ADHD Accommodations in This New Digital Era of E-Learning: Starting a Dialog

If having ADHD makes us struggle with reading from digital devices, are we entitled to new ADHD accommodations while taking courses online?

By Laly Steel

September 29, 2020

As I was getting ready to start a new course online using the “Blue Jeans” platform, I recalled that post I wrote,“ADHD in the Classroom: Strategies to Make the Most of a Class” and I thought, “Well, that seems like a waste of dopamine now.”

I took many courses online, but none of them using an e-learning platform where one is face to face with the educator. So I started wondering, “How is it going to be like now? Will I be able to raise my hand, to talk to my classmates? Can we still talk about a ‘classroom experience’?”

But among all those questions that were leading me to write a new theory, the one that was worrying me the most was:

“Are we going to have a break?”

However, before the course began, I faced something more troubling and which I wasn’t expecting at all: an issue that I’d classify under the so-called “ADHD accommodations,” what we need as neurodivergents to make the most of a class; and I’d say that was the first time I had an issue with it.

So I got to thinking, in this new normal when we’re learning from digital devices, what are the new “accommodations” we should ask for?

Reading From Digital Devices

Throughout my life, I diligently found my way to work with this capricious brain, and that it is something that I cherish and which I’m very proud of. During my years in college and two decades of working as a freelance writer, I found out there are two things I need so I could work (read, write, study) with a digital file:

  • one, the possibility to make my own navigation pane (a map of the copy);
  • two, to have the text written in sans fonts.

The Importance of the Navigation Pane

When we work on a text file with a rich editor (such as Word), we can have a map of the content if we add headings and subheadings to the text. By doing so, we get two features: 

  1. If we open the “navigation pane”, we’ll see a sidebar (to our left) showing us the map of the document;
  2. Then, with one click, we can create the resulting “table of contents.”

Working this way is extremely helpful because it guides us helping us with our working memory issues; if we write good headings and subheadings (titles) we’ll remember what they are about without the need of going through the whole document to find, “What was I studying?” 

To have this feature for PDF files, we need the Adobe Acrobat DC Pro version; with it we can use “bookmarks” to create a “map” and we can also change the font style (among other features.)

That is how I need to study – write and read – with digital files, and I encourage you to try it if you haven’t.

The Importance of the Use of Sans Fonts

The second thing my pretty brain needs is, as I mentioned previously, “sans fonts;” I prefer Open Sans (or anything like it that’s not Times New Roman and its pals) I literally cannot read from sans serif fonts and they hurt my sight.

Once again, if you ever struggled with reading from digital files, I encourage you to try switching the font style until you find the right one for you.

ADHD Accommodations in the New Normal

When I received the manual for this new training course written in Times New Roman (among other details…) I thought, “Well, we’re going to have to add two hours of editing every other twenty pages; suck it up.”  

But, the file was password protected… So, I wrote to the Academy explaining my needs and how I pay for my licenses so this brain can work with digital files; I asked them for a non-protected file so I could fix it on my own to read it, but I received a big fat “No; sorry; it’s copyrighted.”

And that is how I started wondering about the so-called “ADHD accommodations” in this “new normal.” Before the COVID-19 pandemic, when I wrote “ADHD in the classroom”, I mentioned how the US – for instance – has laws to protect neurodivergent children by guarantying them some accommodations. But, how about now?

Now, when the learning process has moved entirely to digital devices, we need to start a new dialogue about those accommodations; about new ones in fact, such us guidelines to develop ADHD-friendly PDF files and even websites.

On a Personal Note

I was taking a course that, not only trains “ADHD” coaches but also, was addressed to people with ADHD; and still, when I shared my “ADHD needs” I received a “no.” 

I insisted, of course; and eventually, the day before the course started (when I had supposed to have read more than twenty pages) I received a file that allegedly was written in Arial; I say allegedly because it was broken and I couldn’t open it. 

And about the breaks? No breaks.

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So what do you think?