Alt+Shift. Rethink the possible. Realize potential. Retrieved from https://www.altshift.education/resources

Michigan Virtual. (2017). Parent guide to online learning. Lansing, MI: Michigan Virtual University. Available from https://mvlri.org/resources/guides/parent-guide/

REMC Association of Michigan. (2018). About – REMC home. Retrieved from http://www.remc.org/about/

Rice, M., Deschaine, M. E., & Mellard, D. (2018). Describing online learning programs and practices that serve diverse learners. Journal of Online Learning Research, 4(2), 117-121.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C § 794 (d) (1998). Retrieved from https://section508.gov/

Simmons, T., Bauder, D., Abell, M., & Penrod, W. (2008). Delivering the general curriculum: Pre-service teacher perspectives regarding a technological approach for students with moderate and severe disabilities. Information Technology and Disabilities Journal, 12(1). Retrieved from http://itd.athenpro.org/volume12/number1/simmons.html

United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. (n.d.). Part 36 nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations and commercial facilities. Retrieved from https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleIII_2010/titleIII_2010_regulations.htm

United States Department of Labor. (n.d.). OASAM – Office of the assistant secretary for administration and management (OASAM) – United States department of labor. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/sec504.htm

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). (n.d.). Web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG) overview Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). (n.d.). Web content accessibility guideline (WCAG) 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

Appendix A

Legal Basis for Services

Providing educational programs and services to students who have disabilities began with legal initiatives in the mid-1970s. Michigan’s legal requirements to provide services to these students predates the federal legal requirements for similar services. Michigan has a long history of advocating for students affected by disabilities in ways that exceed federal requirements in breadth, depth, and scope. This continues to be true as the state remains focused on the educational and programmatic needs of students, regardless of need, in face-to-face, online, and blended educational environments.

This section will focus on some salient legal requirements from both the state of Michigan, as well as a federal government perspective. The legal history of both jurisdictions is long and has the potential to be nuanced based on the specifics of each individual situation. The content here is not intended to be exhaustive coverage of the legal requirements for programs and services; it neither constitutes legal advice, nor should it substitute for legal guidance by counsel. The coverage here is intended to provide support for future investigations by organizations and individuals wishing to gain basic information related to the broad requirements that guide effective educational programs and supports for students who have disabilities.

State of Michigan Legal Considerations

The following legal documents should be considered when proposing and implementing an individualized educational plan (IEP) of service for students affected by disabilities within online and blended learning environments.

Michigan State School Code

The Revised School Code (Act 451 of 1976) (Michigan Legislature, n. d.) is an act that:

provides a system of public instruction in elementary and secondary schools; to revise, consolidate, and clarify the laws relating to elementary and secondary education; to provide for the organization, regulation, and maintenance of schools, school districts, public school academies, intermediate school districts, and other public school entities; to prescribe rights, powers, duties, and privileges of schools, school districts, public school academies, intermediate school districts, and other public school entities; to provide for the regulation of school teachers and certain other school employees. (p. 1)

Requirements for the education provision of all students, in all settings, is established within the Michigan School Code. Understanding the legislative scope that the state of Michigan expects from educational entities in a holistic fashion provides support when attempting to operationalize individualized educational plans and supports to students who have disabilities.

Michigan Administrative Rules for Special Education (MARSE)

Parts of the MARSE with Related IDEA Federal Regulations (Michigan Department of Education, 2018) deal with programs and services for students affected by disabilities are included in the larger Michigan Administrative Rules. Pages 24 and 25 of MARSE provides a definition of special education. It is important for educators, families, and professionals to understand that the definition and rules provided by the state are a result of both legislation, litigation, and rulemaking. As such, these rules provide the supports necessary to guide the development of appropriate educational programs and services to meet the multiplicity of needs that students who have disabilities bring to educational settings, both face-to-face, as well as in online or blended environments.

Special education services are provided to students with eligible conditions to assist them in meeting graduation requirements for general education curriculum established by their local school district that is in alignment with the Michigan School Code. The intent of special education supports and services is to provide students who have disabilities the individualized, appropriate educational supports necessary to assist them in being successful with general education content, within the general education environment, to the greatest extent possible.

