Welcome to the Platform group for students with disablities.
Here you can share experiences, views, information and advice. You can also chat to people in similar situations.
Please join to comment.
The Access Bus is a fully equipped mobile assessment facility for students in higher education who have applied to receive the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA), a non-means tested government grant. Assessors identify how a student's disability is likely to impact on their study and what recommendations for support, such as assistive technology, aids and adaptations, and human support, can be made and paid for via the DSA.
Malcolm Dixon, Manager of the OU Access Centre in Disabled Student Services, commented,
"Students with disabilities or long-term health conditions often face challenges with their studies which the DSA can help to alleviate. The Access Centre strives to ensure that disability does not have to be disabling, and the Access Bus is part of that strategy to reach individuals."
The Access Bus is equipped with a range of assistive technology for demonstration and testing as part of the DSA assessment process. The bus can be taken to locations across the regions and nations, including the homes of disabled students, or other educational establishments and facilities, for DSA assessments to take place.
The Mobility Roadshow is the UK’s original hands-on consumer showcase event for mobility innovation, displaying a range of products and new ideas promoting independent living for disabled people.
The OU Access Centre will also be a key sponsor of the Ready Willing & Mobile Writing Competition 2012, which will be launched at the Mobility Roadshow on 23 June. School children from across the UK can write a 500-word short story with a disabled child as the central character, encouraging them to think about preconceptions and problems of young disabled people on the move.
Find out more:
- Contact the OU Access Centre: email: Lesley Birch Tel: 01908 653473
- The OU Access Centre
- Services for Disabled Students at the Open University
- Mobility Roadshow Peterborough 2012
The Access Centre based in Disabled Student Services at the Open University in Milton Keynes will be exhibiting its ground-breaking Access Bus at the Mobility Roadshow at Peterborough Arena 21-23 June. The Access Bus is a fully equipped mobile assessment facility for students in higher education who have applied to receive the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA), a ...
Louise, 47, gained a first class honours degree in literature, studying Shakespeare, Dickens and other classics, as well as modern drama, philosophy and creative writing. Her husband Phil, 46, graduated with an honours degree in psychology, which is recognised by the British Psychological Society.
Louise had to give up on her degree in Astrophysics at Manchester University when she suddenly lost her sight aged 30 and while bringing up her three-year-old daughter.
She said: “Coping with sudden sight loss, accepting new limitations and giving up on a long held dream was a tough experience that took many years to adjust to. I still needed a great deal of determination and commitment to get my degree, and the second chance offered by The Open University provided the means.”
Phil became visually impaired at the age of 10 when at primary school. He was educated in special schools until he was 20 when he decided that the jobs then on offer at the time - basket weaving, piano tuning and telephony - weren’t for him. He went on to gain an HND in Computer Science and after a short spell as a software engineer and lecturer Phil found his vocation in public relations, working for Deafblind UK, RNIB and a Whitehall Department.
It wasn’t until five years ago, after a protracted period of ill health and becoming registered as deaf and blind, that Phil was able to pursue his interest in psychology and begin a degree with The Open University.
Support to study
Both Louise and Phil have guide dogs who have attended residential schools and tutorials with them during their studies.
Louise and Phil have other impairments which has made working full time or full time study in a ‘brick’ university extremely challenging.
Phil said: “The great thing about the OU is you can study at your own pace, take rests when you need them and it all fits around the needs of your impairments. You can even do your exams at home with extra time and rest breaks.”
Louise added: “The OU have been brilliant at making materials accessible and providing a gateway to grants for people to read course materials. Tutors, librarians and other staff deserve our thanks for going out of their way to support our needs. Without them, our journey would have been impossible.”
Louise and Phil's daughter Maya (pictured below), worked as a non-medical helper during the degrees, reading course materials and proof reading assignments and guided her parents onto the platform at the ceremony. Maya is now at university in Liverpool.
