ACCESS4ALL: Accessibility Coordinator's Thoughts about Inclusion and Equality at the University of Jyväskylä

Hannu Puupponen works as an accessibility coordinator at the University of Jyväskylä and he has worked with topics relating to accessibility for twenty years. Hannu has also been an accessibility expert for the Access4All project. According to him, accessibility understood as barrier-free has become a well-known topic amongst people, which makes it easier to discuss. However, there is still a need to reach a mutual understanding about the meaning of accessibility, so that different groups could discuss the topic better

In 2014, a decision was made about accessible education at the University of Jyväskylä (Accessible education at the University of Jyväskylä, Rector’s decision 24.6.2014). According to Puupponen, the actions related to accessibility decision are followed yearly by reporting and by creating an action plan. The execution of the action plan is also monitored. According to the decision, the responsibilities of the university include e.g. being able to offer every student the possibility to use the university’s physical and ICT environments. In addition, the university needs to make sure that enough information is provided to staff and students to ensure accessibility. Faculties and departments are responsible for the equality of entrance examinations, accessibility of communication and learning materials and creating individual arrangements to students in collaboration with university services. Puupponen points out that individual arrangements have received mainly positive feedback, which is great for a practice that is still quite new.

In the accessibility decision, roles have been defined for applicants and students as well. The applicant’s responsibilities include to inform the university about possible barriers and apply for individual arrangements for entrance examination if necessary. Similarly, every student is responsible for informing the university about possible barriers and applying for individual arrangements. This ensures that the exams and education correspond to the student’s needs. According to Hannu Puupponen, individual arrangements are especially important in the light of student rights, since individual arrangements are parallel to the reasonable adjustments presented in the national equality law. The neglect of the reasonable adjustments, in turn, is viewed as discrimination. However, Puupponen points out that too much weight is often given to individual arrangements since the physical, social and ICT environments should primarily be designed to fit everyone’s needs. Therefore, individual arrangements in their current form are merely repairing actions, since they are used to supplement solutions that are not inclusive to start with.

With the help of new operations models (e.g. Accessible studying and Goodie), the University of Jyväskylä is moderately able to meet the individual needs of students. Puupponen states that there is still a lot of work to be done with electronic environments and content, since these are not completely accessible to people who use information differently or with different aids (e.g. screen readers). The accessibility of public service bodies’ electronic services has gained attention even in the EU level and in consequence, an accessibility directive has been set on 22nd December 2016 to improve the equality of these services. Electronic services that have been published before 23rd September 2018 need to follow the directive by 23rd September 2020. In turn, newer electronic services need to follow the directive by 23rd September 2019. Nevertheless, Puupponen points out that the changes required are actual needs in people’s lives even before these deadlines. For example, the accessibility of lecture recordings to various different groups could be improved by adding subtitles, since this would increase the availability of vocal information.

Even though accessibility practices have improved in the University of Jyväskylä, there is always a need for continuous development. According to Hannu Puupponen, it would be important to take accessibility into account already in the staff’s know-how and education planning, since this could decrease the need for repairing actions. Puupponen states that inclusion could be improved in the University of Jyväskylä by increasing collaboration with national and international parties, since many countries are already ahead of Finland with inclusion practices. Puupponen also believes that providing materials promoting inclusion (e.g. The Pyramid Inclusion Model by A4A project) supports inclusive operation. However, it would be important to provide training alongside with materials, so that the institutions could better commit to continuous operations (e.g. the A4A training program for higher education institutions). All in all, Inclusive operations are all about initiating an organization wide change in thinking.

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

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