No clapping, but wave your hands

No clapping, but wave your hands

How can the university become more accessible to students and employees with a disability?

28-03-2024 · Reportage

MAASTRICHT. No applause, but waving hands. That was the standard last Wednesday afternoon in the Faculty of Law’s Feestzaal. UnliMited Network, an association for students and employees with a disability, had organised a meeting with the aim of making the university more inclusive.

‘Jazz hands’, as the waving hands are called, are the primary gesture for applause in sign language. In this way, the organisation is trying to lead by example. In addition to involving the deaf and hearing-impaired, it is also much more pleasant for people who are easily over-stimulated. So, no loud clapping. In fact, the association is not just for students or employees in a wheelchair, but also for those with chronic illnesses or neurodivergence, such as ADHD or dyslexia.

This is not the first time that Maastricht University has focussed on this subject. In 2020, the rector at the time, Rianne Letschert, signed the UN treaty on a more inclusive education. It took a while for it to catch on with her successor. “Before I became involved in this, the subject was not always at the front of my mind,” said the current rector, Pamela Habibović, at the official opening of the afternoon. It has since then been added to her list of priorities, but for many it has not. According to her that will have to change. “I have already spoken to a lot of policy officials, but the answer I often received was: ‘Yes, but’. I am glad that today a number of them are here (HR, Student Services Centre, disability support, ed.), but it is a pity that especially the ones who said this, aren’t present.”  

Eline Pollaert, PhD candidate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, zeroes in on this with the keynote lecture. A shift in perspective would be needed. Not ‘how should the individual adapt’, but ‘how should the institute adapt’. After this, there is a panel discussion with a representative from all parties involved. Or, discussion? Pollaert asks the panel members the same question one by one, which they then answer diligently. It is not really a dialogue. A frustrated student in the audience rocks the boat a little: “Why do I have to ‘come out’ about my disability with each new tutor? My friends at other universities don’t have to do this. What is the logic behind it?” There doesn’t appear to be one. He has to make do with an insignificant answer from the director of SSC, Margriet Schreuders: “There is no logic behind it, so I hope we can find a solution for this. Or at least find the logic behind it.” The student would also like to see something done about Canvas. Not everyone needs to know that I have been given an extension on a deadline. But someone else says that it would be nice if lecturers on that same platform can see what facilities a student is entitled to. “This already exists in Utrecht,” a student panel member reports. It is a win-win situation: the student doesn’t need to keep explaining and the lecturer is aware of matters. After the wish list has been completed by other panel members, Schreuders offers her services. “I’ll be Santa.”

Photo: Pixabay

Tags: unlimited,students,staff,policy,inclusivity,disability,neurodivergence,instagram

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