Distance learning and disability: a view from the instructor's side of the virtual lectern
As students enter my online classroom on inclusion, I ask them to introduce themselves, sharing their current positions, teaching experience, whether they have taken other online courses, and any experiences they may have had with individuals with disabilities. The biggest challenge for me is whether or not to tell my students at the onset that I have cerebral palsy.
CHALLENGES OF "LIVE" TEACHING
Most of us with obvious disabilities cannot enter a room without others noticing our conditions. Therefore, I know that if I entered a traditional classroom as an instructor with cerebral palsy, I might stir predispositions that students might possess about people with disabilities. These attitudes might hinder students' ability to focus on the content. Furthermore, students might not understand my speech nor appreciate my handing back wrinkled, drooled-upon papers with illegible comments.
For these reasons, I suppressed my desire to teach, opting for a career that would allow me to influence those in the classroom as an assistive technology consultant, writer, and researcher. These decisions were made long before the Internet opened a new world to me, providing communication abilities and access to people throughout the world.
My college teaching experience for my doctorate involved assisting a professor in creating a web-based course. As I discovered more about the interactions in a web-based classroom, I realized that this emerging technology was more than just a job: It was a perfect venue for me to teach, free from the constraints of my disability.
ADVANTAGES OF ONLINE TEACHING FOR INSTRUCTORS WITH DISABILITIES
Little, if any, information on the effects of distance educators with disabilities exists. In fact, there have been very few studies of individuals with disabilities teaching in face-to-face situations. Beattie, Anderson, and Antonak (1997) evaluated the effects of a special education course with an instructor with a physical disability on attitudes of preservice educators toward people with disabilities. Preservice educators who were taught by an instructor with a disability expressed more favorable attitudes toward students with disabilities only when they also viewed videotapes presenting positive portrayals of persons with disabilities in regular settings. Neither the videotapes nor the disability characteristics of the professor alone influenced attitudes toward the integration of disabled students into regular classrooms.
One advantage of online learning is that instructors can take time to answer more individual questions (Draves, 2000). In a traditional face-to-face course, meeting three hours each week, I could only answer a handful of questions from a few students. Furthermore, I would likely need to use an augmentative communication device to be understood by all...