New OU Access Centre Makes Learning Easier For Disabled Students

August 6, 2002

Staff at the centre, at the university’s main campus in Milton Keynes, will carry out needs assessments for disabled students and those in training to identify the specialist technology and other support they may need. Students across the south Midlands are expected to use the centre in its first year of operation.

In her speech to mark the centre’s official opening, OU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brenda Gourley said the centre was a valuable extension to the already high level of support the university offers to disabled students. “The technology has given us enormous possibilities to make happen things we would not have dreamed of 20 years ago,” she added.

The opening was attended by guests from education organisations and groups representing disabled people. The centre will serve students and potential students in an area bounded by Birmingham to the north, Cambridge to the east, London to the south and Bristol to the west. Both OU students and students at other universities will be encouraged to use the centre. Staff plan to extend the service to the region’s employers and other organisations that are seeking to improve work and training opportunities for disabled people.

Centre staff will also train disabled students in using the specialist technology available to them and help to promote those resources across the university.

The centre forms part of the university’s new Centre for Assistive Technology and Enabling Research (CATER), which was set up to ensure that the OU remains at the forefront of disability provision in higher education. CATER will also provide:

 support in developing learning and communication technologies, including web resources and electronic communication networks;

 alternative format course materials;

 awareness and training programmes for OU staff.

Ralph Keats, head of CATER, said of the launch of the Access Centre: “Over the years, the OU has earned a high reputation for the quality and range of its disabled student provision and for the expertise that underpins it. The opening of an Access Centre at the university’s Walton Hall campus marks a further milestone in our continuing efforts to expand and improve our disabled student provision.

“The area that the OU Access Centre will cover has few Access Centres and other recognised needs agencies and should therefore help to plug a gap in national provision.”

The university is currently a probationary member of the National Federation of Access Centres and expects to obtain full membership by the end of the year.

About the Open University

The Open University has about 8,500 disabled students. Among the facilities the university offers to disabled students are alternative media course materials; specialist technology and human support; and a wide range of facilities at tutorials and residential schools. About 1,500 disabled Open University students receive audio versions of printed course materials, for example.

Electronic images of the launch event are available from Neil Coaten, of the university’s media relations team, on 01908 652580 or by emailing


Ralph Keats

Head of the Centre for Assistive Technology and Enabling Research

the Open University

01908 659385

Neil Coaten

Open University Media Relations

01908 652580