The Open University of Israel Opens New Center to Increase Accessibility for People with Disabilities

December 4, 2012– Six hundred and fifty Open University of Israel (OUI) students with disabilities or special learning needs can now more effectively pursue their studies thanks to a new center recently inaugurated on the Ramat Aviv campus, which offers sophisticated assistive devices to help disabled students realize their academic potential.

Smart Pen
(Photo by Gideon Markowicz)

Smartboards, Smartpens which record lectures, programs which magnify and “read” texts, and portable audio systems are just some of the assistive devices that have been introduced during the past school year at the OUI, and which are making it possible for those with physical disabilities to successfully complete their academic degrees.

In April 2012, the OUI, together with Ben-Gurion University, joined the National Insurance Institute project “Revolution in Education.” The project is aimed at helping students with disabilities and learning differences, including 650 OUI students taking part in the program.

The First Tzmicha Center

On Dec. 3, 2012, which is International People with Disabilities Day, the OUI inaugurated the first TzmichaCenter, (Accessibility for Students with Special Learning Requirements) on the Ramat Aviv Campus. The Center, which is housed in an accessible classroom, provides assistive technologies for students with disabilities.

Closed-Circuit TV
(Photo by Reut Itai)

 “A student with special needs may have difficulty keeping up with the pace of a lecture, and, therefore, the classroom provides several technologies that can assist the student during class, without causing disruption to others, and without causing the student to be dependent on others as well,” explains Dr. Haim Saadoun, Dean of Students at the OUI.

“Smart” Pens, Board & TV 

Smart Board
(Photo by Gideon Markowicz)

One of the technologies offered is a “smart” pen which functions as a recording device. During class, the student uses the pen to outline the lecture in a special notebook. By pointing the pen at any word in the outline, he or she can hear the relevant portion of the lecture.

Another assistive technology – closed-circuit TV – allows those with impaired vision to magnify text to the required size. Through the use of Smartboards, everything that is written on this special whiteboard can be transferred directly to the student’s own computer.  Transmitting and receiving devices allow students with hearing disabilities to listen to a lecture with higher sound quality.

“We are striving to introduce as many students as possible to this classroom,” says Saadoun. “In March 2013, we plan on opening similar centers on campuses in Haifa, Beer Sheva, Givat Haviva, and Jerusalem. In addition, we are planning on opening a lending center which will allow students who study from home to receive this equipment as well.”

“Open Up Another World”

Nir Abush, 40, is a vision-impaired student working towards his B.A. in communications. “I have taken several classes in this classroom and it has simply opened up another world,” he explains. “Until now, I had to meet with the lecturers [after class] in order to fill in the material I did not manage to write down during class. In addition, other students would take notes for me during class, which, in a way, made me feel like a burden.  

“Now,” Nir says, “I can ‘hear’ the text instead of reading it, and I can also enlarge the text, as needed.  These assistive technologies allow me much more independence.”

Aryeh Brander, 42, became completely blind 17 years ago. These days, he attends classes at the OUI campus in Haifa together with his guide dog. “I am looking forward to the opening of an [accessibility] classroom in Haifa,” he says.

“Until now I have had to record lectures,” Aryeh explains. “[With the assistive technology] I will be able to sit in a class with my laptop and listen to the lecture in real-time. I am certain that it will ease my studies and will improve my ability to succeed.”