Veronica With Four Eyes

How I Attend College Classes Remotely With Chronic Illness

As a college student with a disability and chronic illness, there have been times where I’ve been unable to attend my physical classes due to issues with my health or other factors. Luckily, my professors are awesome and allowed me to attend my physical classes remotely using telepresence tools and audio/video chat programs. Here is how I attend college classes remotely with chronic illness, how I got approved to take classes remotely, and how I completed my coursework.

Some background

I have a Disability Services file at my college for low vision and was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a neurological condition, during the first semester of my first year of college after experiencing symptoms related to the condition for four years. While I can typically attend classes in person, I take a mix of virtual and traditional classes every semester, and all of my traditional classes have a significant online component.

Besides having Chiari Malformation, I have had to deal with several different short-term medical issues that kept me from attending my physical classes for an extended period of time, with absences ranging from three to twelve weeks. Some examples of medical issues I have missed class for that I’ve talked about here include appendicitis, ER trips/overnight hospital stays, being in a car accident, and POTS. I’ve also attended classes remotely for short periods of time, such as when I pulled my hamstring, or when there were weather conditions that would make it unsafe for me to walk to class with a blindness cane and balance issues, such as lightning storms or wind gusts.

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Talking to my professors about remote classes

At the beginning of the semester, I tell all of my professors that there will likely be a time during the semester where I am unable to physically attend class and that I would like to be able to attend class remotely if possible. I have accommodations for flexible attendance in my Disability Services file, but there are no specific instructions for how this should be implemented. My professors were happy to let me come to class remotely, either by phone or video chat, as it showed that I was being proactive about staying on top of class work, instead of trying to catch up after missing classes later on.

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Getting approval to take classes remotely

Some professors may require that students get an approved accommodation to take classes remotely from Disability Services or the head of the department. For students with a chronic illness or disability, this accommodation is fairly easy to get at most colleges and universities, as it is easier for staff to approve an accommodation for someone to attend class whenever they have to through the use of technology than it is to approve an accommodation for someone to miss class or modify grading policies. Since my Disability Services file already has an accommodation that says that I can receive all classroom and lecture materials digitally, the only thing I had to figure out with my professors was how I would want to attend class remotely and in a discreet way.

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Using an iPod Touch to attend class

I decided the best way for me to be able to attend class remotely without making my professors do anything extra would be to use an iPod Touch to attend class remotely. My brother goes to the same university that I do and takes classes in neighboring buildings, so he would bring the iPod Touch to class with a FaceTime call running so that I could see/hear everything that was going on from my iPad. I put a PopSocket on the back of the device so that it could sit up, or my professors would rest it on a stand that made it easier for me to see what was going on. If my brother couldn’t pick up the device at the end of class, the academic manager for my department would hold it in their office for him to pick up later. Sometimes I would have another friend or staff member pick up or drop off the device so that my brother didn’t have to go to all of my classes.

The battery life on my iPod Touch lasted the length of an entire class. I also kept a portable charger with the device so it could be plugged in if needed, but typically the iPod would completely run out of battery at the end of the 75-minute lecture. If I had back-to-back classes, I would ask my brother or the professor to connect the device to an outlet, which they were fine with doing.

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Other ways I have attended classes remotely

Besides using the iPod Touch, other ways I have attended classes remotely include:

  • Calling my professors on the phone and having them put it on speaker
  • Having my professors audio or video chat me into class using their personal phones or a spare laptop
  • Having friends audio or video chat me into class on their device
  • Using a telepresence robot that was provided to me by my school’s assistive technology department

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Was it a strange feeling to attend college classes remotely/be the only one using telepresence in class?

Some students have asked me if I felt weird being the only one attending class remotely, and my answer to that is that no, I never felt strange or like I was at an advantage for being able to attend class remotely while everyone else was in the classroom. In fact, I very much wished that I was healthy enough to attend my physical classes, though attending classes remotely was the next best thing. My professors and fellow students were always awesome about making sure I felt included in class, even if I wasn’t physically there, and everyone was understanding and accepting of the reasons why I was using remote learning- as far as I know, no one ever complained that it was unfair I had the option to take classes remotely, as this option would be made available to any student in the department who needed it, not just me.

It’s worth noting that I had started out the semester taking classes in-person before having to switch to attending classes remotely. I still traveled to campus for finals and other in-person events, so I could get in touch with professors and other students. One of the reasons I chose to major in Computational and Data Sciences is because of the robust virtual and online resources available for all students, whether

Completing assignments on the course website

My professors post any and all assignments on the course website for all of the students in the class to complete, so they didn’t have to send me copies of assignments unless I needed them in an alternative format. If I requested materials from the lecture, they would typically be made available for all students to use. I have never had any more difficulty completing an assignment after attending a class remotely than I would have after attending the class physically, though I have definitely taken advantage of physical/virtual professor office hours and online tutoring services to get help on assignments.

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Filing for incompletes at the end of the semester

Even though I was able to attend classes remotely, there have been a few times where I wasn’t able to finish all of the work for the class or take an exam before the end of the semester, so my professors would file an incomplete for the course. This would give me an approximately three-month extension to finish up any remaining coursework, or complete modified coursework if my professor approved it. If I needed a longer extension, my professors could file a paper with the Registrar that would give me until the end of the semester to finish my work, or they would file a grade change request during another semester.

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Summary of how I attend college classes remotely with chronic illness

  • Talk to professors in advance about the possibility of taking classes remotely, and ask what tools work best for them
  • Some professors may require that students get an approved accommodation to take classes remotely from Disability Services or the head of the department
  • An iPod Touch provides a simple way for students to attend class remotely, assuming that someone can bring the iPod to the class building
  • Other options include calling into class on a phone, using video chat tools, asking friends to help, or using a telepresence robot
  • Check that materials passed out in class are available on the course website
  • If students are unable to finish all of the course material, they can file an incomplete for the course


How I Attend College Classes Remotely With Chronic Illness. How I got approval to take my physical college classes remotely due to short term health issues and with a Disability Services file for low vision and Chronic illness. .