“A meeting with honest discussions, inspiring stories and important insights,” is how co-organiser Marieke de Bakker summarises the networking afternoon ‘Unhindered studying’. On 15 March, Utrecht University (Diversity Task Force), the student platform Unhindered Studying, the HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht and the Stedelijk Overleg Lichamelijk Gehandicapten Utrecht (SOLGU, Urban Consultation Physically Handicapped Utrecht) organised this afternoon for students with disabilities at UU and HU. Students and employees were involved in various lectures, three workshops and the official launch of the student platform Unhindered Studying.
Improving inclusion within UU
In the strategic plan of UU, diversity is an important cornerstone. The improvement of the diversity is supported by the Diversity Task Force. Annetje Ottow, vice-president of the UU Executive Board and the president of this commission, states: “UU wants to do more for students with disabilities.” By starting an open dialogue, the university wants to improve facilities and support, within the realm of possibilities. During the meeting, Ottow made a vlog on studying with a disability.
“Strive for the best you can achieve”
UU Alumnus Moniek Schoenmaker frankly tells about the struggle with her disability during her Master’s programme: “I felt lost, because I didn't have the idea that there was someone I could go to. But fortunately, I have since discovered by myself what my limits and capacities are. I'd like that for others too: find out what you can do and strive for the best. Not in spite of, but thanks to your disability.” Schoenmaker found good support from her Study Advisor, but did have to cross a personal threshold in order to ask for help. Based on this, she states that education institutions should create an environment in which it is ‘okay’ if someone cannot carry a 100 % study workload, but just utilises their full capacity.
Awareness is lacking
The next speaker is UU student Soete Meertens, a member of student platform Unhindered Studying. This platform was founded recently for and by UU students with disabilities, with the goal of improving the provision of information and support for students with disabilities. Meertens has less strength in her muscles due to her disability, which makes her wheelchair-bound to a degree. “My wheelchair is a part of my life, but I am also a person with many qualities. People don't always see that and sometimes draw the wrong conclusions. This is why I think that more awareness is needed on what it means to have a disability. Unhindered Studying contributes to interaction about this.”
Research results: How accessible are UU and HU?
Mathieu Soesbergen (student HU), Richard Horenberg (coordinator Unhindered Studying) and Marieke ter Hoeven (student UU) presented the results of their research into possibilities for improvement of the accessibility of HU and UU for students with disabilities. The research shows that the provision of information is lacking in some fields. On top of that, the signed contracts regarding personal study provisions should be leading and binding. The researchers also point out the importance of an active attitude coming from an education institution. Those who were questioned during the research also indicated that they need a clear contact point for questions and contact with fellow disabled people. The platform Unhindered Studying wants to play a part in the improvement of these points.
After the presentations, there were three separate workshops. Rutger-Jan Scholtens (a career advisor and trainer at UU career services) gave a workshop on how to present yourself on the job market. Policy Advisor Roos Hoelen of SOLGU focused on themes within student life during her workshop, such as housing, going out and jobs. The central question within the workshop of the student platform was: “How to progress through your degree programme without any problems and what do you need for that?” The interesting workshops provided a valuable input by those present.
Marieke de Bakker, the Head of Student Counselling at UU, ended the networking meeting with an expression of gratitude for all those involved. HU also wants to further improve the information provision for students with disabilities. During the closing ceremony, various speakers agreed that sharing insights is worth the investment. Meertens powerfully states: “By exchanging stories with each other, we create bridges for more, bigger and better projects within UU.”
Written by inclusion correspondents Rinske van Herwaarden and Myra-Lot Perrenet