Louise and Phil aspire to part-time masters degrees in script writing and disability studies and hope to attract some support for the fees from organisations or philanthropists.
Louise said: “I’ve written some plays and performance poetry for local organisations and hope in due course to be able to turn this into my career. I would particularly like to combine my two passions of science and writing to produce works which inspire young people to pursue an interest in the sciences.”
Phil added: “I hope one day to be able to return to the employment market even if it’s not in a conventional nine to five way. I’m a passionate campaigner for the rights of blind and partially sighted people and think my background in public relations, my studies in psychology and hopefully a masters in disability studies will fit together to turn these interests into an income stream.”
Louise and Phil intend to focus their determination and talents on leaving the benefits system behind, while working within their physical limitations to earn their income and independence.
Find out more:
- Graduates share their study experiences
- Services for disabled students
- Graduation ceremonies 2012/13
- Study a qualification with the OU
Louise and Phil Jenkins, both registered blind, graduated at the OU degree ceremony in Torquay, overcoming their inability to read and realising a dream they never thought possible. Louise, 47, gained a first class honours degree in literature, studying Shakespeare, Dickens and other classics, as well as modern drama, philosophy and creative writing. Her husband Phil, ...
Marion Grenfell-Essam, 28, from Essex, has had ME since she was just 12 years old which means the smallest of tasks leave her utterly exhausted. But she’s found comfort in OU study, the flexibility of which allows her to work around her symptoms, and she plans on “studying for the rest of my life if I can.”
Forced to drop out of studying for a BSc in Applied Psychology at Cardiff University, Marion was overcome with depression. At the time, her mum was (and still is) studying towards a BSc in Psychology with the OU and “decided to bully me into finding an interest,” says Marion.
“She knew I had always expressed an interest in learning more about web design so she pestered me into signing up for T183 Design and the Web. That was the autumn of 2006 and I haven't looked back.”
“Certainly my intention with the BSc in Computing is to give myself the skills to be able to work from home on computing and web design projects. The BSc in Mathematics and Statistics is mostly for fun,” she says of working towards two degrees.
Support from tutors
“I think the thing I like most about OU study is the freedom; both the freedom when studying a particular course to go at the speed that suits me but also the freedom to choose what to study. I've always been interested in learning almost for its own sake so the ability to choose from numerous subjects is wonderful.
“I've found almost universal support from my tutors. When I've been having problems with the TMA deadlines they are always happy to give advice about my best options and the teaching quality has been excellent both in the year long and short courses.
Marion has had ME (Myalgic Encephalopathy) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) for 16 years and she’s learned to deal with the symptoms.
“The main symptom is fatigue. Joint and muscle pain is common, with visible twitching of muscles being relatively rare. Perhaps the most frustrating set of symptoms are the cognitive symptoms: problems with short-term memory, concentration and maintaining attention. Sufferers often complain of brain fog - the inability to focus properly.
'Perhaps the greatest support the OU gives me is home exams. I simply could never have completed any course with an exam if I had had to go to an exam centre'
“Most sufferers will experience headaches with many having to deal with migraines - basically headaches but with additional components: flashing light or auras, neck pain, light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, nausea even to the point of vomiting and skin sensitivity so that even light bed clothes can feel like someone is gripping their hand hard around your skin. Basically when it gets really bad your only option is go and lie down or lie propped up in a dark, quiet room.”
With day-to-day activities like eating and dressing making her tired, Marion sleeps a lot, but she can be awake in the early hours of the morning. So it’s the complete flexibility of OU study that allows her to work at her own pace and in short bursts if necessary, with support for her additional needs via the university's services for disabled students.
“Because I can't plan my good days and my bad weeks I can't always stick to the timetable. My tutors are always very supportive about giving me extensions if I think that a couple of extra weeks might make the difference between a partial TMA and no TMA. I find reading 12 size font just a little bit too small to be comfortable for me so the ability to read my Unit texts as pdfs where I can zoom to a size that works for me is great.
