New Accessible Academia platform wants to fight legality

New Accessible Academia platform wants to fight legality

illustration via Julika Rono

Students and staff with disabilities are the Canary Islands in the coalmine, says Ellen Poulaert of the new Accessible Academia platform. Because they immediately notice if the university or college does not care about health.

Today, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a new online platform for scholars, staff and students with disabilities has been launched. Mission: To denounce legality.

Legitimacy is like racism or sexism, but it’s toward people with disabilities. There are plenty of scientific examples of this, says Poulaert. “You have to survive in a world that was literally not created for you.”

Pollaert is one of the initiators Accessible academia. She gave all sorts of examples of legal doctrine. For example, you have lecture rooms that are supposed to be accessible to people using wheelchairs, but this only applies to students in the room. The teacher in a wheelchair does not come on stage.

princess on peas
She herself suffers from chronic pain and exhaustion due to a condition. You can’t see her right away, which sometimes makes it hard to tell others that she needs certain facilities. “For example, my company doctor wanted me to have a better office chair, but my supervisor thought I was a princess and a pea.”

She also has to lie down regularly between her duties. But this same manager did not think that it was necessary to arrange a rest room. Surely she could lie on her office floor? “The printer was also in that office,” she says. “My colleagues literally had to step on me to get their fingerprints. You feel so small when the soles of your teammates’ shoes are right next to your face.”

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It was like she was on the way, and other people with disabilities know that feeling too, she said. “You will be ashamed of yourself. When you have to ask for something for the third time, you feel like you are grumbling. It is like asking for a favor.” But she says a good learning and working environment is not a service, it’s a right. It is not for nothing that the Netherlands has United Nations Disability Convention Occurred.

Circumstances are often a greater hindrance than the condition itself. “If there is no elevator and someone has to climb in a wheelchair, it is the stairs that make them disabled.” This is why Accessible Academia wants better facilities and better policies.

Race to the bottom
And that’s not just beneficial for students and staff with disabilities, Pollaert says. “The scientific world is designed to work sixty or seventy hours a week. Even without a disability, many researchers leave complaints of fatigue. It is Race to the bottom. It would be better for everyone if that changed. But we canaries are in the coal mine, and we notice it sooner than others when working conditions are poor.”

The platform wants more attention to experimental research and for the purposes of Disability StudiesThe scientific discipline that studies disability as a social phenomenon.

The Netherlands has the Experience Center for Inclusive Education (formerly Hedicap + Studie), which it says is doing a good job. But such a platform against legalism, for and by people with disabilities, did not yet exist.

One reason, Pollaert says, may be that many students and staff with disabilities have little energy left when they have to navigate inaccessible learning and work environments. I also noticed this when I founded Accessible Academia. The “core team” currently consists of four people. Others had to withdraw for health reasons.

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The constraint is not always visible, says Poulaert. People often do not show if their energy level is different or if they are taking medication. They keep their condition hidden for fear of being judged by others.

Accessible Academia wants to connect students and staff of universities and colleges with each other and represent their interests. Networking meetings will be held and a reading club will be launched. The first lecture plus workshop on validity in science is already available Planned.

Elaine Poulaert, 30, is an independent researcher. I worked in various offices at the Universities of Utrecht and Leiden. Her doctoral research will begin in 2022 in the history of Heatdorp, the residential community for people with disabilities where presenter Miss Bowman raised money for a television marathon in 1962.

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