The key to flexible learning

Distance learning gives disabled people the opportunity to study from home. We speak to a member of The Open University Disability Support Team to discover the benefits, challenges and support available.

There are thousands of distance learning courses in the UK ranging from short one day courses to full-time degrees for you to broaden your horizons.


The nature of distance learning taking place mostly online means it is an extremely flexible mode of learning and is often the perfect option for people with a disability.

Maxine Squirrell is the senior manager of the alternative formats team at The Open University (OU). “Students are able to study at the time which suits them best,” explains Maxine. “If you had set lectures that might not always suit the person.

“Studying in your own time can benefit people with a disability nicely, because people don’t need to travel to a building or move from room to room throughout the day.”

Without the need to attend tutorials or lectures, the risk of sensory overload or anxiety over social situations isreduced.

Alongside studying itself, tutors are able to adapt deadlines to suit students’ individual needs. “If your condition has flared up and you’ve not been able to study they might be able to grant an extension,” emphasises Maxine.


At The OU ( disability support begins the moment you apply for a course. During the application process students are encouraged to fill out a form giving more details about their disability and learning needs.

“It’s essentially letting us know what they think they’ll need,” explains Maxine. “There are advisors who are here to talk through their needs and set up support.”

Assistive technology, module resources in alternative formats, and mental health support are all provided free of charge by The OU.

Students can also take exams at home or ask for support on the day of an exam, for instance utilising a note taker. This assistance continues throughout the degree and can be adapted if yourcircumstances change.


The range of support available while distance learning is not limited to academic support, it is social, too.

Although there is a risk of feeling socially isolated when learning from home, there are measures in place to prevent this, Maxine explains: “You can pick up the phone and speak to an advisor at any time but there’s lots of support online like forums and disabled students’ groups on social media, the online nature of it means support is 24/7.”

If you think distance learning is the right option for you it’s as easy as finding a course and applying online.

Distance learning is a fantastic opportunity providing you with the chance to study if you can’t physically attend a university, whilst also building confidence and independence. Once you start the possibilities are endless.

Get your education off to a new start with courses and support provided by The Open University or browse different distance learning courses at

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