'Sometimes you just can't talk to your family and friends about what you're dealing with but you need to talk to someone and the other students on the forum always understand what you're facing'
“Where I want to read from the unit but would struggle to hold it open the OU provide me with comb-bound books so that they lie flat on my lap or table so I don't get hand strain keeping the book flattened to read. The use of iTMAs is a big bonus as it means I don't have to try and hand write anything with my sore muscles. At the tutorials my Learning Support team make sure I have a ground floor room close to the entrance so that I can easily walk the distance with the help of my walking stick.
“Perhaps the greatest support the OU gives me is home exams. I simply could never have completed any course with an exam if I had had to go to an exam centre. I can sit where I always sit to study with the light and noise levels set to my preferences and with my body supported to avoid muscle strain.
"I'm allowed 30 minutes of rest breaks so I tend to take at least two breaks of 10 minutes each and sometimes a third of the remaining 10 minutes depending on how tired I am and how the questions work out. I can use these 10 minutes simply to close my eyes and stop for 10 minutes or I can shift my papers and lie down on my sofa and catch 10 minutes sleep if need be.
“Because of the eye strain the OU provides me with large print exam papers on pink paper to avoid the glare off a white page.”
Reassurance that you're not alone
Marion’s an active member of the OUSA and Platform forums, which she finds “an enormous support”.
“Sometimes you just can't talk to your family and friends about what you're dealing with but you need to talk to someone and the other students on the forum always understand what you're facing. Even if they haven't gone through it themselves they usually have some sensible advice and often all that is really needed is the reassurance that you're not alone with having to deal with the consequences of this disease.”
Aside from study, Marion likes to read, watch TV shows from crime to sci-fi and has recently discovered blogging.
“Since January this year I've been feeling more hopeful for the future and felt that my brain state allowed me to at least string some sentences together. So I started by reading some of the blogs listed on Platform and when I felt I'd got a feel for it I took the plunge and wrote my first post.
“It allows me to crow about small accomplishments - like sleeping for nine hours and not two hours or 12 hours. It allows me to moan about the migraines or rave about a new book or TV show.
“With the short-term memory issues that go with ME it is generally impossible for me to remember what happened to me last week certainly not any further back and it is very easy to lose track of time between events. The ability to go back re-read posts to discover what I've been doing for the last three weeks or two months ago is a very useful by-product of keeping a blog.”
Marion Grenfell-Essam, 28, from Essex, has had ME since she was just 12 years old which means the smallest of tasks leave her utterly exhausted. But she’s found comfort in OU study, the flexibility of which allows her to work around her symptoms, and she plans on “studying for the rest of my life if I can.” Forced to drop out of studying for a BSc in Applied Psychology at ...
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, paid a visit to The Open University campus in Milton Keynes and gained an insight into the support offered to the OU’s 13,000 disabled students.
Malcolm Dixon, Manager of the OU Access Centre in Disabled Student Services, and Katya Barakhta, Senior Assessor, were pleased to welcome the Speaker of the House on board the new OU Access Bus and offer a tour of the facilities used to assess students who’ve declared a disability and require study support from the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA).
Mr Bercow enquired about support for the 13,000 disabled students at the OU and observed the specialist equipment carried on the bus while Katya demonstrated a range of specialist software often recommended to students with dyslexia or other specific learning difficulties, mental health issues or physical disabilities.
The Access Bus is equipped with a range of assistive technology for demonstration and testing as part of the DSA assessment process. The bus can be taken to locations across the regions and nations, including the homes of Open University disabled students, or other educational establishments and facilities, for DSA assessments to take place.
Malcom Dixon said: “This was a really valuable visit. It's great to see a local MP engaging not only with the OU but taking a strong interest in the needs of disabled students and their ongoing support.
"Students with disabilities or long-term health conditions often face challenges with their studies which the DSA can help to alleviate, the centre strives to ensure that disability does not have to be disabling" he added.
