If Kyra Mulders (23) wants to know something about her Health Sciences study programme, she asks her questions at that faculty. And questions about her second study in Philosophy have to be asked at another faculty, across campus, at yet another department. And if she has questions about events held by student associations or study associations, she has to go to those organisations. And who is there to help her if the lift isn’t working? When Kyra encounters a problem, she has to actively pursue the solution herself. Before she can even raise the matter, she has to work out which department she needs to contact. “There is no coordinated approach at the university. There needs to be someone higher up who keeps track of these kinds of things”, says the Philosophy and Health Sciences student. “Maybe then the university could become a better place for students with an impairment.”
Student Kyra: ‘The campus is a veritable hell for people in wheelchairs’
Kyra usually gets around in a wheelchair. But campus Woudestein is so inaccessible that…
Kyra believes a more accessible campus is a realistic goal. She provides input for solutions, but sometimes she simply wants to be able to take part in a study association outing. “Those outings were upstairs at Mooie Boules, or on the beach. But unfortunately both locations were inaccessible for me. It would be nice if they put in a bit more effort to take that into account.” When Kyra raises a matter and steps are taken to remedy the situation, it often involves implementing a makeshift solution. A good example is the Bayle Building where Kyra is doing her internship. The pavement was rebuilt, but now the access ramp is ‘dangerously steep’. “That’s why I think there should be a dedicated person who coordinates the projects meant to improve accessibility. Then they’ll hopefully get it right the first time around. Right now, without a coordinated approach to accessibility, the university can’t deal with the issue effectively.”
We’re getting coffee on the 7th floor of the Bayle Building because Kyra says the coffee is better there. As we return to the similarly purple-coloured 6th floor, it is noticeable that all the connecting doors in the hallway are open. “That’s for me”, explains Kyra. “I’m not able to open them because they’re too heavy. People on the campus are becoming more aware of these kinds of problems. Four years ago, accessibility was really no more than an afterthought, even among students. I no longer get strange looks if I ask for help. And students don’t swear at me anymore when I ask them not to obstruct the access ramp with their bicycles.”
But Kyra’s too modest to say with any certainty that she may have contributed to raising awareness in the situations she described. In December 2021 she related how ‘the campus was a veritable hell for someone in a wheelchair’. But she had the courage to speak out about the issue. And her courage was rewarded with a nomination making her a candidate in the Student of the Year election.
Pink, vintage blue and green – Kyra gets to go all out in her own home
What is studying with a functional impairment like? Often there are additional…
“There are a lot of things that need to be improved”, says Kyra. There was one afternoon during her internship when she came across something that infuriated her. She was doing research on the higher education experience of students with a physical impairment. “That’s when I discovered that all the individual arrangements that students with a physical impairment are entitled to expire once we turn 30. Everything, from transportation to the campus and access to special software to sign language interpreters during lectures. These things are arranged through the UWV Employee Insurance Agency, so that means the rule applies at the national level. If you can’t pursue a master degree after a certain age, you can’t really say we have equal opportunities, can you?”
A very important topic
Kyra has plenty of tips for university. She comes back to the subject of the fragmented university, cause it’s a very important topic for her and other students with a functional impairment. She says that the university can already do two things in very practical ways. The first one: make sure master students also get information about facilities and arrangements, timetables, and the Studying with a Functional Impairment Team. “This is all explained when you start your bachelor, but that’s often not the case for master students. That was one of the findings of the research I did during my internship. The lack of information is very confusing if you’re coming from another university or even if you’re just switching faculties.”
Number two: ensure that all arrangements and facilities are extended when a student starts a second study. “When I started my Philosophy programme, I had to reapply for everything. This was three years after my initial study and I couldn’t remember which arrangements I had back then.”
Letthe: ‘I don’t understand why people with a functional impairment have to work so much harder’
Letthe Riemen does not need to think twice. How can the university become a better place…
The five students EM is following this year have all kinds of ideas for better education for students with disabilities. They will tell about it this month. In mid-July, rector magnificus Annelien Bredenoord will respond to the experiences and suggestions they shared last year.