Accepting people with disabilities: Let’s give everyone something to choose from!

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As we already announced this year disabled people will be able to select among all the SUs as everyone agreeing on the fact that it will be up to organizers to decide to accept them or no. Oganizers will receive their application and the letter from SUCT suggesting to think of acceptance of this participant. The important thing is that even after considering all the pros and cons organizers have a right not to accept this participant.

But before thinking of pros and cons, let’s first make a small investigation and read what is a Disability?

According to the World Health Organisation, a disability is… “any restriction or lack (resulting from any impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being”. When most people think of the word “disability” they immediately picture someone in a wheelchair. But there are many different types of disability. People with a disability may include:

  • people who are blind or partially sighted people with learning or intellectual disabilities;
  • people who are deaf or hearing impaired;
  • people with a physical disability;
  • people with long term illnesses people with mental health or psychological difficulties;
  • people with an acquired brain injury.

As you can see this small but helpful information can brake some existing stereotypes that influence on the decision of acceptance people with disabilities by the local organizers. To brake more, SUCT asked several main coordinators, whose locals gave this opportunity, to answer some questions.

Loek Tonnoer, the main coordinator of Below the Rivers, Above Sea Level Vol. IV from AEGEE-Eindhoven agreed to answer some questions explaining why it is not so difficult. 

While managing the SU the organizers from your local did a great thing giving the opportunity to people with disabilities to attend your SU, what things influenced on your decision?

We knew that not a lot of locals usually open up their Summer University to disabled participants, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to participate in this awesome project. We hope more Summer Universities will consider accepting disabled participants, and what better place to start than at our own SU? While registering our SU, one of the questions we had to fill in was whether our SU was open to disabled participants, so we seriously considered this during our meetings. Even though our SU contained a significant amount of cycling we figured we could still accept some participants with certain disabilities, which would still allow them to cycle with us and enjoy our SU. We thought it would make a nice gesture to them and to all of the network, and hopefully set a good example as well.

What things as organizers you had to prepare for them? Did you have any special organizer who took care of him/her?

As our SU contained over 200 km of cycling, we obviously could not simply accept any person with disabilities. But we figured some disabilities, for instance deafness, would not prevent a person from being able to participate in our SU. Therefore we decided to wait until the applications were in, to see who had applied, and what kind of special actions we would have to prepare for them to be able to participate in our SU. We decided to all be responsible as organisers for making them feel welcome and be able to participate. Unfortunately, we eventually didn’t get any applicants with disabilities. This was of course not entirely surprising, as a Summer University with a lot of cycling might not be the first choice for people that are for instance not able to walk. We had however hoped to at least offer some places to people with (for lack of better words) “less severe” disabilities, which would have been able to join our SU.

Where did you find the information on this issue?

We got some information from the SU Project website, and tried e-mailing the Social Inclusion Project. But eventually we mainly decided on our own to open up the SU to people with disabilities, and to wait until the applications arrived to further discuss our plans.

Do you think organizers who have never had disabled participant should accept them? What can you suggest to help them?

I think organisers should at least seriously consider opening up their applications for disabled people. Of course it depends greatly on your program whether this is easy or not. I think however that there are always ways to include people with disabilities, and that it’s at least worth it to allow them to apply. After the applications are in, it is still possible to look at the every situation individually, to see whether a certain applicant with disabilities will be able to attend or not. I’m positive those people will understand if you have to reject them because the program is simply not compatible with their disability. But at least you’ve given them some choices that way. Imagine a Summer University Project where you can only choose between two Summer Universities. It’s just not quite the same, is it?  Let’s give everyone something to choose from!