Inclusion Now 58

Online University Empowers Disabled Students

The year 2020 was a tough and emotional experience for most of us. It forced us to adapt to new situations and find alternative ways to continue with our education. By Melody Powell (She/Her)

Head and shoulders shot of Melody Powell, the author of the article Online University Empowers Disabled Students. Melody is a white woman with purple hair and is pictured in a black wheelchair.

Online studying quickly became the new normal for many, an experience that was unknown and challenging for most. I have been studying online since 2018 through the Open University and have a lot of appreciation for its flexible and accessible ethos. I hope that by sharing my experiences of online study, fellow university students can confidently approach university life online, whether that be as a temporary solution or permanent change

My Online University Journey

My university experience began a year later than most, at age 19, as my unpredictable health caused problems with the set schedules of a brick (in-person) university. When I eventually discovered online learning via the Open University, I felt that further education was finally achievable for someone like me as I could study at my own pace. The application process was remarkably straightforward too, with student support assisting with any accessibility needs along the way, nothing was too much trouble. I was then directed to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), a government scheme that provides equipment that you need to study, such as height adjustable tables, screen readers and text to speech software. The university can also provide you with accessible module materials, things like comb-bound books, audio books and print outs from the website can be sent to you if you need them.

Even with my extra equipment, I felt full-time study would be too much for me, so I decided to work on a part-time schedule. This means that my degree will take six years, rather than the standard three. Although that means it will take me longer to complete, I know that I won’t burn myself out studying and can reach my academic potential. The great thing is that if your circumstances change at all, you can even break down the work further as you can defer for a year or two on most courses. The ability to attend lectures in the morning or evening is also well suited to those with unpredictable lives, you just book onto whichever time suits you best. This has increased my productivity greatly as I do not have to rely on people to take notes or email over missed lectures while I’m absent from university. It’s also great to be able to study from anywhere – I no longer have to worry if I am too tired to get out of bed or need to stay overnight in hospital – as I can always take my virtual university with me and study any time.

Looking After Physical and Mental Health is Important

The ability to customise your educational journey is not the only highlight of online university, the support you receive for physical and mental health is amazing. If at any point you need guidance or an assignment extension due to unexpected life events, your tutor is contactable 24/7 via email or phone and gets back to you within 2 working days. For more urgent queries about your study, or if you feel the workload is too much, you can always contact student support for advice. The online student forums and social media groups are a great source of encouragement too. Having fellow students from all walks of life to form study groups and discuss everyday problems with is very comforting.

Why Access to Online Education is Important

Education is such an empowering thing and should be accessible to anyone wanting to learn. Unfortunately, most schools only promote brick universities, which cannot always cater to everyone’s unique needs and learning styles. This lack of advertising for online study causes people, including my past self, to wrongly believe that online degrees are easier and of a lesser standard. Online university provides the same respectable qualifications as any other university and deserve to be praised for the accessibility they provide. Lives are constantly being changed thanks to online university, as people have the chance to achieve things they could only ever dream of before. With flexible online education, the possibilities are now endless.