More information on disability support will boost study abroad

A lack of advice on access and support is a key reason why disabled students are less likely to leave their home country, campaigners say

September 17, 2016
Wheelchair at stairs
Source: iStock

Students with disabilities are being put off studying abroad by a lack of information about what support they may receive at a host university, disability campaigners have claimed.

Although financial assistance provided by the European Union-backed Erasmus+ scheme has made it easier for disabled students to complete an international study placement, the poor quality of information on university websites about how they support those with disabilities deters many from contemplating a semester abroad, said Eva Garea Oya, a senior technician at the international office of the University of Vigo in northern Spain.

“These students have the ability to go abroad on a mobility placement, but we find they are sometimes afraid to do so,” Ms Garea Oya told an audience at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference, held in Liverpool on 13-16 September.

“As an international office we do not have the information to advise them [whether it is possible to study at a particular institution],” she added on 15 September.

All universities should explain on their website in English how their campus has been adapted to help students with disabilities, what grants and special support were available to students and how disability offices had helped previous students, Ms Garea Oya said.

Without this information in an easy-to-find location, students with disabilities are unlikely to consider studying at that university, she explained.

Agnes Sarolta Fazekas, a PhD student at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, who advises Erasmus+ on disability issues, said the information required by disabled students wanting to go abroad is often tucked away in obscure locations on a university’s website.

“My university is good at providing information [for disabled students] now, but once it only existed in Hungarian in a hidden part of its labyrinthine website,” Ms Sarolta Fazekas told Times Higher Education.

The lack of available information was the “most significant barrier” for disabled students going abroad, according to interviews with students, she added.

“When students with disabilities go abroad, they can feel lost in the administrative system and do not know who to contact, causing great stress…so having good information about where to find services is vital,” Ms Sarolta Fazekas said.

Pawel Wdowik, from the University of Warsaw’s Office for Persons with Disabilities, said he had also been shocked by the lack of services available to Polish students studying in certain countries.

“One student thought that if Warsaw had these services, then a university in Brussels must have 10 times as many services,” said Mr Wdowik, who is blind.

“She found she could not get any help when she arrived [in Brussels], so we had to send an assistant from Poland with the right equipment to help her,” he added.

Another Warsaw student had been denied the chance to study at a German university because he had epilepsy, said Mr Wdowik.

“They said he required special medical assistance they could not offer, but if a student decides to go and is aware of the risk, they should be free to go,” Mr Wdowik said.

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