Myrto Delkou interviewed Valerie Van Hees for Inclusion Europe Radio. Valerie is the coordinator for the Support Centre of Inclusive Higher Education in Flanders, Belgium. The support centre for higher education was founded in 2009, when Belgium ratified the UN convention for persons with disabilities.
What is mobility and how does it benefit people?
Mobility includes exchange programmes, usually for students and interns to be able to go abroad. There are many benefits in going abroad. People learn skills and new languages. It is a great opportunity for people with disabilities because it gives them confidence and insight into their own selves and their disabilities.
How many people with disabilities participate in mobility programmes?
This is hard to say due to the lack of monitoring of the participation. However, we know that only 0.8% of students who participate in mobility programmes are students who received the special fund for students with disabilities. Many students are really interested in mobility but not enough action is taken to encourage participation. Not all countries support students with disabilities when it comes to mobility abroad. For example, a lot of information on mobility is not accessible to people with disabilities. Another barrier is the lack of support in the daily life abroad.
Inclusive mobility means including everybody in the mobility experience.
We need stakeholders to look at each individual case, find out what the student needs, and offer support according to that. We are also focusing on asking institutions to have a holistic approach on how inclusion can be implemented in mobility.
What are the main motivators and advantages for people with disabilities to go abroad?
The general advantages of learning new skills, meeting new people, visiting a different country, apply to people with disabilities as well. Oftentimes people think that mobility is not for students with disabilities, because they think it might be unsafe for them, but this is not true. A lot of support is provided. The students themselves are very interested in the opportunities for mobility. Going on an exchange programme brings them closer to their peers as well, which is very important.
What are some ways that students with disabilities can receive support in their mobility?
Support services are crucial, and it is important that students receive the right support according to their needs. It starts with the application process when there is a needs assessment. It is also important that the costs are covered. For example, preparatory visits are important because they allow the opportunity to learn more about the destination before the exchange. It is good for these processes to be funded so that it is easier for the students to go and have assistance during the visit.
What happens with the inclusion of students with disabilities after the mobility has started?
It is important that the universities are inclusive destinations. That means support from peers, as well as support in student housing, personal assistance, support in daily life, transport, and campus life. Sometimes this support is lacking. A lot of countries, however, are starting to improve these conditions.
Where can students with disabilities find more information about mobility?
There is a platform called inclusivemobility.eu. It is a cooperation with the Erasmus Student Network and it serves as a central point to find information about inclusive mobility. It is useful for students as well as institutions, ministries of education, and more. Information on mobility is included in the platform, as well as testimonies of past exchange students who have gone on exchange and talk about their experiences.
Listen to the interview here.
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