'Help, I can't enter the building!'

Working on an accessible UU

Govert-Jan Slob (links) en Marieke de Bakker (rechts)
Govert-Jan Slob (left) and Marieke de Bakker (right)

Imagine you want to enter a building, but you cannot reach the doorbell. What do you do then? “Everyone should be able to find their way within the university,” says web editor Govert-Jan Slob. “That's why I map the accessibility of our buildings and clarify them on the UU websites. We arrange the accessibility information of the student and corporate sites in such a way that people with certain disabilities know whether or not and how they can visit our buildings.” As an experience expert with a disability, Govert-Jan is perfect for this project. He works with Marieke de Bakker, the head of the Students Department of Academic Affairs: “Govert-Jan does fantastic work. Without the right information, you can't study properly.”

An inclusive university?

“Students in wheelchairs had remarks like ‘I can't enter the building, how was I supposed to know that?’”, Marieke explains. “We want to be an inclusive university, so we have to make sure that our university is accessible.” Govert-Jan continues: “With this project, students, employees and guests can prepare their visits better. For approximately 85 UU buildings, I mapped the accessibility by means of various categories and redesigned their web pages. This goes beyond basic information; for instance, you can find whether or not there's an elevator and where you can get assistance. I also added visual footage, so you can judge for yourself what a building has to offer.”

Marieke says: “The greatest thing would be that this accessibility information will one day no longer be needed, and we are currently working very hard on that within the university. With projects such as this one, we gain insight into where we have possibilities for improvement.” Govert-Jan adds to this: “For an inclusive organisation, we must treat everyone as full humans and as equals, which makes accessibility essential. Besides being important, this project is also diverse, which makes it incredibly fun to do.”

Perfect for the job

Govert-Jan has experience in studying with disabilities and joined the staff by means of the Dutch Participation Act. “Due to an accident back when I was seventeen, I have a chronic headache that reduces my capacity. This job suits me well, for instance because I can work for only a limited number of hours per day and because I have a quiet station. Some employers will say ‘You have a disability, so it's not going to work.’ But flexibility is often the only thing people with disabilities need. That's why I challenge employers to question their current ideas and simply have conversations. You don't just give others a chance with this, you also learn from it.”

Marieke agrees with him in that regard. “Everyone works differently, disability or not. As a supervisor, it's about asking the question ‘What do you need in order to do your work properly?’ That means this is thinking in terms of possibilities, instead of limitations.” She calls Govert-Jan the perfect match for the team. “His experience expertise as well as his relevant work and study backgrounds make him a significant asset. Besides that, he's also a pleasant team member; he communicates his boundaries well and he is a sociable and social colleague.”

Accessible future

“I have the idea that the theme of accessibility is taken seriously within UU, for instance because old-fashioned downtown buildings are being overhauled,” Govert-Jan states. “A sofa bed has also been installed in the lactation and recuperation room of the Administration Building, which is used by people with and without ‘disabilities’.”

Marieke continues on this: “Many things are indeed happening right now, and at the same time, we can put more momentum into picking up on and solving smaller limitations for users. For instance, their wishes don't always reach the right place. Besides, wheelchair users do understand that you can't change the entire infrastructure overnight. But the fact that it takes weeks to move an access lock near the elevator a bit further down is more difficult to understand. Let's do our best together to make studying and working at our university accessible and pleasant for everyone.”

By inclusion correspondent Rinske van Herwaarden