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OU Library Community: supporting disabled students

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The Open University supports around 18,000 disabled students who have a long-term health condition, a specific learning difficulty (such as dyslexia) or a mental health difficulty, to achieve their study goals.  One of our lovely Learning and Teaching Librarians, Geri has the specific role of supporting disabled students and works closely with publishers and module teams to make sure that our services and resources are accessible or that alternative options are provided.

Here are just two examples of how Geri has worked closely with publishers to make a difference to disabled students:

"When a publisher recently added the option to share with social media such as Facebook", Geri said “it had been set up in such a way that meant that if you were using a keyboard, you couldn’t get past that point and it rendered the database inaccessible.”   So she met the publisher face-to-face and was actually able to show them how the issue with the site was affecting students who weren’t able to use a mouse.  Another publisher who also came to the OU Library to be shown the problems their site caused with  keyboard and screen reader users then went off to buy screen reading software so that they could test the sites themselves before making them available.

Her role also involves working with module teams across the University; these are the people who write and produce the module materials.  Where a module team, for example, identifies a database that students need to search, she uses her eight years’ experience of checking databases to ensure that it is accessible.  Where videos are embedded in modules, Geri makes sure they include captions and transcripts.  Adding this functionality not only benefits students who have a hearing impairment, but also helps students who may be working in an environment where there is a lot of background noise, or where they can’t turn the sound up.

Geri also works closely with the OU’s Disabled Student Group which she says is “invaluable” for sharing information that will help disabled students.  She worked closely with the members of the group to raise awareness of SensusAccess, a service which converts material into different formats such as PDF to text, audio, Word or Braille.  Together they ran a series of Facebook sessions with Q & A sessions to promote the new service.  You can find more information about it and access the conversion form at Convert a file with SensusAccess.

However, what gives her most satisfaction she says, is talking to and helping students: “One particular example springs to mind where a student requested a supported literature search.  I phoned her up but quickly realized that while the student had dyslexia it was more lack of experience and confidence that was the problem.  So I phoned her up a couple of times to talk her through how to search and she then tweeted to say how useful she had found the session.   It was really satisfying for me to know that the student found the support provided very useful and she is now able to go off and search for herself.  I always want as far as possible to support students with being able to do searching independently”

For more information about the resources and services for disabled students at a distance go to Disabled user support 

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