During his visit to the OU in Milton Keynes, Mr Bercow was shown the Knowledge Media Institute’s Media Lab, where he was given a presentation about the student experience by Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean; and enjoyed a tour of the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute with Professor Monica Grady, head of the department for Physical Sciences.
For more information about Services for Disabled Students, see the website.
Pictured, from left, are Katya Barakhta, Senior Assessor; Malcolm Dixon, Manager of the OU Access Centre in Disabled Student Services, and Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP.
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP, paid a visit to The Open University campus in Milton Keynes and gained an insight into the support offered to the OU’s 13,000 disabled students. Malcolm Dixon, Manager of the OU Access Centre in Disabled Student Services, and Katya Barakhta, Senior Assessor, were pleased to welcome the Speaker of the House on board the new OU Access ...
Why I chose to study with The Open University (OU)
I always regretted not being able to stay on for higher education after school, instead I ended up getting a job in a bank. It was years later when I was a house wife with two young children that The Open University adverts that I had seen in local media attracted me to send off for a prospectus.
I chose the OU as I am registered disabled, and I wanted to work at my own pace, fairly flexibly and to fit my studies in with my own personal circumstances. I also thought that the fees were reasonable, and the way the prospectus described the different levels and paths of subjects you could take to eventually achieve your goal, was easy and accessible.
Getting advice and support to study
The one thing that worried me was whether the demands the studying needed outweigh my own personal limits. I looked at the higher levels to see if it was a necessity to attend a residential school, as I knew that it would be inappropriate for my personal circumstances, although when I read the reviews I regretted that I would not be able to attend. My worries were not necessary as there was alternative learning experience (ALE) program in place, and I also read with interest the support that the OU was able to give to disabled students.
I was taken back with the friendly response, motivation and eagerness of the disability department to come out and visit me to talk about my personal requirements. I was very apprehensive, but was soon put at ease by the gentleman who visited me, and his advice was so valuable, I was also fortunate to receive financial help as well as an adaptation in my learning and studies to help suit my needs.
Initially I studied Understanding Health and Social Care (K100) as I was always interested in helping others and at one stage had wanted to work with the elderly or children. I realised that if I was to commit myself to study I wanted to achieve a significant goal such as a degree. I was able to work out that in my first course in Health and Social Care I could gain a Certificate after the first level which would be an achievement in itself, and if I wanted to continue I could count the level towards a degree.
As I could not attend tutorials the OU arranged telephone contact, from my tutors, and I was even told that I was eligible for a home exam. The Invigilator was a very kind and professional lady who I nicknamed in my head ‘The Sergeant Major” as we had to synchronise watches after her first visit. I should not have worried as in my very first course I managed to achieve a distinction, and was so proud of my achievement. This also spurred me on to enroll in the next course towards a degree.
A degree in psychology to focus on long-term writing ambitions
I decided to pursue psychology, as my son had dyslexia, and I had suffered from mental health problems and wanted to learn more about them. I was also trying to work hard on my book that was a true account of my past called ‘A Fine Line A Balance to Survive by Lisa WB'. I had suffered from extreme child abuse and was interested in learning more about psychology to not only improve my expertise but to also help with my writing.
As I studied with the OU my confidence increased, and each time I had to study a new course, I initially worried about whether the new tutor would understand that I couldn’t attend tutorials and be empathetic towards my needs as my illness is unpredictable. At some stages I would be unable to study for a few days or even weeks. I tried to combat this by working as hard as I could when able to keep ahead in case I was ill.
Once again I am still astonished at the response by the Open University staff, all my tutors were very friendly, understanding and supported my needs. At the ALE they even let me promote my book in one of the forums at the end of the course.
It was in December 2011 that I received my results and I was fortunate to have achieved a 1.1 First Class (Honours) Degree in Psychology.
