19 March 2019

Interview with Richard Horenberg, winner of the Diversity & Inclusion Award 2019

“Some students want help in planning their studies, others want to talk while having a cup of coffee.”
Richard Horenberg, coordinator of the Supported Study Platform.

Student of Medicine Richard Horenberg has won the Diversity & Inclusion Award 2019 as the coordinator of the Supported Study Platform. Richard says: “My colleagues on the Supported Study Platform had nominated me for the award.” The members of the Platform will use the prize money of € 2.500,- for the buddy programme. Besides that, they also want to provide workshops for students with disabilities who are in the final phase of their education programmes this year.


Has the Supported Study Platform received many reactions for winning the award?
“Definitely; the President of the Board of Directors of the UMCU wants to meet with us. She would love to see what can be done within the UMCU for students with disabilities. Until now, I had stayed a bit under the radar at the Faculty of Medicine. This is because the Supported Study Platform operates on a university-wide level from the Administration Building. We have also been asked to teach to a student work group of the research Master's programme Educational Sciences: Learning in interaction, in order to give them more insight into what it's like to study with a disability.”

Do you already know what you are going to spend the prize money on?
“Yes, on the buddy programme that we launched in September 2018. This programme is slowly starting up now. We especially want to invest in PR, the fees for buddy students and courses for buddies. We currently have six buddies. They support students who have physical or mental disabilities. Students don't have to tell us what kind of disability they have. All we want to know is what kind of support they need. Some students want help in planning their studies, others just want to talk while having a cup of coffee. Furthermore, we also want to use the prize money for our presentations on open days of the Bachelor's and Master’s programmes at Utrecht University. For this year, we  want to focus more on students who are in the final phase of their education.”

In 2017, you investigated student satisfaction among disabled students about the available facilities and support within UU. This led to the founding of the Supported Study Platform. Could you tell us a bit more about this process?
“I started from the Descartes honours programme. One of these courses required a research proposal, and ours was about the wheelchair accessibility of the university. During the final interview with Frits van Oostrom, the research proposal turned out to be feasible and okay for submission. We then contacted Marieke de Bakker. Back then she was head of Student Affairs.  Marieke had the numbers from the National Student Enquiry, which were disappointing when it came to studying with disabilities at the time. At her request, I carried out a broad-ranged survey with a fellow student into the experiences of students with a disability. During the survey, students with disabilities told me that they'd love to have a place where they can share experiences and also let their voices be heard.

After the survey, I founded Supported Study Platform together with a number of other students. We could do this in part thanks to a contribution from the Stimulation Fund of the Diversity Task Force. There is now also a commission that looks into how we and Corporate Real Estate & Campus can improve the physical accessibility of the university buildings.”

What is UU currently already doing right for students with disabilities and what exactly can be improved?
“The information presentation for students with disabilities has improved, thanks to Platform Unhindered Studying. I currently still see insufficient knowledge of disabilities among lecturers. Lecturers don't have to be experts on disabilities, but if a student is assigned facilities, lecturers do have to respect that. It would be good to train lecturers in the topic of studying with disabilities and on how to handle that, especially in logistics.

Besides that, the recording of lectures can help many students with disabilities. That would enable them to keep up with the curriculum if matters such as fatigue prevent them from physically attending a lecture. After all, exams are focused on your final competences. Whether you achieve those by listening in the lecture room or from behind your desk shouldn't matter. At Medicine, it is standard to record the Bachelor's lectures. I also used them myself to study for an exam. That really helped.”

Do you have a vision for the future of the platform?
“The Supported Study Platform is currently primarily carried out by students, who sometimes have difficulty studying themselves. In order to secure the continuity of the Supported Study Platform, we are currently looking into whether or not the platform can be sustainably housed within the organisation. Substantively, we want to use the remaining part of the academic year to focus on students who are in the final phases of their education and on young alumni.

Inclusion correspondent Myra-Lot Perrenet