International Day of people with Disabilities. A more accessible world thanks to technology advancement
Alicante. 01 December 2017
Living in a world accessible to everyone. This is the message that the University of Alicante launches in the International Day of People with Disabilities held, as usual, on 3 December. In order to guarantee the principles of equal opportunities and universal accessibility, the UA has been provided with the Student Support Centre (SSC) since 1999, as part of the Office for Student Employment and within the Office of the Vice President for Students and Employment.
The SSC is a reference centre with a multidisciplinary team of experts who offer support and advice to the entire university community. It is aimed at (but not limited to) students with disabilities —through the UA programmes on equal opportunities, psychological, psychopedagogical and sexological counseling, as well as social actions (emergency aid, homeshared schemes, social mediation) and volunteering actvities.
Other than eliminating architectural barriers, the University of Alicante is especially committed to using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to guarantee accessibility to all our university community.
With the new technological scenario, educational platforms and virtual spaces are present everyday in our University and it is our responsibility to adapt to new demands. This requires us to avoid digital barriers as much as possible as these sometimes can hinder the learning process and cause new barriers which are not easy to perceive, as reported by the SSC. This is the reason why the UA Offices of both the Vice President for Students and Employment and the Vice President for Campus Facilities and Technology have started a joint initiative to create the Accessible Technologies Lab. This is an example of a space adapted to the needs of all students to experience and change the concept of teaching by using accessible technologies such as digital whiteboards, assisted listening systems, assistive switches and mice for people with reduced mobility or screen magnifiers for visually impaired people, among other resources.
Also, through our project 'Inclusive educational platforms and accessible electronic documents', the UA offers accessible content adapted to any device such as computers, mobile phones and support technologies used by people with any hearing, visual, mental or motor impairment.
With the support of Vodafone Foundation Spain, ICT technician for accessibility at the Student Support Centre José María Fernández has designed Ability Connect, a free app for both Android and Apple, adapted to the needs of people with hearing and visual loss, as well for those with dyslexia. This tool allows students with special needs to follow —in real time— as well as to file, modify or check later the content introduced by volunteers that take notes on a tablet from what is written on the blackboard or what the teacher says.
In order to promote this useful tool, the SSC will start a programme for volunteering students to borrow a tablet for them to take notes with Ability Connect on behalf of their classmates with disabilities.
Getting involved with accessible teaching in constant evolution, the UA academic staff in Inorganic Chemistry have already joined the initiative by creating 3D material of atoms so that visually impaired students can study them through the sense of touch. These are boxes that, other than the 3D-model, contain a label with NFC technology that allows access to the instructions of the practical from a smartphone.
This commitment to an inclusive campus and the use of ICTs for universal learning is evident in the fact that the SSC is being a model of international reference and has been participating in various European projects to promote inclusive disability and accessibility in Morocco, Egypt, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Indonesia so far.
Not to mention that the UA is one of the pioneer universities to include regulations on curricular adjustments with the rights of the students with functional diversity among others. It is within the UA principles to promote awareness and inclusion of the entire university community, that is, teaching and research staff, administration and services staff and students.
UA's own degree for people with intellectual disabilities
Worth mentioning is the University of Alicante having been recently selected to teach a degree aimed at people with intellectual disabilities to improve their employability and social inclusion. The project, proposed by the UA governing board and coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Corporate Social Responsibility, Inclusion and Gender Equality. It was the ONCE Foundation that selected the project through its call for application aimed at universities to improve employability of young people with intellectual disability.