The shaping of policy on equal access to study and work

The policy of the University is to build and secure support in the study and work environment to ensure equal rights.

The objective is to render the University environment accessible and to work towards the strengthening of positive attitudes and work procedures in order to prevent discrimination.

1. Introduction

The University of Akureyri emphasizes the providing of equal and open access to study and work for students and employees. The policy of the University is to build and secure a supportive study and work environment to ensure equal rights. The objective is to render the University environment accessible and to work towards the strengthening of positive attitudes and work procedures in order to prevent discrimination, cf. the University Policy on Equal Rights, Article 1, thus diminishing the effect of disabling conditions.

Enclosed is a description of the University policy in matters relating to students with needs because of impairments, illness, and specific difficulties. Furthermore, it includes references to policies and remedial measures concerning employees who live with illness or specific impairments. The policy relates to aims, ways, services and work methods. In general, there is a more detailed discussion on the students than the employees, since the rights of the latter group enjoy more security in terms of legislation and union agreements.

1.1 Premises and Definitions

According to a definition in Article 2 of Act No. 59/1992, a person is considered disabled if they have mental or physical impairments and “need special services and support for this reason. This refers to mental retardation, blindness and/or deafness. Handicaps can also be the consequence of chronic illness, as well as of accidents.” (Act on Issues concerning Disabled People, 59/1992).

According to the tenor of the law, the concept is used as a heading announcing a variety of disabling conditions. The shaping of this policy on the other hand emphasizes the understanding that disability depends on circumstances and consists in a discrepancy between the individual and the demands made on him or her by the environment at each time.

In the World Health Organization’s classification and framework (International Classification of Functioning Disability and Health- ICF), disability serves as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations or participation restrictions (WHO, 2001). According to ICF, impairment is classified as a disorder of the constitution of the body or its functioning. It covers i.e. specific learning difficulties, physical limitations, and sundry problems caused by accidents, traumas, illnesses or other causes. In concurrence with the main emphasis of ICF, the possibilities and opportunities of students and employees to engage in activities and participation in the university community represent the focus of the shaping of this policy.

The term ‘specific remedial measures’ refers to operations designed to equalize the circumstances of students for study and to ensure that in their study arrangements and all forms of assessments, reasonable and legitimate consideration will be given to students’ specific needs. The remedial measures do not consist in diminishing requirements in the admission of students or study demands generally made by the University. Specific remedial measures for employees consist in operations designed to accommodate their needs in attending to their work.

2. Objectives

2.1 Students

The University of Akureyri offers its students an advantageous study environment, access to studying and effective communications between teachers and students (cf. HA Policy and Objectives 2001-2003). The University welcomes students living with various kinds of impairments and it strives to accommodate their needs as well as possible by having the following goals as guidelines:

  • To ensure that the equal rights of students at the University of Akureyri to study are respected.
  • To ensure an accessible, safe and stimulating study environment for all students and thus to encourage their participation and efficiency in their studies.
  • To prevent discrimination because of disabling conditions of students requiring special remedial measures in their studies.
  • That students with disabling conditions or specific educational needs have unobstructed access to the general remedial measures and support services that can be provided to ensure their participation in studies.
  • To meet the individual needs of students in their studies by means of specific remedial measures insofar as possible, the law and regulations anticipate and the financial status of the University allows.
  • That services to students with specific needs are assessed and a description of remedial measures, methods and processes is prepared for everyone seeking it and entitled to such services.
  • To strive for that all employees of the University are well informed about the available remedial measures and prepared to accommodate students who have specific needs in their studies.

In addition to access to education, the University of Akureyri wants to ensure equal access to other services of the institute. This includes i.e.:

  • The Academic Administration, such as Faculty Offices, the Examination Office, the Student Councelling Service, and the International Services
  • The Quality Council and the Library
  • The Computer and Media Center

2.2 Employees

The University strives to secure a work environment that is based on equal rights, good living conditions and a safe work environment (cf. Act on Working Conditions, Health and Safety in the Workplace No. 46/1980). Discrimination because of employees’ impairments or chronic illness is to be opposed systematically. Equal rights are to be ensured in appointments (cf. Law on Disabled People No. 59/1992) and education for novices is to be offered to promote the University policy concerning employees coping with illness or disabling conditions. Employees are encouraged to attend regularly courses and educational meetings designed to improve understanding of the issues facing disabled people in their studies and work.

