Our online students have access to several disability support services. Discover what they are, and how universities are making online learning accessible to everyone.
If you’re new to online study, you might be wondering what disability services are available to you, and if your course is going to be accessible.
Accessibility is something we believe in very strongly here at Open Universities Australia (OUA), and the universities we work with agree. It doesn’t matter if you’re a new student thinking about enrolling, or a current student in need of extra support. We’re here to remove any barriers that will prevent you from enjoying your online study experience.
Here’s everything you need to know about your disability support options, plus information about how your course has been designed with accessibility in mind.
Who can access disability support services?
Disability support services are available to anyone with a disability, medical or mental health condition that impacts their ability to study.
These services may also be available to you if you're a carer for someone who lives with disability and you need adjustments made to help you study.
What support services are available, exactly?
Before you even become a student, you can ask OUA’s disability contact officer for advice about enrolling and choosing the right course. They will also be an advocate for you once you’re a student with your university, there to offer support when you need it.
After you’re enrolled, you can register with your university’s disability support centre. This generally involves filling out an online form and attaching some supporting documentation with information about your disability and how your study could be affected. An accessibility advisor will be in touch to help you come up with an Access Plan that outlines any accommodations you may need as you complete your course.
Your accessibility advisor can help you with things such as:
- Managing your workload.
- Submitting assignments.
- Sitting exams.
- Organising work placements if your course includes an internship component
- Organising access to assistive technology or accessibility software (such as a screen reader or onscreen keyboard)
Once your Access Plan is finalised, you’ll be able to share it with your tutors at the start of each new study period, so they know where you require support.
What makes online learning accessible for everyone?
It’s up to you if you choose to share information about your disability with your university. Some of our students feel they don’t need to, because the online study environment adequately addresses their learning barriers. They can avoid daily travel, set their own routines, and learn in their own space.
Whatever you decide to do, know that there are many ways online university courses are designed with accessibility in mind.
Let’s break down how online study works (and why it’s inclusive)
When you become an online student through OUA, you’ll receive a login to access your university’s learning management system. This is where you’ll access all your lectures, course materials and class discussions. If you’re new to online study, don’t worry—your uni will take you on a virtual orientation tour to show you the ropes.
Your lectures will be available in a few different formats, so you can learn in the way that suits you best. You can view a lecture as a pre-recorded video with captions, listen to an audio recording, or read a transcript. If your course includes live lectures, you may also be able to request live captioning or an onscreen Auslan interpreter.
Your weekly readings and course texts are available in digital formats, which means you can use a screen reader or text magnification tool to review the content. If you work better with hard copies (or need your readings in a specific format, like braille or large print) just let your accessibility advisor know and they’ll make arrangements with your tutor.
As part of your online studies, you have access to a discussion board, where you can get involved in tutor-led discussions every week and chat with your classmates about activities. This puts everyone on a level playing field, because you can use assistive technology to follow the conversation and answer in your own time.
While it’s pretty standard to complete two or three major assignments as part of your course, know that these aren’t set in stone. If it makes more sense for you to deliver an assessment in a different format (for example, some of our students switch their oral presentations to essays), then this can be arranged. Your accessibility advisor can also help you negotiate extra time if you need it.
Since COVID-19, most students studying through OUA now take their exams online. Your university will let you know how to set up your workspace so that it fits their rules (for example you might need to set up a webcam). If you have a disability, your accessibility advisor can help you organise additional writing time, rest breaks, specialist software or the use of a scribe.
Depending on your course, you may have the opportunity to do an internship or work placement. Your tutor and accessibility advisor will help you find a host organisation and arrange things like transport to the venue, access to equipment you may need to use during your placement, and the presence of a support person, if needed.
What other resources are available?
Many of the universities we work with also have student-led social groups for those who live with disability.
La Trobe University has a group called CANDID (ChronicAlly ill, NeuroDiverse, Impaired and Disabled) that meets over Zoom every fortnight to share study tips and self-care ideas. UNSW has an online meetup group called ActivateUNSW, which is designed to help new students meet friends and mentors and get the most out of uni life.
Every university offers something different, so it’s worth asking your disability support centre about the clubs and meetups that are out there.
Study online through us to enjoy extra flexibility
Remember, when you study online through us, you don’t need to study full-time. You can work at your own speed by enrolling in as little as one subject per study term. We also offer four different start dates throughout the year, which means you can enrol with your chosen university whenever you’re ready.
Find out more about your disability support options
If you have questions about the disability support that will be available to you when you become an online student, you can get in touch with our friendly disability contact officer via firstname.lastname@example.org at any time. You can also use our list of university disability contacts for easy reference.
Otherwise, start browsing thousands of online courses from leading Australian universities, and find the course that’s right for you.