The lack of accessibility at the University of Groningen is still an obstacle for people with physical disabilities. Student Karien Van Wieren, who has a disability and uses a wheelchair to get around, believes the University is doing the best they can in implementing accessibility, although improvement is still needed.
Karien is almost finishing her Master’s in Clinical Psychology at the University of Groningen (RUG). Before starting her studies, she was already familiar with the University’s buildings and knew what to expect in terms of accessibility. She states that it costs her a lot of energy when a building is not accessible: “you have to find another way, or find someone to help you, and it can get a bit scary sometimes. If I have to go to a building that I do not know, then I don’t know how I can get in, if I can get in, or if there is an accessible toilet nearby. It gets on my nerves because I don’t really know what to expect.’’
The student reinforces that just accessibility is not enough, it is important to also consider the social context. Sometimes the spots for a wheelchair in a lecture hall are in the front row, which is not very comfortable for the neck when watching a lecture. Karien states that most students, especially in the first weeks, do not want to sit in the first row which isolates the student from the class and the initial socialization with others.
The RUG has The Advisory Committee for Students with a Performance Disability (ACF). The group is responsible for advising and informing the board of the university on adaptations needed to make education just as accessible for students and staff with different performance disabilities. In 2018 they released a policy plan, listing over forty points of improvement for the University.
Aletta Westra, ACF’s project manager affirms it is important that any student should be able to start and finish university without meeting barriers. However, she states that when students enroll on Studielink, it is not allowed for the university to ask if they have a disability. Westra estimates that around 15% of students at the RUG have a physical disability.
The University has focused mainly on providing information, according to Westra. ‘’If you look at the website of the student service center there you will find all kinds of functional impairment and also information per disability and what you should do”. Among other implemented measures, Westra explains there is also an email address where students can ask questions, make requests and ask for support regarding their functional impairment.
The project manager says the committee is doing everything within their reach to make the university as accessible as possible for everyone. There are projects such as workshops for teachers to learn how to make their study material accessible and how they can help students with functional impairment. However, these projects still need to be implemented. As one solution does not fit all, progress is still slow.