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Studying with Disabilities, Health Issues and Caring Responsibilities - The Open College of the Arts | Distance Learning Degrees and Courses

Studying with Disabilities, Health Issues and Caring Responsibilities

Disabilities, Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs) and long-term health conditions

Our flexible degree structure and dedicated disability support service provides peace of mind to many students who carry out their studies with a disability.

This could be Specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia, physical or mental health conditions. For degree students we allow up to 12 years to complete your degree; this is made up of nine years of study time, plus three years accessible as extensions or deferrals for when life gets in the way and you need additional time.

Studying a unit for personal development or an Open Foundation course, students have 12 months to complete their unit of study. This allows students to vary the pace of study when necessary, and assignment dates can often be adjusted if required.

Students with a disability can also access additional time per unit and stage of study applied as part of reasonable adjustments.

Student Accessibility Policy

The OCA curriculum is designed from the ground up to be accessible to all students. To do this our learning materials and virtual learning environment have options built in so that students can select the option that works for them. This includes using specialised software, such as speech-to-text, or electronic Braille for example. This is all set out in the Student Accessibility Policy, which also covers reasonable adjustments that we make to support students with disabilities and additional needs.

Student Accessibility Policy

Support for your studies

  • Around 20% of OCA students define themselves as having a disability or additional support need. We’re here to help.

    We encourage you to make us aware of anything that may impact on your studies when you enrol. This will help us to work with you to ensure you have the right support and equipment while you are studying with us, and to put any strategies in place, in good time.

    We do recommend you let us know as early as possible, but you can do so at any time during your course by contacting our Learner Support team.

    If you really don’t want to share this information with us, you can still apply for support via Disabled Students Allowances without disclosing the details with us.

  • Our Learner Support team works alongside you and your academic team to provide advice, guidance and information.

    If you think you may have a SpLD but do not have a formal diagnosis, please take a look at the Adult Checklist on the British Dyslexia Association website: https://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/screening

    This does not confirm a diagnosis itself but may give an indication as to whether you should consider looking into a formal diagnosis.

    A full diagnostic test is required for UK students to access support via the Disabled Students Allowance process. For OCA students who need help to pay for a diagnostic test, you may be able to apply for part-funding towards a diagnostic assessment via OCA’s Learner Support Scheme.

    If you already have a full (post-16) diagnostic assessment, we would encourage you to apply for additional support via the Disabled Students Allowance process. You will need to get reassessed if you had this done when you were under 16 years old.

  • Our courses are flexible, so in many cases students can be supported to complete their work in ways that fit them. Where adjustments are needed, our Learner Support team works with students and the academic team to find the best way forward, making reasonable adjustments where appropriate. The Learner Support team can advise you on what options are available to you that may help you get the most from your studies, for example support with completing a presentation rather than an essay, or having feedback in written format instead of audio-visual (Skype, Google Meet, etc.).

    Our courses and resources are all made available in electronic format for students using software to read their documents aloud; we can also print hard copy documents onto different coloured paper and in different print sizes where required.

    There is no mandatory attendance to ensure our courses can be undertaken by students who would be unable to attend, and deadlines can be agreed flexibly with your tutor.

    Some of our students also receive additional support via the Disabled Students Allowance process.

  • If you are a new student beginning a degree this year with us, you may be able to apply for a maintenance loan if you need to study part-time by distance learning because of a disability. Student Finance will ask you to send evidence that you are undertaking distance learning study for this reason, so you may find it helpful to have a conversation with them about this first – please see the website for contact details.

  • Please visit the Disability Support Form to tell us how you would like to be supported.

Disabled Students' Allowances

  • If you’re planning to enrol to one of our BA (Hons) Open degrees and you qualify for Student Finance support, you may be eligible for DSAs if you have a disability that affects your ability to study. This includes physical disabilities and long-term health conditions, specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD, and mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.

    Support awarded does not need to be repaid, and is based on your individual needs. It may be awarded to help with things like ergonomic equipment or assistive software needed to help with your studies. For example a student with dyslexia may be awarded dictation software to help with written work, or read-aloud software to help with reading and research. It can also be awarded for non-medical help where appropriate, such as a dyslexia study skills tutor, or a specialist mental health mentor.

    DSAs don’t cover disability-related costs you would have if you weren’t studying, such as day-to-day carers. It also won’t cover costs that any student might have, such as general printing or purchasing of arts materials. It will cover costs over and above what is expected if this arises due to your disability. If a new computer is required to run any software awarded as part of the disability support package, the student is expected to contribute the first £200 of this cost. Help with this cost may be available via OCA’s Learner Support Scheme.

