Improve the experience of disabled students at the University of Twente

Improve the experience of disabled students at the University of Twente

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Anouk Noordeloos started this petition to University of Twente

Dear members of the executive board of the University of Twente,

First I would like to tell you something about me to help you understand my perspective. I am disabled, I have quite a few chronic illnesses that limit my everyday life and studies here at the university. I have been studying here for a little over 5 years and in those years I have completed my bachelor’s degree. Also in those 5 years I have become more disabled then I was before and started to notice more and more issues with accessibility. Whereas before I could manage with the adjustments that could be made, I’ve run into more and more issues. 

In this letter I want to ask you to look into these problems. Everyone has a right to education in the most complete way possible, their environment has to be optimized for learning and this has been done for non-disabled students but is severely lacking for disabled students. I’ve been working with people at different levels at the university to try and get these problems solved but have ended up with very little result so far. So by going to you I hope some substantial changes can be made to the current environment at the university surrounding disabled students. 

The problems that I, and other students, have encountered include:

Accessibility of entering a building: certain buildings have a lot of issues when entering it, take for example the design lab, it is only accessible via a staircase, you can access the design lab via the gallery but that is a huge way around that means you are split from your project group when going to the design lab. I have to go by myself to the gallery, take the elevator and get back to the other side of the building to the design lab. Especially with someone with already physical issues, this is not a good situation, accessibility wise.

Accessibility inside the buildings: The accessibility to facilities inside a building is often very poor. Take the example of the Horst tower, there are only “normal toilets” available (no disabled toilets in the entire tower). I am an ambulatory wheelchair user so I can stand up for a short time, but the door-frames are too narrow so I can’t even get inside the toilet rooms with my wheelchair. Thereby every time I have a lecture in the Horst tower I have to take the elevator down, go to one of the outside corners of the Horst wings, on a specific floor to find a accessible toilet. Thereby taking the entire break, if not much longer, because everyone uses the elevators in the break and you often have to wait for a very long time. And there are many more examples like this also in other buildings on campus.  

Accessibility to education materials/lectures: The physical lectures last year were organized in the manner, if you don’t come to the lecture, you miss out on education. For people with disabilities and fluctuating conditions it can be very hard to attend all lectures. Now in the time of corona, many lectures (although not all) are offered online, but many teachers complain that this is not done in a good way, they don’t feel supported with the materials/software needed to do this in a good way. So these things can be improved. Students now have to record the lecture themselves and share this with fellow students. But at least there is the option of recording a lecture and following it online. This is already a great improvement compared to the physical lectures in the past. So I propose that we learn from this and that instead of going back, going forward. Yes, introduce the physical lectures again for the students who feel like this adds something to the experience for them, but also keep offering a virtual version of it online. Record the lecture and make it available for everyone. This is not only a good way for every disabled person to get access to all education, but also for a non-disabled student that is ill, or has to work during the day, or that couldn’t keep their focus during the lecture. They can watch back the lecture later. Everyone deserves to get access to education and with missing lectures, it can get you behind very quickly, because trying to find the same information by yourself is very difficult, which is exactly why the lecturers are there to tell you everything about a particular subject in a structured manner. 

Safety: Safety is a very crucial aspect of anyone’s life, so when this aspect is not fulfilled this is of course a very serious issue. This is happening right now, during exams of certain subjects where the only option is to do the exam in-person in an exam room with a 100 people. There is no option for an online exam. Here the assumption is made that people that show symptoms of a cold will stay home, but it is very naïve to think that this is how that works. When you have been studying for weeks for an exam and the morning of you get a stuffy nose, not many people will choose to do the re-sit, which is months later and in the case of my study in the week of the exams for the next module. So not only are there going to be students there who could have the novel corona virus, it is also completely inconsiderate to the chronically ill students in the high risk group for corona. I myself are part of this group and I have to stay home, order groceries online (or have one of my friends get them for me), should not go shopping or to restaurants etc., and only go out to see my doctors. And then I would have no other choice but to take the exam in a room full of (possibly sick) students? That doesn’t sound like an option. Therefore I had to drop the courses  I wanted to do, and only take the one offered online, with no physical exam (only an assignment and online presentation). In this way not corona, but the universities practices are what is limiting me in my educational progress of my master’s degree. 

Terminology: There is a lot of ableism present in the language and terminology used in information that I have received from the university. Please look into bettering your understanding of ableism and different types of language surrounding disability. An example is special needs. Please don’t use this term, it implies that disabled people need things that are special and extraordinary. Whereas we have very normal needs: access to information, access to a building, access to facilities etc. The accommodations might me different but the needs themselves are not special. Just say disabled, it’s not a bad word. 

Attitude: Lastly I would like to discuss the attitude of people at the university. There is a lot of awareness still to be done. Often I feel the burden of educating people about disabled people and ableism is on me and I feel like a wider project to create awareness would benefit the university greatly. Some examples of awareness could be surrounding asking invasive questions to disabled people, not all disabled people are visibly disabled, body autonomy as a disabled person and many more. Creating awareness can help change the narrative around disabled people, create a better understand for non-disabled people and create aware adults that go out to the world and can make a change. 

To finish off this story, I would like to ask you, to not only look into solving these problems, but also including disabled people into the solutions to these problems. Also include disabled input into the design of new buildings, new courses or a new website etc. It’s also important to understand that disabled people often struggle with energy levels and finances, so don’t expect disabled people to share all their crucial knowledge, energy and time without some kind of compensation. 

We can work together to improve this university so every student can reach their full potential and feel welcome here, because diversity is beautiful.  

Kind regards,

Anouk Noordeloos (Student IDE)

This letter has the support of several other students, their signatures have been omitted for this online publication.

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