Learning Disabilities and Online College

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Online college and online degree programs provide viable, flexible options for students who have learning disabilities, cognitive disabilities, or developmental disabilities. If you are a student with a learning disability or the parent, guardian, or advocate of a student with a learning disability you will likely require support, assistance, or accommodation as you pursue a college education.

This is because online college can come with a wide range of accessibility and accommodation options, allowing you to work at a pace that is right for you, and utilize cutting edge assistive technology to make the most of your experience. Whether you have ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, neurological damage from an injury, or any other form of learning disability, online college can provide you with new pathways for learning and advancing your education.

Read on for a look at the wide array of accommodations and assistive technologies that can help you earn an online degree and take the next step forward in your life.

In addition to the resources identified below, there are plenty of advocacy groups both general and condition specific for individuals with disabilities. If you are seeking direct support or communication engagement, check out our index of Disability Resources and Advocacy Groups.

Want to know more about how disability legislation can shape your college experience? Check out our resource on Key Legislation Impacting Students with Disabilities.


Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, disability accommodations have become more and more commonplace. These aren’t just for students on campus. Online colleges also provide a full selection of accommodations and benefits:

1. Disability Resource Center

When it comes to getting the accommodations you need, a school’s disability resource center should be the first place you go. Here, you can work with counselors to identify your learning disability and determine what accommodations you’ll need. Disability counselors work with you to help you meet your specific needs, connect you with other groups and services on campus, and provide advocacy. Counselors can also help you seek out and apply for scholarships and funding to aid in your education, or in acquiring assistive technology. Some schools, but not all, offer some assistive technology, which may be provided directly within the resource center. The disability resource center is also the starting point if you need to report a grievance concerning discriminatory or exclusionary practices.

2. Additional Time

Additional time is a common accommodation that can apply equally to online and on-campus students with disabilities. For a variety of reasons, the standard time limits on essays and exams can place undue stress on students with disabilities. Especially if you have learning disabilities or cognitive disabilities such as ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculi meeting a standard time limit can be the thing of nightmares. With a documented request from the campus disability resource center, many professors are happy to accommodate students with a reasonably-prescribed sum of extra time.

3. Online Library Services

Though not strictly “disability accommodations,” online library services are extremely useful to everyone, and for disabled students in particular. Unfortunately, many students are unaware of these resources. Conducting research can be tricky, but consultation with a research librarian can help. Here, you can discuss your project, be guided to useful databases, and gain instruction in using search techniques and filters. Moreover, most libraries provide digital document delivery, which means that any document that you need (and which is available in the catalog) can be scanned and delivered to you as a PDF. Contact your school’s library for more details.

4. Online Tutoring Services

Tutoring services are also useful and available to everyone, but may fly under the radar as a category of physical learning accommodation. This is especially useful if learning disabilities make it difficult to keep up with the pace, instructional approach, or material in your course. A tutor can help you fill in the gaps. Tutors come in a variety of forms, and are available in every subject. Moreover, many colleges (especially those that have a high number of online programs) offer online tutoring services through chat or live-video platforms. If you feel like you need any kind of help wrapping your head around a subject, don’t hesitate to contact a tutor. Of particular value are online writing centers, in which writing tutors work one-on-one with you at all stages of the writing process. You can’t get through college without writing papers, but you don’t need to do it alone.

5. Assistive Technology

The greatest factor of success in college isn’t intelligence or talent; it’s your ability to get things done. While traditional college comes with a certain degree of in-person accountability and support, online college may leave you feeling adrift. Fortunately there is plenty of assistive technology available to help you overcome learning disabilities as you study, stay on track in your classes, and ultimately earn your degree.

6. Math Assistance

Math is an acquired taste, and it’s not for everybody. However, if you’re in a four-year college program, you are going to have to take at least one math course. If you have dyscalculia or ADHD, this can be pretty intimidating. Fortunately, there are a variety of math assistance tools available that can help you get through that gen-ed algebra course, or even through a full-blown Ph.D. in mathematics.

  • MathTalk
    For students struggling with math, MathTalk makes several extra-useful programs. MathTalk software provides a variety of tools, including speech-to-text software, to allow students to learn mathematical concepts and complete assignments on their own terms.
  • MyScript Calculator
    Available for iPhones and iPads, the MyScript calculator allows you to draw mathematical equations (with your finger or a stylus) on your touchscreen device. The app accurately interprets your drawing, allowing you to perform calculations without some of the struggles of using a standard calculator.
  • Talking Calculators
    Simple but effective, talking calculators announce numbers, answers, and functions as the user completes equations. Talking calculators are produced by multiple companies, each with their own variations designed to offer unique, specialized assistance.

