Friday, December 21, 2012

Degrees for the Disabled

Winter break is half over, and I have to admit, I am ready to go back to school. I miss going to class and being busy. I'm one of those people who can't stay at home all the time without getting restless. I'm thankful that I'm able to separate school from home, but for some people, online school is a good alternative to traditional school, especially if it is difficult to leave home. I would recommend Portland State to anyone (I have fallen in love with it so quickly!), but people with disabilities may find it more convenient, and perhaps necessary, to take classes in their own residence.

Certain things must be considered when deciding to go to online school. Not all classes and formats work for all people, especially when it comes to finding courses that meet certain needs. While being able to learn from home is a major advantage, not all online classes are user-friendly for students with disabilities. For example, an instructor may promote a live class format with scrolling text that students have no control over. Visually impaired students who use screen readers or refreshable Braille displays may have trouble with this. Videos without captions can be problematic for students with hearing loss. Assignments that require students to view Web pages with flashing ads and lights can trigger seizures in people who suffer from photosensitivity or other disorders, and live chat classrooms, discussion threads, and white boards can make it hard for students who use adaptive devices. Many of these obstacles can be dodged by getting in touch with your professor and discussing accommodations. And it will totally be worth the effort! Why? Because education is awesome and fulfilling and everything that is good in the world. Also, once you've got that degree nicely framed on your wall, there are some pretty lucrative careers to be had. Check this out:

1. Computer Careers: A-Tech Review claims that information systems provides the best career opportunities for people with physical disabilities--jobs that can be done with little accommodation and they pay well too. The National Association of Colleges and Employers found in 2007 that starting salary offers for computer programmers averaged $49,928 per year.

2. Legal Careers: Law is another field wide open to the disabled, and you can customize your career to suit your interests. Whether you prefer working behind the scenes or in a courtroom, from your home or in an office, there are interesting career choices available and online programs to go with each. Salaries range from about $37,000 for junior secretaries to $75,000 for senior paralegals to six figure earnings for lawyers. Not bad, right?

PSU is beautiful but not always accessible.

3. Design Careers: Have a creative side? Online degree and career training opportunities abound--degrees range from photography to graphic, interior, and clothing design. Actress Dawn Wells (AKA Mary Anne from Gilligan's Island) designed a line of attractive clothing using Velcro for easy fastening after caring for a disabled relative.

4. Nursing Careers: Nursing careers actually provide good opportunities for those with physical challenges. And your own experience may make you a better nurse than less-empathetic co-workers. Many with hearing and other disabilities manage successful nursing careers. Organizations like the Association of Medical Professionals with hearing losses (AMPHL) provide guidance and support for their members. Registered nurses begin their careers with associate's or bachelor's degrees or nursing diplomas. Those with a BSN command an average starting salary of nearly $50,000 per year.

5. Management: If you acquired a disability later in life, you probably had a career when it happened--maybe a career that you really loved. If you can't perform that job any more, why not run the whole show? A bachelor's degree in management can help you stay in your chosen field and even move up the career ladder. And your hard-won expertise won't be wasted. Managers' salaries depend largely on their chosen industry but you can usually expect a nice pay increase when you earn a management degree.

So go for it! Earning a degree and furthering you education is well worth the effort. I'm looking forward to the sense of accomplishment I'll feel when I have a college diploma in hand. Everybody should have the opportunity to have that feeling, right?

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