It is important for all individuals who are working to provide quality educational support services in online and blended environments to understand the students, how their eligibility for services affects their ability to perform educationally within the general education environment, how the they are able to progress within the general education curriculum, and the ways that appropriate individualized programs and supports might be used effectively within online and blended learning environments.

Section 21f

Section 21f of the State School Aid Act (Michigan Legislature, 2018) is specific to conditions for students wishing to take courses in online or blended learning environments within Michigan. Section 21f allows K-12 students enrolled in a public school or district (full- or part-time) to enroll in up to two online courses per academic term. Districts may deny such enrollment requests as defined in a limited number of circumstances. A student may be enrolled in more than two online courses if the district, the parents, and the student agree that it is in the student’s best interest. In such an instance, the district must have an education development plan stating such in their records.

For some students affected by disabilities, the provisions of Section 21f provide a great deal of flexibility in meeting their individual educational needs in a supportive environment that allows the students to focus more upon content in a less socially and behaviorally demanding or distractive learning environment. Section 21f is one proactive educational provision that should be considered when determining if an online or blended learning opportunity is appropriate for students who have a disability.

Michigan Career and College Ready Provisions

Contained within the Michigan School Code (Michigan Legislature, n.d.) are provisions that allow students to be given an opportunity to design flexible learning options that lead to a high school diploma, while still meeting the basic requirements established by the local school board. These provisions for a different set of learning opportunities and curricular expectations are available to all students. The appropriateness of each of these should be considered when attempting to provide support programs and services to students eligible for special education services.

Some of the flexible learning options include:

  • Virtual Learning Options (described above)
  • Offline and Project-Based Seat Time Waivers (STWs)
  • Options for Hours and Days Waivers
  • Work-Based Learning Experiences
  • College Course Enrollment and Early/Middle Colleges
  • Career and Technical Education (CTE) Options
  • Testing Out
  • Personal Curriculum

An articulation of each of these programs is beyond the scope of this document. However, it is important to remember that none of these options exist in isolation, and a combination of these opportunities might be appropriate within online or blended learning environments to meet the individualized learning needs of students who have disabilities. For more information, please consult the Michigan Department of Education’s Flexible Learning Options (n.d.) document.

Federal Legal Considerations

In addition to state provisions to support students affected by disabilities, there are also corresponding federal legal statutes and requirements that require adherence. A brief discussion will provide a cursory understanding of the requirements with further resources to consider when participating in a planning meeting to address the individual learning needs of students who have disabilities within online or blended learning environments.

Special education programs and services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The provisions for special education services for students eligible for individualized programs and services are included within the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004)  The federal statutes are the minimal level of service required by the federal government for states receiving federal funds. However, as in the case of Michigan, states can choose to offer services beyond those required of the federal government. In the MARSE document (Michigan Department of Education, 2018), there is a side-by-side comparison of the Michigan requirements and definitions for special education programs and services with those provided through IDEA (United States Department of Education, n.d.). For those unfamiliar with special education and the federal requirements, it is strongly suggested that you consider reviewing the resources provided through the United States Department of Education Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services.

Civil rights reasonable accommodations to access through the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Although rules and regulations for special education services are found in the MARSE requirements, some students with disabilities may not be eligible for special education programs and services because their level of academic functioning is greater than the levels specified in special education law; these students might be entitled to academic accommodations based on federal civil rights laws through Section 504 accommodations. This distinction, although apparently nuanced, is incredibly important to understand, since requirements for programmatic supports and the provision of services can be dramatically different, as are the legal requirements for eligibility, program development, evaluation, and due process. For those unfamiliar with these distinctions, it is recommended that you consult the Special Education Supervisor or Director in your district for more direction.

Unlike special education laws that provide opportunities for individualized programs and services to meet educational goals and objectives, the federal provisions listed below provide students with recognized and documented disabilities federal support to effectively access educational programs and services.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) usually is associated with covering employment issues, there are times when the ADA covers access to educational programs for people affected by federally recognized disabilities. Title III of the ADA

prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors’ offices) and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation—as well as commercial facilities (privately owned, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings)—to comply with the ADA Standards. (United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, n.d.).