    Many students don’t apply for DSA until they realise what support is available and this can have an effect on your studies, so we do recommend that you apply, ideally before starting your studies – if you’re eligible. Once your eligibility is confirmed you will meet with a Needs Assessor local to you, who is best placed to show you what support you may find useful.

    If you decide you do not wish to disclose your disability to us at OCA, you can still apply for DSA.

    You may find this video from Student Finance helpful in outlining what DSAs are:

  • Once your eligibility has been confirmed by Student Finance, you will meet with a specialist Needs Assessor at a centre nearby. You won’t be charged for this – the fee will be met by Student Finance.

    Don’t be alarmed at the term ‘assessment’ – it’s not a test. It’s an opportunity for a specialist to look at the requirements of the course and what areas of difficulty you may be expected to have as a result of your disability.

    They will then discuss with you what is recommended to help. You don’t have to agree with all of the recommendations.

    The assessor will then draft a report and you need to give them permission to share this with OCA ([email protected]). This will help us to see any recommendations they make to us, and will also highlight areas of difficulty identified so that we can see where you may need support.

    Take a look at this video from Student Finance England – What is a Study Needs Assessment?

  • You do need to meet a 25% rate of study (study intensity) to remain eligible for DSA support. (Completion of each level in 3 years/completion of the degree in 9 years) but there are variances so do ask your funding body.

    For example, students in receipt of a grant via Student Finance Wales or Student Finance NI may need to complete the degree within six years (50% intensity).

    Please go to the appropriate funding body below for information on how to apply.

    Student Finance England – you can also watch their video.

    Student Finance Wales

    Student Finance Northern Ireland

  • Study Needs Assessors may find the information on this page helpful when completing DSA Study Needs Assessments with current or applicant students of OCA (distance learning).

    As our students are based at a distance, OCA does not currently list any preferred suppliers, so please select accordingly from those in the your geographical area.
    If you require further information please contact the Learner Support Team by email: [email protected]

    Learning and Teaching

    OCA works to embed reasonable adjustments into the curriculum design and delivery as a whole, providing an inclusive learning environment that benefits all students.

    Our courses and resources are all made available in electronic format for students using software to read their documents aloud; we can also print hard copy documents onto different coloured paper and in different print sizes where required.

    Course Information

    You can view information for each of our degree programmes under the relevant degree page on our website.

    Assessment is via portfolio submission upon completion of each unit undertaken, and you will receive formative feedback during the study period itself. Some units of study include essays, and there are no examinations.

    There is no mandatory attendance as part of our distance learning programmes. Students are encouraged to attend exhibitions and galleries where possible, but it is possible to undertake the course without doing so.

    Learner Support

    Students have access to our Learner Support team and are welcome to contact the team both pre and post-entry to establish any learning needs that need to be addressed.

    The team will also make contact with students with declared disabilities or long-term health conditions to introduce the team, and signpost students to DSA where they have not already applied or ensure DSA support has been accessed where appropriate.


    Disabled or SpLD students do not have an automatic right to request extensions but may do so if there are genuine mitigating circumstances.

    The exceptions are:

    • Students who have fluctuating or episodic conditions that are unpredictable
    • Students who have been recently diagnosed and have not had sufficient time to access support sessions.

    Means-tested funding may be available through the OCA’s Learner Support Scheme to assist students who are unable to pay the £200 contribution towards recommended DSA computers. Students should contact the Learner Support team for advice: [email protected].


    Students are able to access Office 365 with their .ac.uk email account after enrolment. All students will also have access to G Suite by Google as part of their student email account. This includes Google Docs for word processing, and Google Slides for presentations amongst other features.

    Students also have unlimited cloud storage through their student Google Drive account for storage of study-related files.


    Students undertaking Undergraduate or Postgraduate degree study with OCA can access UCA’s online library. This includes all e-magazines, e-books and journals.

    At the earlier levels of study this may mean subscriptions you made before your studies to subject relevant e-magazines are available to you online. As you progress through your studies you will find the journals invaluable as you increase your contextual research and knowledge.

    Even though study with the OCA is at a distance, you are still well-supported with this. Our librarian can help with:-

    • finding and evaluating research sources
    • accessing online resources
    • using the Library catalogue
    • suggesting books/resources for the Library to buy
    • how to search the web effectively
    • how to reference and compile bibliographies.

    Unfortunately at this time OCA students are not eligible to make use of the SCONUL scheme.

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