7. Productivity and Organization Tools

Staying organized and productive can be tricky, especially in the high-speed world of smart phones, social media, and streaming services. If you have trouble making effective plans and staying on task, there are lots of tools available to maximize your productivity and organization, some of which are made specifically for those with ADHD. Below are a few.

  • Any.do
    For those on the go, Any.do is a free app that lets the user organize and sync plans across multiple devices.
  • Breathe2relax
    Productivity isn’t all about going hard all the time; sometimes you need to pull back and take care of yourself. Breathe2Relax is a free app that helps you take time for self-care and stress management.
  • Edison
    You can expect to juggle a lot of emails in both your academic and professional life. Edison is an email assistant app for Apple devices that helps you stay on top of your inbox.
  • Finish (iOS)
    Available for iPhones, Finish is a productivity app that helps you manage to-do lists, calendars, and goals to guarantee that you get things done.
  • First Then Visual Scheduler
    Designed to aid those with learning, developmental, and cognitive disabilities, First Then Visual Scheduler is an app that organizes, prioritizes, and walks the user through goals and obligations.
  • MyStudyLife
    Available for a range of mobile devices and operating systems, MyStudyLife is an app that combines productivity and organizational tools with study assistance, allowing you to sync and keep track of assignments, exams, and your study schedule.
  • Say it & Mail it Pro
    Available for Apple devices, Say it & Mail it Pro allows you to manage, dictate, and send emails all through vocal commands.
  • Symbaloo
    Designed for use with multiple operating systems and browsers, Symbaloo is a web app that allows user to create a personalized desktop that utilizes symbols and visual cues.
  • The Five Second Journal
    Never underestimate the power of a good graphic organizer. If you’re in a hurry to get organized and get to work, the 5-Second Journal can help you with a new-school approach to an old-school tool.
  • Time Timer
    For many people, working for hours on end is counter productive. We often do better work in short, defined time frames. Time Timer produces several products, including apps, programs, and even analogue devices, that offer an easy-to-read and visual methods of timing activities.
  • Touch Screen Monitors
    Tablets are great tools because of their touch screen interface. However, sometimes you need the power and capabilities of a desktop computer. Touch screen monitors for desktop computers offer the best of both worlds.
  • Visual Impact 3
    Designed specifically to assist people with cognitive disabilities, Visual Impact three is an app for Apple devices providing a visually-prompted support system that aids the user in accomplishing difficult daily tasks.
  • Wunderlist
    Available for a wide range of devices and operating systems, Wunderlist helps keep track of schedules, due dates, and obligations.

8. Reading Assistance

The rumors are true: you need to read a lot to get through college. You will also encounter lots of strange, new, complicated terms. Some people love this, but for others it is a major struggle. If you have trouble paying attention while reading, if you have difficulty reading text, or if you have trouble pronouncing what you read, the following tools might be right for you.

  • Audible
    Available by monthly subscription, Audible (under Amazon’s corporate umbrella) provides access to the largest selection of audio books anywhere, all accessible by your computer or mobile devices.
  • ClaroRead
    Functioning as both reading and writing assistance ClaroRead can read a wide array of digital documents (and paper documents, if scanned with OCR technology) with high-quality, human-sounding speech. With options to read selections of text, whole documents, and your own writing, ClaroRead can help you overcome barriers and improve your skills.
  • HowJSay
    Totally free and online, HowJSay is a digital pronunciation dictionary that provides easily-accessible assistance with pronunciation difficulties.
  • Intel Reader
    Designed by a dyslexic Stanford graduate, the Intel Reader allows the user to quickly scan any document, save it, magnify it, and listen to it be read out loud. This is super useful for required reading in college, but also for day-to-day use, such as with mail, or restaurant menus.
  • Learning Ally
    Designed specifically for people with dyslexia, Learning Ally provides access to a large database of audio books, including college textbooks. Membership is purchased by annual subscription.
  • NaturalReader
    With several programs available, NaturalReader provides text-to-speech software that can handle a wide array of document formats, including OCR and web documents.
  • Online OCR
    OCR (optical character recognition) technology can be helpful when combined with text-to-speech software. Online OCR allows you to convert image PDFs to OCR for free.
  • vBookz PDF Voice Reader
    If you can get it in a PDF, vBookz PDF Voice Reader can read it to you. vBookz incorporates several other useful apps, including an OCR scanner, making virtually all text accessible in a text-to-speech format.
  • Voice Dream Reader
    Available for Apple and Android devices, the Voice Dream Reader converts a wide range of document types into audio, so users may listen to and follow along with text.
  • Wizcom Tech Reading Pen
    Useful for reading on the go, the Wizcom Tech Reading Pen allows users to scan text (with the same motion as one would use a highlighter) and have the text read, as well as look up specific words in its dictionary.