Eligible students are not allowed to be discriminated against due to a legally recognized disability in educational settings. This law has tremendous impact on the ways that identified computer facilities are designed to maximize access to all students, especially for students who have physical or visual disabilities.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitations Act of 1973 (Section 504)

Section 504 of the Rehabilitations Act of 1973 (Section 504), the precursor to the ADA, states that schools need to provide supports to meet the needs of students with disabilities in a manner consistent with the way that they provide supports to meet the needs of students who are not affected by disabilities. The intent of this law is to give students eligible under a federally-recognized category the services and supports necessary for them to access the general education curriculum and environment. Generally, students with Section 504 accommodations receive services that are not as extensive as those that students who are eligible for special education services receive, since they do not qualify for special education services.

Areas where this particular law might be appropriate are in the design and access of computer labs, ergonomics of equipment, and the availability of training for staff to ensure compliance with the act’s requirements. Other areas of the program might also be affected. Consult with a legal professional for more program specific requirements and recommendations.

Section 508 of the Rehabilitations Act of 1973 (Section 508)

Section 508 of the Rehabilitations Act of 1973 (Section 508) is of primary importance and concern for educational programs providing online and blended learning opportunities for students with disabilities. The intent of this act is for organizations receiving federal funds to provide access to online content in a way that is accessible to all users, regardless of the level or type of disability the end user might experience. Programs need to ensure that their online and multimedia content are accessible for all users.

To support Section 508, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)9 provide a checklist for programs to help ensure compliance with the issues related to accessibility of multimedia content in online and blended programs. This information is a good first step for consideration. It is recommended that the instructional team faithfully consider all portions of the technical compliance aspects to provide a quality instructional and educational experience for all students.

Assistive Technology Act of 1998

The Assistive Technology Act supports state efforts to improve the provision of assistive technology to individuals of all ages with disabilities through comprehensive statewide programs of technology-related assistance…

To provide States with financial assistance that supports programs designed to maximize the ability of individuals with disabilities and their family members, guardians, advocates, and authorized representatives to obtain assistive technology devices and assistive technology services (Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs, n.d., para. 2).

The federal government has made access for all students to quality educational programs and services a priority. The increase in technological capabilities for instructional technology has provided tremendous supports for students who have disabilities and require assistive technology. This support aids not just the student, but also the programs and family members that help them understand the ways that assistive technology can be incorporated into their learning to increase educational flexibility and academic achievement.

Cautions

It is vitally important that providers of online and blended educational services for students with disabilities realize their legal obligation to meet both the spirit of the laws and regulations, but also the letter of the programs established in individually developed student educational plans. Litigation of these cases within each of these areas have caused courts to rule in favor of the spirit of the law when deciding for many plaintiffs. It is important to remember that these laws were promulgated to assist individuals who have disabilities in gaining access to buildings, programs, and services. Therefore, for programs to ignore these important federal legislative initiatives sends the wrong signal to the constituent users of the programs and services being provided in online and blended learning programs.

It is important to recognize that these laws require a solid understanding of the rules and requirements, and it is important for all involved to be cognizant of their requirements. Programs providing services to students affected by disabilities in online and blended environments should have qualified, trained professionals available to help the team interpret how state and federal laws affect the learning environment.

Additionally, it is important for school administrators to work with the Special Education administrators within their Intermediate School District (ISD), Regional Educational Service Agency (RESA), or Regional Educational Service District (RESD) when discussing issues related to school finance or compliance for the special education programs and services being offered to the student in the online or blended learning environment. The reliance upon special education millages for program costs varies across the state (Deschaine, 2018), and the responsibilities for the expenditures of special education services also varies based upon the ISD’s, RESA’s, or RESD’s Special Education Plan. Working closely with the administrators in these larger regional districts will provide support and insight that will be important when determining the best way to support students with disabilities in online or blended learning environments.

Appendix B

Pedagogy and Technology

It would be quite difficult to discuss all the potential challenges that might exist when districts or programs plan for effective instruction for students affected by disabilities. Therefore, Appendix B, although not intended to be exhaustive, may provide an opportunity to discuss areas that need to be resolved for the establishment of effective programs and services in online or blended learning environments. Fortunately, there are many valuable supports and resources available to assist in effective program planning, instruction, and supports when providing online or blended education to students living with a variety of disabilities. The following resources can offer additional support.