I will always be grateful to the Open University, as I believe it was because of the University’s willingness to support my disability and the way they helped me manage my studies I was able to achieve what I did. One of the tutors even endorsed my book when it was published.
I was so sad when I took my final exam as I felt I was leaving a friend behind, although, through the Open University I have made many new friends.
Becoming a published author
The University helped me with my confidence to finish my book: A fine line, which has been praised by The British Psychology Society, and the ebook has been a best seller in many categories for over a year.
I am now writing a sequel called The Survival, and am hoping to include some of the expertise learnt from my psychology degree.
I hope if other people are thinking about studying, they give the Open University a chance, as it has been one of the best experiences in my life.
Find out more:
Lisa Whenham-Bossy chose to study with the Open University as she is registered disabled. She believes the support she received from the OU during her time as a student, enabled her to ‘spread her wings’ and achieve not only a First Class (Honours) Degree in Psychology, but go on to become a published author. Why I chose to study with The Open University (OU) I ...
Born in South Africa his experience of apartheid, including being jailed as a political prisoner, influenced his thinking about how society treats disabled people.
Vic Finkelstein was disabled after a pole-vaulting accident as a teenager, later travelling to Britain for treatment and winning a swimming medal for South Africa at the Stoke Mandeville Games.
Back in South Africa and while at university he became involved with the anti-apartheid movement in 1964 supporting Bram Fischer, Nelson Mandela’s trial lawyer who had gone underground.
In 1966 Finkelstein was sentenced to 18 months hard labour, reduced to three months being ‘a cripple’.
In 1968 he fled to Britain and helped found with Paul Hunt the Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation (UPIAS) which argued that oppression by society was the biggest issue for disabled people.
UPIAS focussed on changing what it called ‘the disabling society’.
Through UPIAS and in the 1970s the television programme Link, Finkelstein helped change the way society thought about disability. In 1981 he campaigned for the exclusion of the South African team taking part in the Stoke Mandeville games for disabled people.
He also helped set up the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People and the London Disability Arts Forum leading to the National Disability Arts Collection and Archive.
He was an NHS psychologist before joining The Open University in the 1980s as course chair of The Handicapped Person in the Community the world’s first course in disability studies.
He retired from the OU in 1996 becoming a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Leeds University.
Joanna Bornat, Emeritus Professor of Oral History OU Faculty of Health and Social Care remembered his OU valedictory lecture.
“I don’t think many people at the OU now will know that we had a giant of the disability rights movement in our midst.
She said with other disabled people Vic developed the idea that disability might be the creation of the society in which disabled people lived rather than impairment. That led to a movement that brought changes all of us benefit from now including access into buildings and transport and disabled voices in media and arts changing society for the better.
“Many if not most disabled people would argue there is much left to be done, but without Vic’s theorising and his steadfast non-compromising position, those changes might never have happened,” she said.
Joanna said Vic spoke about being a prisoner in South Africa. In jail he was given a bed instead of a mat on the floor and had ‘helpers’ to get him round the prison.
“His conclusion was that when necessary the state could make things accessible.
“He was given a five year banning order but said that made no difference to him as he was unable to do any of the things he was banned from doing,” she said.
Another OU colleague, Jan Walmsley, Visiting Professor in the History of Learning Disabilities told the Disability Law Service website that Finkelstein had an enormously powerful influence on the way the OU taught and continues to teach in health and social care.
She said he put the OU at the forefront of teaching and thinking about disability.
“As a colleague he was enormously generous to me, encouraging me in every conceivable way to develop my ideas, writing and research,” she said.
Vic Finkelstein died at Stoke Mandeville on November 30. A funeral service was held last week.
Vic Finkelstein, a ‘giant’ of the disability movement and credited with putting The Open University at the forefront of teaching and thinking about disability has died aged 73. Born in South Africa his experience of apartheid, including being jailed as a political prisoner, influenced his thinking about how society treats disabled people. Vic Finkelstein was ...