3. Administration and Organization

3.1 Committee on Equal Access to Study and Work

The University Council is to appoint a permanent committee of 6 members (two alternates) on equal access to study and work at the University of Akureyri and it is appointed for a three-year term. The student representative, however, is appointed for a term of one year. The committee works on behalf of the University Council and the Rector. One of the main roles of the committee is to enforce the shaping of the policy presented here and to shape a more detailed arrangement of means of implementation and processes in matters relating to disabled people. The committee is also to ensure that employees and students are thoroughly familiar with the policy and ways to enforce it. The committee members are:

  • The chairman of the Equal Rights Committee of the University of Akureyri
  • A representative of the teaching faculties, who also chairs the committee
  • A representative of the Academic Administration
  • A representative of the Financial, Staff, and Administrative Section
  • A representative of the Library
  • A representative of the Student Union

A student counsellor serves the committee in a consulting capacity concerning students but he or she does not have the eligibility to vote. The committee is authorized to seek assistance from university employees and specialists from outside the University for advice and an opinion, if needed. The committee is to have meetings on a quarterly basis and to convene within two weeks from the receipt of a request or if other reasons require the opinion of the committee. The role of the Committee on Equal Access to Study and Work at the University of Akureyri is furthermore:

  • To work on the disputes that may arise
  • To prepare and follow up on implementation of the University policy on equal access to study and work.
  • To coordinate the work of those who are in charge of matters in this category
  • To implement regular revisions of this University policy and to collect statistical information.
  • To take the initiative to educate on the subject of equal access, in order to reduce discrimination and differences in circumstances because of disabling conditions or specific difficulties.
  • To keep abreast of innovations concerning these issues and how other universities deal with them.
  • To publish an annual report on the implementation of the policy.

A student or employee, who believes that he or she has been the victim of injustice or is not satisfied with the remedial measures offered, is entitled to seek advice from the committee. The committee handles the case and seeks information about it from the Student Counselling Service (for students) or the employees’ superior, if needed. The committee seeks a solution in such cases and concludes an agreement with the student or the employee. If a student’s or an employee’s case is already being handled by other units within the University, the opinion of the committee is to be sent to the respective instance. The committee does not review decisions made within faculties or other administrative units. If a student or employee is not satisfied with the conclusion, he or she can refer the matter to the University Council. The University Council, the Rector, faculties and administration units can request the opinion of the committee in individual instances, in which case the utmost confidentiality is to be exercised and such information is to be treated in accordance with the Act on the Protection of Privacy as regards the Processing of Personal Data. The processing of such cases is subject to the provisions of Administrative Law.

After three years have elapsed, the entire category is to be referred to the Committee on Equal Rights. The Committee on Equal Rights is to review the policy on equal access to study and work every four years or more often, if needed, in connection with the Policy of Equal Rights of the University of Akureyri and new information on the subject. It is desirable that disabled students or the associations of disabled people participate in the review.

3.2 Responsibility and Implementation

The Faculty Deans and Directors of Administrative Departments are responsible for daily implementation of the policy but the University Council and the Rector are ultimately responsible for the implementation. Faculty Deans and the Program Directors ensure compliance with remedial measures.

The Student Counselling Service of the University of Akureyri supervises daily work as far as the students are concerned. The service offers suggestions on remedial measures based on the professional opinion of a specialist in each case, in close consultation with the student. The Student Counselling Service also conducts a follow up on remedial measures in cooperation with those dealing with the case. Faculty Deans and Department Heads are responsible for cases involving employees. The Financial, Staff, and Administrative Section is responsible for ensuring that access to housing satisfies applicable requirements and that improvements are carried out both in housing and on the University campus as a whole. These parties are also to attend to the prioritization of projects and prepare plans on more detailed improvements concerning access. The Administrative Section shall ensure that equal access is attended to in the design of new buildings, in consultation with specialists and users. The Computer and Media Center and the Library are responsible for offering specific remedial measures, cf. item 4, services, and work methods.

