Ieva Vengrovskaja. Does VMU justify the name of a university friendly to students with disabilities?
IEVA VENGROVSKAJA, COORDINATOR OF THE SOCIAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE OF VMU STUDENT REPRESENTATIVES
For more than a year, we have been discussing a lot with both the administration and university students as to whether Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) justifies the name of a student-friendly higher education institution. Everyone agrees that there is room to work on to achieve the strategic goals of increasing accessibility, ensuring equal opportunities for all members of the community to participate in the academic and community life of the university. It is gratifying that the discussions on the changes have already yielded results: a competition for the position of VMU Disability Coordinator has been announced.
In the above-mentioned meetings, we raise the question: are studies at Vytautas Magnus University accessible and meet the expectations of students with disabilities? Seeing what you compare. Compared to VMU seven years ago, the situation is better, compared to Vilnius University (VU), the situation looks worse. Yes, we consider ourselves a student-friendly higher education institution, but so far we are limited to the infrastructure, which, knowing the situation in the Vytautas Magnus University Great Hall or the Academy Campus, is not fully adapted to everyone. Meanwhile, the already mentioned VU employs a person responsible for the affairs of students with disabilities, who ensures the implementation of the needs of individual students.
As one member of the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, prof. Jonas Ruškus, adaptability is an intangible concept and it is important to understand that there are not only physical but also psychological disabilities. Therefore, we need to think not only about infrastructure, but also about shaping disability policy in general. There is a need for education of the whole academic community, increasing the availability of psychological help, better communication, increasing community spirit and involvement. Let us also not forget everyday things, such as the labeling of events adapted for students with disabilities or simpler application systems for financial support.
To solve all these problems and implement the goals, after long discussions with the university administration, it was decided to follow the example of VU and establish the position of disability coordinator. This person will be responsible for organizing the study-related processes that result from the disability. This applies not only to the implementation of the disability coordination and integration program (counseling, mediation, assistance in solving the problems of the disabled, initiation and implementation of disability education activities), but also to the development, planning, implementation, monitoring and publicity of university disability policy.
Generally speaking, it will be someone who will help students with disabilities from the very beginning of their studies to their completion and establishment for a career. I’m not just talking about helping you fill out requests for benefits or the like. It is important for students to have someone who can be consulted on a variety of issues. I know that there is often a problem when a student does not tell the teacher about their individual needs, which affects the quality of studies. In such situations, the coordinator will be like a mediator and facilitator.
Of course, the coordinator will not solve all the problems, because they are relevant not only at the university level, but also at the national level: from preparing students for the future at school, to the distribution of study baskets, to employment opportunities. However, I sincerely believe that our academic community can consciously initiate change in society and we will be able to keep our Alma Mater an attractive and accessible higher education place for every student and employee.