ACCESS4ALL: How to Increase Accessibility and Equality in Higher Education – A Student Perspective

We interviewed a bachelor level student at the IT faculty about how well accessibility and equality are taken into account in the University of Jyväskylä. According to the student, the biggest problems to accessibility are caused by the old university buildings that are physically challenging to reach. However, many other dimensions of accessibility and equality have been taken into account. For example, the lecture recordings in the IT faculty are almost always available online. Accessibility could be improved in the University of Jyväskylä by better acknowledging the needs of different user groups when designing electronic environments for student use.

According to the student, the biggest problems with accessibility in the University of Jyväskylä relate to different spaces that cannot be updated due to their historical background. Partly because of this, it is physically hard to get into e.g. the recently renovated C building. In addition, some of the seats in old spaces are uncomfortable, which makes them problematic to students who experience chronic pain. The student finds the spaces in the newer buildings functional, but stresses the importance of paying more attention to ergonomics in the older buildings.

The information system used for studying related functions (e.g. course enlistment, calendar, course information) causes some problems to English speaking students when they attempt to use it to find courses. Once they manage to execute a successful search and confirm course suitability, the next step is to view each course independently to find out the teaching and completion languages. If they fail to find a course for one reason or another, it is also problematic to find a corresponding course. The browsing of courses could be facilitated by adding language option next to the search results, and by increasing English information dissemination about course changes and corresponding courses.  

When we asked the student about the visibility of practices related to accessibility and equality, the student stated that s/he has not come across these practices in studying related contexts per se. For example, the practices related to accessibility are not actively brought into the attention of students, even though there might be a need for this. The student points out that despite of this, accessibility and equality occur in the University of Jyväskylä all in all quite well and the majority of teaching staff is open to the topic. However, introducing the university’s inclusion practices to students more actively during their studies could improve the student’s awareness of accessibility and equality in higher education. The student also points out that teachers and counselors can have an effect on how accessibility and equality are viewed amongst students. Thus, it is important that the staff is aware of the practices that relate to these. The Access4All project attempts to meet this need e.g. by providing the Bank of Good Practices that presents inclusion practices useful to higher education institutions.

The student finds the counseling at the IT faculty good and mentions that the flexibility of studies has been ensured in the courses of various subjects by offering multiple examination dates and reasonable course demands. For example, it might not be mandatory to get a good grade from course assignments every week to receive a good grade from the course altogether. Different learning styles are also accounted for, since the course materials (e.g. lecture recordings and slides) are comprehensively available online. There are also spaces across the university that support different kind of studying styles (e.g. conversation/guidance vs. quiet) and the Goodies assist students with studying arrangements whenever necessary. However, the student mentions that courses focusing on text producing ability could be added to the course supply, since text modifying courses might not be useful if a student has difficulties with producing text. It would be important to provide support especially to students who are in the bachelor stage of their studies, since producing text might get noticeably easier when routines for scientific writing emerge. All in all, getting help when needed is crucial to the completion of studies.

Access4All project website: http://www.access4allproject.eu/

 Twitter: @access4all_com