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Student initiative to get more disabled students on exchange

Only one sixth of one percent of all European students on exchange, are students with special needs, such as a disability. A new program developed by the Erasmus Student Network in Brussels is to promote better access to study abroad programs for them

ExchangeAbility is a new initiative that aims to remove physical and social barriers for disabled students on exchange.

This is in light of data from the European Commission which showed that for the academic year 2009/10, 230 students with special needs took part in Erasmus, representing just 0.14 per cent of all Erasmus students.

“We are trying to identify barriers for disabled students from a variety of angles, to increase the number of international disabled students at UCPH and in Denmark” says Radu Andrei Gogonea, President of ESN’s group in Copenhagen to the University Post.

Identifying barriers

The project was developed by the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) together with the European Disability Forum and Belgian not-for-profit Youth Agora. It is now being implemented across Europe.

The low participation of disabled students on exchange is about more than just building accessibility.

ExchangeAbility research has revealed that more than two thirds of Higher Education Institutions do offer essential facilities such as elevators and accessible bathrooms. However challenges can also include social barriers such as disability stereotyping.

The University of Copenhagen, of course, has itself a poor record in terms of accessibility to disabled students. It was the subject of a University Post theme ‘No wheelchairs here please’ back in 2010, where Copenhagen turned out to be a shock for a disabled student.

New map-app will help

ExchangeAbility has had 40 individuals trained at an official training session in Brussels to implement the program in their home country.

There are further international initiatives. Mapability is a subproject which highlights the universities which offer accessibility services to disabled students, currently featuring universities from 36 different countries. See Mapability here .

The ExchangeAbility program also provides an opportunity for disabled students to volunteer at their home university. “Part of the ExchangeAbility program is encouraging disabled students to join their local ESN committee and help with event planning and organizing trips” says Radu Gogonea.

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