Equality and Justice
For People With Disabilities

Remote learning for students with disabilities

Published on January 21, 2021

Remote learning for students with disabilities

Tiffany Wong, JD Candidate, University of Ottawa, January 2021


Current as of January 21, 2021. Please note that due to the evolving COVID-19 situation, information in this article may be subject to change. For further updates, please consult the official Ontario websites and your local school board’s website. Please note that this article should not be taken as legal advice.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most students in Canada to adapt to a new distance learning environment, which undoubtedly has been challenging for students, parents, and teachers alike. The shift to online learning can be particularly difficult for students with disabilities, whether it is a learning disability or another, as they are now faced with new barriers.

Remote learning challenges can include a lack of support, accessible technology and learning materials, or more generally, working in an environment that was not traditionally used for learning. The home is not always a motivating and productive work environment for students to focus and learn. Meanwhile, online classrooms are not necessarily suitable for students who need personalized attention and one-on-one support, leading to discouragement. And for those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), all sorts of distractions can disrupt learning. There are also increasing concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and remote learning on  students’ mental health. Recent statistics in Canada have shown that stress levels have increased due to the pandemic, which combined with a lack of in-person socialization, can contribute to a mental health crisis.

While adapting to remote learning has been difficult for all students, and particularly students with disabilities, there are some instances where it has been beneficial. For example, some students with physical disabilities avoid physical barriers that exist at school, and those with anxiety in public spaces may feel more comfortable asking questions or sharing ideas.

There are no easy solutions to these problems. As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, it is imperative that student needs are accommodated, and teachers receive the support from their school boards and Ministry of Education to facilitate a productive virtual environment. Simpler solutions such as frequent breaks, and limiting  television and cell phones are important strategies that teachers and parents alike can implement. Collaboration between parents and teachers is more important now than ever. However, more support from the provincial government to provide direction, funding, technological solutions will ultimately assist students in adapting and thriving in a remote learning environment.

For more information about remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, see:

Steps to Justice - Questions about COVID-19: https://stepstojustice.ca/legal-topic/covid-19/covid%E2%80%9119-education

Description: Steps to Justice provides answers to some questions about COVID-19 education including in-class and remote learning options, returning to school if your child gets sick, and the Ontario Support for Learners program.

Pro Bono Ontario - COVID-19 and Schools in Ontario: https://www.probonoontario.org/education/covid19-reopening/ 

Description: This resource provides a number of Frequently Asked Questions about school reopening in Ontario for individuals with concerns about their children. The questions cover possible scenarios related to remote learning and returning to school, as well as avenues for recourse in the event there is a conflict. 

Pro Bono Ontario - Education Law Project: https://www.probonoontario.org/education/

Description: Pro Bono Ontario has an Education Law Program which offers free legal help for families whose children face challenges to their rights in public schools. The free legal advice hotline can connect you to volunteer lawyers to provide a consultation or other advocacy work in dealing with school problems including unfair suspensions or transfers, lack of accommodation for disabilities, school safety issues, and more.