CSCL and Disabilities


Contributors: Kim Gomez (UCLA), and Brande Otis (UCLA)

Web-based and computer supported learning environments offer accessible and inclusive opportunities for the education of students with disabilities at various education levels. However, there is, currently, a dearth of literature in the field of CSCL with respect to how to support learners with disabilities. In addition, there are few studies that explicitly consider how CSCL technologies might be leveraged to create more equitable learning environments. Finally, and related to the first and second observations, while lifespan learning is increasingly regarded as essential, particularly for those with disabilities, the literature in CSCL focuses almost exclusively on pre-K-16 learners, primarily in school, but with some inquiries in out-of-school settings. Across these literatures, researchers and designers grapple with concerns about how to create more accessible contexts and how to respond, through the application of CSCL, to variability in types of disabilities and qualities and characteristics within and across disabilities. More and more research has shown that a CSCL supported – Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach, provides an opportunity to think about designing learning environments in more elaborate and potentially enriching ways.

Designers of CSCL learning environments, with UDL in mind, might leverage designs to provide students with disabilities more opportunities to access education, more possibilities by which to demonstrate their learning and knowledge, and perhaps increase social interactions with their non-disabled and disabled peers (Cress, Woodzieke, Beine, Lienau, 2010). Accessibility, is a principal concern for all students, but especially those with disabilities. Online CSCL spaces may be limited or unavailable for students with visual impairments due to inaccessible web components (Seo, AlQahtani, Ouyang, & Borge, 2017). Similarly, recent research has pointed to the increasing availability of smart phone features designed to support accessibility for users, including the visually impaired. Yet, ironically, learning to use the features in ways that meet users, generally, and learners’ in particular, needs may be difficult. Users may not have any or sufficient training, and may not increase the likelihood of a design’s accessibility for learners who are hard of hearing closed captioning, and text-chat functionality offers increased flexibility. In addition, the class of people who have impairments ranges tremendously from those with fine motor skill impairment who may have difficulty controlling the mouse, to those who are quadriplegic and who rely on tools that can respond to head or eye movements. Attention to design considering this range of users, might include links and controls that have clear labels so that speech recognition software can recognize them. In general, research has indicated that CSCL can offer generally improved online learning access, a reduced pace of interaction with the content, that can be controlled by the learner, and that asynchronous expectations for interaction can be used to provide learners with communication and social interaction impairments with a platform for learning and practicing such skills in a meaningful social context.

As CSCL designers, we can also urge our community to consider accessibility among social justice concerns that we must be aware of, and responsive to in our designs (Gomez, Gomez, and Worsley, publication 2020). In our design courses, as in our research and design groups, we must actively discuss web content accessibility guidelines. We need to build awareness of, and skills, in testing and repairing accessibility issues, that we identify, in web pages, word and pdf files. In addition, in our conference proposal submission processes, we are uneven, as a discipline. While the ACM community requires accessible submission for their papers (, the Learning Sciences and CSCL communities do not provide any guidance or requirements on this matter. As recent research (Pal, Viswanathan, & Johri, 2017, p. 8) reminds us … “access is mediated through human and digital resources for access, and that for the users of accessible technology, the real challenges lie in building learning strategies to confront an ever-evolving technology environment”.

We, as designers, researchers, and practitioners, must engage the reflective turn “to create socioculturally informed conceptualizations of disability and consider implications for inclusive education design”. In the sociocultural perspective (Otrowski, 2017), rather than serve as an objective fact, definitions of disability are socially, culturally, historically, and politically “constructed and constantly negotiated” (Scully, 2002, p. 51). As we continue our conversation, and design activities at the intersection of CSCL and disability, we must strive “to represent the complicated relationship between the way they see themselves, the way others see them, and the way they fit into the communities to which they belong” (Halverson, 2013, p. 158).

These abstracts are living documents provided and modified by NAPLeS members. The more contributions we have towards refining the documents the more representative they will be of the community as a whole. If you would like to suggest revisions, please contact [email protected].


Basic Reading:
  • Tennyson, R. D., & Jorczak, R. L. (2010). Benefits of CSCL for learners with disabilities: Approaches and applications. In P. Ordóñez de Pablos, J. Zhao, & R. D. Tennyson (Eds.), Technology Enhanced Learning for People with Disabilities: Approaches and Applications: Approaches and applications (pp. 1-9). IGI Global.
Additional Reading:
  • Anderson-Inman, L., Ditson, L., & Ditson, M. (1998). Computer-based Concept Mapping: Promoting Meaningful Learning In Science For Students With Disabilities. Information Technology and Disabilities Journal. V(1-2).
  • Boyle, B. & Arnedillo-Sanchez, I. (2017). The Application of CSCL Scripts to Support Teaching and Learning for Children with Intellectual Disabilities. Studies of Health Technology Information, 242: 241-248.
  • Calvo, R., Iglesias, B., Gill, A., & Inglesias, A. (XXXX). Accessibility evaluation of Chats and Forums in e-learning environment. Published in the 2013 Proceedings of FECS ’12. Las Vegas, NV.
  • Cress, Wodzicki, Bientzle, & Lingnau (2011) CSCL for intellectually disabled pupils: Stimulating interaction by using a floor control mechanism. International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, 6, 307-321.
  • Fatima E. Terrazas-Arellanes, Alejandro J. Gallard M., Lisa A. Strycker & Emily D. Walden (2018) Impact of interactive online units on learning science among students with learning disabilities and English learners, International Journal of Science Education, 40:5, 498-518, doi: 10.1080/09500693.2018.1432915
  • Gomez, K., Gomez, L., & Worsley, M. (publication, 2020). Equity, diversity, and inclusion: What is the role of CSCL? To appear in (A. Wise, U. Cress, C. Rosé, and J. Oshima, Eds.) The Handbook of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, publication 2019.
  • Kang, J-G (2009). A Teacher’s Deconstruction of Disability: A Discourse Analysis. Disability Studies Quarterly, 29(1).
  • Ordóñez de Pablos, P, Zhao, J., Tennyson, R. (2011). Technology Enhanced Learning for People with Disabilities: Approaches and Applications. IGI Global.
  • Ostrowski, C. (2017). Using CSCL to conceptualize disability: Toward Inclusive Educational Design. In Chen, W. et al. (Eds.) (2017). Proceedings of the 25th International Conference on Computers in Education. New Zealand: Asia-Pacific Society for Computers in Education.
  • Seo, J., AlQahtani, M., & Borge, M. (2017). Embracing learners with visual impairments in CSCL. Published in the 2017 Proceedings of the International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, Philadelphia.
  • Pal, J., Viswanathan, A., & Johri, A. (2017). Mediating Access: How Visually-Impaired Users Leverage Collaborative Learning to Keep Up with Mobile Phone Innovations. Published in the 2017 Proceedings of the International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, Philadelphia.

Learning Scientists Who Have Researched This Topic

  • Marcela Borge
  • Kristen Shinohara
  • Wanda Pratt