9. Speech Recognition Software

Speech recognition software can be useful for everybody, but especially for people with disabilities. Having the option to dictate writing to your computer can make a huge difference for those who have trouble sitting still and focusing on a computer screen or reading text on a computer. Below are some useful software options.

  • Apple Dictation
    If you are an Apple user, you already have this, even if you don’t know about it. All iOS devices come with some array of dictation options, with newer devices offering more and better features. The process for turning Apple Dictation on can be different for each device.
  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking
    Useful for everybody, Dragon NaturallySpeaking follows speech commands to allow you to operate your computer. If you have trouble sitting still and focusing on a computer screen, or difficulty reading computer text, you can dictate an entire paper with this software. Moreover, you can program specific commands that allow you to navigate your computer hands-free. This is the ultimate tool for hands-free workflow.
  • Google Docs Voice Typing
    Google Docs, Google’s free word processing software, includes a dictation function, which can be useful for writing papers. It also comes with some voice commands. All you need is a Gmail account to access it, which is free too.
  • Windows Speech Recognition
    Windows devices offer speech recognition functions that can allow you to dictate writing and navigate your computer hands free. However, Windows Speech Recognition is not as advanced or functional as the other speech recognition software options on this list.

10. Study Assistance

If you don’t study, you aren’t going to pass your exams. Studying, however, can be a burden for people with learning, developmental, and cognitive disabilities. It’s important that you find a study method that is productive for you. The following tools are designed to help you do just that.

  • Livescribe Echo Smartpen
    Extra useful for keeping notes, this smartpen records writing and audio, and transfers all of it to your computer. Its features can help you study by recording and organizing your in-class notes, allowing you to go over anything you may have missed, and arrange all of it in a way that is easier for you to work with while studying.
  • Merit Software Solutions
    With software for individuals of all ages with learning disabilities, Merit Software Solutions offers specialized learning programs that aid with reading, writing, vocabulary, and mathematics, even for working adults.
  • MindNode
    With software for all operating systems, MindNode offers note taking and study-assistance through an intuitive visual interface. The program allows students to organize information in a format that better suits their needs.
  • SoundNote (iOS)
    Available for Apple devices, SoundNote is a note-taking app that allows you to type, draw, and create audio recordings while taking notes.

11. Writing Assistance

It doesn’t matter what you major in. You are going to have to write. Don’t shy away from it; use these tools to lean into writing and grow.

  • Co:Writer
    A form of predictive text software similar to what you might find on a smartphone (without the slip-of-the-thumb mistakes), Co:Writer is designed to help you write documents of all kinds by predicting and suggesting words based on what you are writing.
  • Draft:Builder
    Made by Don Johnston, the same group behind Co:Writer, Draft:Builder helps you through the writing process by way of outlining, note-taking, and draft-building tools.
  • Endeavor Desktop Environment
    Designed for those with cognitive disabilities, Endeavor Desktop Environment reorganizes the layout of the computer desktop for use in a more streamlined and accessible format.
  • Ghotit Real Writer and Reader
    Especially useful for those with dyslexia and dysgraphia, Ghotit Real Writer and Reader is a writing assistance software that goes above and beyond “Spell Check.” This software provides services such as correction for severe grammar and spelling issues, an integrated dictionary, Google Docs editing, and text-to-speech functions.
  • goQ Software
    Offering a variety of programs, including wordQ and speakQ, goQ Software provides students with writing assistance in the form of speech-to-text and predictive text technology.
  • Grammarly
    Free and useful for anybody, Grammarly offers spelling and grammar editing assistance in the form of a Google Chrome app.
  • Voice Dream Writer
    Available for Apple devices, Voice Dream Writer aids in the writing process through proofreading functions, as well as out loud text reading.

If you’re interested in a career helping those with disabilities, consider a degree in special education:

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