Michigan Virtual

Michigan Virtual has been in existence for 20 years to support quality online and blended learning environments for all students. Michigan Virtual is a result of Michigan legislation codified in the school code, and the programs, services and supports that they provide are completed under the direction of a group of professionals with a variety of experiences.

Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL)

The Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning (MACUL) helps educators identify sound educational practices related to technology as well as understand the implications of rapid changes in technology. Recognizing the challenges in preparing students, we strive to encompass the entire educational community from preschool through college level.

MACUL’s Special Interest Group for Inclusive Learning (SIG INC)

The organization’s website states the purpose of SIG INC is to share knowledge concerning specialized technology and effective practices for enhancing opportunities for students with disabilities. SIG INC promotes professional learning for educators as they strive to meet students’ diverse learning needs.

MACUL’s Special Interest Group for Online and Blended Learning (SIG OBL)

According to their website, the mission of SIG OBL is to support educators and students in their work with online and blended learning. SIG OBL provides a forum for online learning, blended learning, mobile learning devices, and instructional tools and strategies for teaching and learning online.

Regional Educational Media Center (REMC) Association of Michigan

There are many ways that educators of students affected by disabilities need supports in online and blended learning environments. The local REMC Association of Michigan may be of added support and assistance to teams as they design and develop appropriate interventions. Their mission and scope, as described on their website is to “provide proactive leadership to the Michigan educational community by participating with other organizations in building a vision that supports quality teaching and learning and provides equity to Michigan’s pre-K-12 students.

“The REMC Association of Michigan will accomplish this within the framework of the following principles:

  • Improve learning for all students.
  • Support constituents and improve teaching and learning statewide through future-focused collaboration, leadership, and service.
  • Empower teachers to create high quality, engaging instructional environments when they have access to the necessary skills, tools, and rich sources of information.
  • Provide effective cost savings through statewide cooperative purchasing, which allows local resources to be reallocated to enhance teaching and learning.
  • Advance statewide connectivity through delivery systems and infrastructure.”

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)

According to their website, ISTE “inspires the creation of solutions and connections that improve opportunities for all learners by delivering: practical guidance, evidence-based professional learning, virtual networks, thought-provoking events and the ISTE Standards.” Standards have been developed that describe the technology skills and competencies that students, teachers, and administrators should possess in technology rich environments. These resources would be an excellent resource for teams that are trying to ascertain the feasibility of online or blended learning environments as an option for students living with disabilities.

Legal/Legislative Supports

Michigan has several formal programs that provide direct services and indirect consultation to school districts and programs needing support in providing adequate educational services to students who have by disabilities, regardless of format or delivery system.

Center for Educational Networking of Michigan (CEN)

CEN of Michigan is an IDEA Grant Funded Initiative through the Michigan Department of Education, Office of Special Education. In addition to direct services, CEN provides a repository of documents related to the legal requirements for special education programs and services and also provides assistive technology supports for programs assisting students eligible for special education services.

Intermediate School Districts (ISDs)

The state of Michigan has 56 ISDs. The programs and services offered by ISDs provide and coordinate direct essential services to constituent local education agencies and school districts within their boundaries to facilitate programming, teaching, and learning for all students. Many ISDs provide direct programs or consultative services for students who have disabilities.

Programs experiencing challenges in meeting the educational needs of students living with a disability in online and blended settings should consider contacting the Director of Special Education in their ISD that is responsible for special education supports. To find the ISD responsible for supporting local programs, the following maps might be of assistance. The first is provided by the State of Michigan. The second is provided by the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators.

General Supports

The intent of this document is to assist in the creation and implementation of appropriate educational programs and services for those living with disabilities as they engage in online or blended programs. A brief description of the ways that disabilities has been included, but there are other information options available. There are many professional and advocacy organizations or associate resources for content that can be helpful for those wishing to find out more about the ways specific components of an eligibility category might possibly affect functioning in online or blended learning environments.

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