Scope of Application

The condition for a student to obtain a special remedial solution is that he or she presents an assessment report by a specialist and signs an agreement in cooperation with the Student Counselling Service.. A pre-condition for the provision of specific remedial measures is that the student is registered for study, but it is not a condition for the handling of the case that the person concerned is registered. Therefore, prospective students can obtain information on available remedial measures or those that could conceivably be offered. The policy also applies to those wishing to be registered cf. Article 17 in the Regulation for the University of Akureyri. In addition, it applies to employees, who live with disabling conditions or long-term illness.

4. Services and Work Methods

The following is a description of the services and work methods that apply to students on the one hand and employees on the other. If there is a choice between different remedial measures that provide students or employees with comparable support, the University of Akureyri reserves the right to choose between them, while taking the evaluated needs of the person concerned into consideration.

4.1 Students

Registration

Registration applications are evaluated on the basis of the admission requirements of the programmes selected. Decision making on the offering of specific remedial measures generally occurs independent of discussions on the registration of applicants. Prospective students are entitled to lucid information on access to buildings and the University campus, as well as to the special remedial measures available and those that can conceivably be offered. The University is duty bound to inform students with specific needs about their rights at all levels of study. The University is also to take the initiative in publicizing these points within the Institute. Responsible parties within the University are to take legitimate measures to ensure that students with specific needs are able to participate in studies. Examples of such measures are considerations in the preparation of a course schedule, determining the locations of lectures and examinations and other specific actions. A diagram of the organization and processing of cases is to be found in ANNEX 2.

Confirmation of Analyses of Specific Needs

A student requesting specific remedial measures is to turn to the University of Akureyri Student Counsellor, who supervises services to students with specific study needs. The precondition for the offering of remedial measures is that there is a professional evaluation by a specialist on the specific needs of the student on the basis of his or her impairment or illness. Students, who sustain setbacks during their studies, can also be requested to submit certificates from an appropriate specialist containing an evaluation of the altered conditions for the study that they have registered to pursue.

An Evaluation of the Need for Remedial Measures

The University offers remedial measures to students on the basis of the evaluation at hand. In exceptional circumstances, the University of Akureyri reserves the right to refuse to provide a student with remedial means, if it is obvious that the content, structure, or presentation of the study selected by the student is of such a nature that he is foreseeably unable to satisfy the study requirements. The University can also refuse to provide the student with remedial means, if it is considered impossible to provide the remedial measures considered necessary to enable the student to pursue his or her studies such as by providing facilities or personnel to assist the student. Specific remedial measures for students are free of charge. Except for the registration fee, the service is normally gratuitous. Nevertheless, the University does not give financial support towards purchases of instruments or books and it does not pay for certificates that may be required.

An Agreement on Specific Remedial Measures

The Student Counselling Service concludes on behalf of the University of Akureyri a written contract on the service, where the commitments are listed that the student and the University accept. In ANNEX 3, there is an example of such an agreement. The counselling service also attends to the computerized registration of individual cases in a system where others do not have access. This registration includes i.e. explanations for offering remedial measures and a description of the service rendered.

The registration can also include a journal covering interviews with the student. The data are kept in the custody of the Student Counselling Service until the student brings his or her studies to an end in which case the student receives the data upon request. Otherwise, the data are removed from the computer system. Should the occasion arise, either because of the student’s or the University’s request there is always the possibility of reviewing the agreement. If a student fails to fulfill his or her part of the agreement, the University reserves the right to refuse to provide him or her with remedial measures. Should the University fail to honour its part of the agreement, the student can appeal the case to the Committee on Equal Rights of Access to Study and Work at the University of Akureyri, where it will receive formal treatment, cf. item 3.1.

Treatment of Information

The Student Counselling Service of the University of Akureyri preserves confidential information about students with specific needs. The service attends to the channeling of necessary confidential information to the employees involved in implementing remedial measures. Confidential information is only divulged, when the implementation of remedial measures requires it and only when a student has signed the above-mentioned agreement on service.

