‘The university is a very welcoming environment to enter in a wheelchair'

Accessibility has a prominent place on the agenda, also at RE&C and the FSC. From 2019 to 2021, Studying Without Limitations carried out wheelchair user tests at over 65 buildings. What were the bottlenecks and how do we tackle them? We talk to Studying Without Limitations founder Richard Horenberg, buddy coordinator Renate Bosman and platform member Denise Langreder.

How did you get in touch with Real Estate & Campus?

Richard: In 2017, I founded the platform and asked students to collaborate on it. We started with a team of six members and have now expanded to twelve. As a platform, we are getting better and better so we were already in contact with V&C, including for coordination on practical experience and possible solutions.

The plan to do a user experience test was already there in 2017. In 2019, together with Jan-Willem Moerkerk and Christel Kleijnen, we developed the idea into a UU-wide project plan. During one of our two monthly platform meetings, where we cluster tasks, we looked at who was suitable for the test. You don't just walk around the building, you also get to work drawing up a project plan together with V&C and making a checklist. We also asked the question: who would like to help out and has experience with the subject? In the end, a group of five students carried out the test. And not just old-fashioned love work, by the way; the students were paid for preparing and elaborating the user experience tests.

How did you carry out the user test?

Renate: "We tested buildings that are accessible to staff, students and visitors, so both offices and teaching rooms, but no technical rooms for example. We worked in pairs and used a colour system (green = accessible with a few obstacles, orange = accessible with help from others, red = poorly accessible). One person carried out the test in the wheelchair and the other took notes. We often started at the disabled parking space to see if it was easy to get to the building. We checked if it corresponded with the information on the building page. Then we went through the whole building with our checklist, from toilets to lifts: no space was left out."

What positive points did you notice during the test?

Renate: "What struck us most was that many people are happy to help. The university is a very welcoming environment to enter in a wheelchair. It was less convenient during the tests. The idea was precisely to see whether buildings can be visited independently, given the fact that help is not always available."

What were the most striking obstacles that you encountered?

Denise: "In many buildings, we saw toilet paper that you could grab one sheet at a time. That's difficult if, for example, you have a neurological condition and cannot use your hands properly. In many places, these devices have been replaced by toilet rolls. Another thing that struck me was the number of thresholds in the buildings. In terms of dimensions, many thresholds met the requirements, but we noticed that the type of floor had an influence on accessibility, which is why we recorded it as non-accessible.

To what extent are these kinds of obstacles taken into account at the start of a new building project?

Richard: "Fortunately, when new buildings and facilities are developed, the importance of accessibility is taken into account. A standard has been developed by Christel Kleijnen that takes all these aspects into account. So it's definitely on the agenda at V&C. All the obstacles that we have submitted will be included in an implementation plan. V&C is now hard at work on that.

But sometimes it's difficult because the architect has a different idea. In the Koningsberger building, for example, there is only one handrail for the stairs. The architect thought it would be nicer, but it's not accessible. When designing a building, the accessibility of a building must therefore be considered carefully. Legislation also provides insufficient clarity. An example: In the development of P-Olympos, they are now installing a passenger lift. Initially, this was not included in the design, but thanks to our advice, it was."