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How to earn your degree online as a student with disabilities

Text on image: Learning online as a student with disabilities and how it changed my life

Support and accommodations from Disability Access Services helped Oregon State graduate build confidence in class and in life

By Monique Lanier

Online learning was the only way for me to go back to college.

Twenty-five years ago, I was forced to leave school because of a hemorrhagic stroke.

I was just about to complete my associate’s degree at the local community college. Nursing school was next on the list, but I woke up one morning to discover all my plans had changed. The big dreams I had for my daughter and I foreclosed.

I did my best to make peace with the reality of what happened, and I tried to move on. But neither the heartbreak nor the secret hope of returning to school ever left me.

Recovery was steady and slow. I made great strides, and there came a point when I openly started to entertain the idea of college again. I still had migraines — severe and chronic — in addition to residual neurological deficiencies from the stroke.

How could I make college work with these disabilities?

I knew my physical and neurological disabilities would prevent me from attending synchronous classes — better known as in-person classes. A migraine could come at any time. Migraines cause more than severe pain; they are a neurological condition, and symptoms include trouble speaking, muscle weakness, short-term memory loss, confusion, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and fatigue — just to name a few.

I also have challenges with reading, and sometimes a loss of motor function could flare up. I wasn’t sure if I could read a whole book or even half of one. Clearly, an in-person college setting was out of the question.

But what about taking classes online?

I discovered that most online classes were asynchronous, which is a fancy way of saying I could learn on my own schedule, within a certain timeframe. I could complete the assignments, lectures, discussion posts and other educational activities on a flexible schedule each week. This was brilliant! Online education worked with my unique challenges.

Neurodivergence, a migraine or a motor function episode could not prevent me from participating in discussions, completing assignments, writing papers or engaging with my professors.

I was going back to college! 

I thrived in Oregon State’s online learning environment

I built my academic confidence and skills during my time as an Oregon State Ecampus student. My doctors and I worked together on accommodations I would need. Then I met with OSU’s Disability Access Services, which helped to facilitate the implementation of those accommodations with my instructors. DAS did not disclose the nature of my disabilities, leaving that up to my discretion.

I often felt comfortable sharing context as to why I might need extra time or why I was not able to attend a class, but my instructors never asked me directly about my disabilities. My instructors never made me feel like my accommodations were “asking for favors” or “making excuses” — and this was very important to me. I was always treated with the utmost respect.

Not only was I learning the information in my classes, which was fantastic, but I was also learning how to be a student with disabilities. I learned how to study with, and around, my disabilities. I discovered how much time I needed to study for tests and how long it would take me to write papers. I learned that when I pushed myself too hard, it caused a temporary loss of motor function in my hands. (I didn’t do that again!)

I was learning about myself, and I did this in my home where I felt the most comfortable because all my classes were online. My Oregon State University experience gave me so much more than my degree.

It was life-changing.

While I never planned on transitioning to an in-person college setting, I completed my B.S. in Religious Studies online with Oregon State and was accepted into the Harvard Divinity School. I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and graduated with a Master’s in Theological Studies.

And now I’m pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in poetry at Oregon State. Go Beavs!

Learn more and discover how to request accommodations through Oregon State’s Disability Access Services as an Ecampus student.

Explore DAS resources


Monique Lanier is a freelancer who also has a long history in writing, acting and music as a writer and performer. She earned her Oregon State University bachelor’s degree online and a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University. She is now pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry at Oregon State.

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