Students with dyslexia may be eligible to apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance to cover extra costs for support, for example screen reader software and a dyslexia support tutor, if they have a valid assessment by an educational psychologist or specialist teacher.
Find out more about studying with dyslexia at the links below:
- Here what a student has to say about support at the OU
- What to do if you're an OU student with dyslexia
- Studying with dyslexia - advice for students
- Dyslexia Awareness Week 2011
- Is dyslexia a myth?
This week, Monday 31 October to Sunday 6 November, is Dyslexia Awareness Week. Almost 3,000 Open University students have declared that they have dyslexia. Many of these students request additional support with their studies. Students with dyslexia may be eligible to apply for a Disabled Students’ Allowance to cover extra costs for support, for example screen ...
Entitled The Autism Spectrum in the 21st Century: Exploring Psychology, Biology and Practice, the book is written by OU senior lecturer in Psychology Dr Ilona Roth (pictured), the course chair, with OU colleagues Dr Rosa Hoekstra and Dr Terry Whatson and two external autism specialists.
"This book is well-researched and provides clear, impartial and accurate knowledge of many facets of the autism spectrum. Its language is very accessible," the BMA's reviewer said.
Dr Ilona Roth said that autism is a thriving theme in the teaching and research activities of the OU's Department of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences.
A book on autism which is the centrepiece of the OU course SK124 Understanding the Autism Spectrum, has been highly commended in the Popular Medicine category of the British Medical Association (BMA) annual book awards. Entitled The Autism Spectrum in the 21st Century: Exploring Psychology, Biology and Practice, the book is written by OU senior lecturer in Psychology Dr ...
Tim Musson works in IT. He's an OU business studies student wanting to expand his career and his personal knowledge; he likes gardening, grows his own veg, supports Nottingham Forest and is a keen bird watcher. He's also blind and lives alone with his guide dog Summer.
A finance risk specialist, Tim started working towards an OU business studies degree in November 2009, sponsored by his employer, Capital One. "Although I've worked for a financial institution for 10 years, without a degree I'd probably say I'm in the minority and felt it would give me a bit more credibility at work. Plus I've noticed for my next module there's a finance block and as I've just moved into the finance department I will be taking full advantage of that!"
Tim's been registered blind since the age of three after contracting a disease which scarred his retinas, and uses a screenreader to access his course materials. "I have access to the Disabled Students Allowance for some equipment to help me and for someone to create an accessible version of tables, charts and pictures from my text books, although that's only been necessary on one module so far. Most OU materials are accessible, which is fantastic, plus I can't highlight enough how good the associate lecturers are; every one of them so far has been extremely helpful and willing to accommodate any requests I have."
What does he like about the OU? "I think it's the feeling of cameraderie that OU students seem to have. As an OU student if you happen to meet aother OU student you have an instant affinity, plus I like the fact it allows me to study very flexibly in my own space, my own time, and provides the support which allows me to do so." Tim's favoured study spot, by the way, is in the garden under the shade of his apple tree.
And what about the down side of OU study? "I guess it's the lack of sense of place. I find this hard to describe but because the average OU stdent doesn't get to see the campus I feel you lack a certain sense of belonging. I've been fortunate in that I've visited the campus in Milton Keynes a couple of times now to do website accessibility testing and I absoloutely loved the place. But a vast majority of students don't get to experience that."
In these two audio interviews, Tim talks to Documentally, firstly about the technology, his OU studies and interests, and secondly about his blog, Blind Bird Watcher, in which he charts his explorations amongst the countryside and recordings of what he finds.
Tim Musson works in IT. He's an OU business studies student wanting to expand his career and his personal knowledge; he likes gardening, grows his own veg, supports Nottingham Forest and is a keen bird watcher. He's also blind and lives alone with his guide dog Summer. Tim was the first person in the country under 18 ever to have a guide dog and, over a decade later, his latest ...