Barrier-free Seminar at Helsinki University

By Hisayo Katsui

Yesterday, I attended a seminar on barrier-free environment that was targeted to lecturers and teachers at Helsinki University, Finland. The aim of the seminar was to provide them with practical information and working models to support different needs of students with disabilities studying in the University. Around 50 persons attended the seminar. Some presenters were persons with disabilities themselves, while others were those staffs of the University who are promoting barrier-free environment. Different needs of persons with hearing impairment, dyslexia, autism and Asperger syndrome, visual impairment among others were introduced.

Lecturers here are said not to know the challenges of students with disabilities and also possibilities available in the University that they can provide. It was emphasised that the followings are important: 1) individually tailored attention and solution, 2) prevention and 3) interaction. The last one means that when lecturers do not know how to support some students with disabilities, then they should ask the students. However, flexibility and adjustment are advised to be made only on the basis of medical diagnose documents, as otherwise lecturers cannot handle different individual needs. Once again, resources are the practical challenges for human rights of students with disabilities.

Challenges of students with disabilities are similar both in Finland and Uganda in many senses. (Of course, I do not mean to totally undermine the differences in social policy, accessibility to medical services, economic power, negative attitude etc.) I mean, good will without resources is not enough. That's why we want to focus on practical implications to operationalise human rights of persons with disabilities.

After the seminar, I asked one of the presenters about the situation of foreign students with disabilities in the University. Every year, several foreign students with disabilities from EU countries come to our University as exchange students. The services available to Finnish students are not available to foreign students, especially to those who come from outside of EU countries. They have to pay their services, such as sign language interpreters or assistants, by themselves or arrange their sending institutions or countries to pay for them. That is, foreign students with disabilities are not encouraged to come to our University. Resources, resources and resources! Why resources are not available to realise human rights of persons with disabilities?