4.2 Remedial Measures to Equalize the Status of Students

Students with special needs in their studies are offered three types of remedial measures.

  • Remedial measures in ways of teaching, i.e. remedial measures that apply to circumstances and conditions during the teaching terms
  • Remedial measures in studies that have a bearing on multiple aspects of study, the University as well as the students
  • Remedial measures in examinations, i.e. measures that concern the taking of examinations

Examples of Remedial Measures in Ways of Teaching

  • The selection of classroom location
  • Access to classrooms equipped with an audio system for deaf or hearing impaired students
  • Recordings of lectures
  • Assistance in taking notes
  • Overheads, teacher’s notes on WebCT
  • Adapted teaching methods
  • Adapted preparation of schedules
  • An assistant*
  • Other remedial measures considered reasonable and legitimate

Examples of Study Remedies

  • Supportive interviews.
  • A course in study technique
  • Examination anxiety prevention course
  • Recording of lectures
  • Overheads, teacher’s notes on the Web CT
  • Specialized software, work facilities and assistance in the Library and the Computer and Media Center
  • An assistant*
  • Other remedies considered reasonable and legitimate

Examples of Examination Remedies

  • Extension or adjustment of examination time **
  • Taking a computerized examination
  • Taking an examination in a room with few students/one student present
  • Oral examinations
  • Enlarged or coloured examination papers ***
  • Rest during an examination without a reduction in examination time
  • Examinations recorded or read aloud by an examination custodian
  • Specialized equipment in the examination rooms
  • A secretary during examinations
  • Other remedial measures considered reasonable and legitimate

* E.g. in cases involving students with grave physical impairments or impaired vision

** Such as for students with from examination anxiety, physical impairments, impaired vision, or dyslexia

*** Such as for students with impaired vision or dyslexia

Enclosed herewith is a report on policy making of the University of Akureyri in matters of students with dyslexia dated 30 November 2004. It includes clear examples of work procedures and specific services that are to be available to students with dyslexia (cf. ANNEX 4)

4.3 Personnel

Authorization to Act and Decide

Employees with disabling conditions or long-term illness are to request assistance formally because of their condition or altered premises for receiving the service offered. The request is to be sent to Faculty Deans or Department Heads and it is to be supported by a well-reasoned argument. These parties are also responsible for instructing employees on remedial measures and ensuring that their needs are met in an appropriate manner. Professional development interviews are i.e. to be used for this purpose. Faculty Deans and Department Heads are committed to confidentiality concerning the subjects and contents of the requests of the personnel.

Evaluation of Needs and Remedial Measures

The University of Akureyri offers assistance to personnel requiring specific remedial measures because of disabling conditions or illness in accordance with an evaluation of the need for such remedies. The premise for the provision of these remedies is that a professional assessment is at hand. The experience of employees and their evaluation of the need for remedies is, however, in certain cases accepted as fully valid so that confirmation is not required from sources outside the University.

Remedial Measures to Equalize the Status of Employees

The University provides employees with gratuitous assistance and remedial measures that make it easier for them or enable them to attend to their jobs. The University Safety Committee/Representative can be alerted for cooperation and consultation purposes (cf. Act on Working Conditions, Health and Safety in the Workplace No. 46/1980).

Remedial measures for employees with disabling conditions can involve the following features:

  • Access to university buildings and areas (cf. Regulation on Workplaces’ Accommodations No. 581/1995 )
  • Selection of convenient housing for offices
  • Specific equipment in the office
  • A computer and computer connected items
  • Reading of documents
  • Audio systems in class rooms
  • Supportive interviews
  • Flexibility during work hours
  • Assistance in the implementation of various projects

5. Final Words

With equality as a guiding light, it is important to seek ways to facilitate the access and participation of students and employees coping with impairment or disability in their studies and work. An attempt has been made here to set forth clear aims and specify channels of communication and work methods that can be regarded as an improvement. In most cases an individual plan of operations should be made, containing detailed descriptions contributing to practical solutions at each time. All processes need to be clear to students and teachers. Thus, at the University of Akureyri, conditions are to be created that realize the principle of study and work without discrimination.

Agreed at the University Council, 1st September, 2006.