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Room for everyone

At the University of Agder, everyone should be able to work and study and receive help when they need it. On 8 November, employees who work with accessibility and universal design in universities and university colleges across the country will meet at UiA for Universellforum.

Margret Kristin Dyrholm in her office
Margret Kristin Dyrholm is in charge of the Office for students with disabilities at UiA.

UiA is an open and inclusive university that will be a driving force regarding accessibility for students and employees with special needs and will have great universal design.

This means that products, surroundings, programs and services can be used by as many people as possible without special adjustments. Nevertheless, according to the Equality and Anti-Discrimination Act, everyone is entitled to individual adaptation when it is necessary.

A path in the system

All universities and university colleges in Norway are obligated to having an accessibility service and universal design. But UiA is also the only Norwegian university with its own coordinator for universal design.

The position has for the last year been a part of the Office for Students with Disabilities, with Margret Kristin Dyrholm in charge. Three people work at the office: Marit Gunn Tveit on Campus Grimstad, and Dyrholm is joined by Håkon Reinertsen on Campus Kristiansand.

"I will help those who have special needs get to the right place when they need it," she says.

She does not have all the solutions, but she makes a path in the system.

The Office for students with disabilities help people by providing both practical and educational accessibility. They have a good cooperative relationship with SiA Health and the national study support programme Studier med støtte who have therapists and help for students with psychosocial needs.

Dyrholm also cooperates with the assistant directors at UiA, who are specialists in their areas, as well as the Division of Human Resources. At all times, she knows how well UiA performs regarding universal design. Representatives from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology will soon visit and see if having a coordinator for universal design is something they want.

"UiA is moving in the right direction," Dyrholm says.

Help to find the problem

"Can you detail the process from when a student comes to you?"

"We talk, find out what needs they have and help them to complete their study programme. Some have a diagnosis and know what they need. Others do not know, they only feel that something is not correct. For example, if we suspect that someone might have dyslexia, we can examine that and find out how to help them. This can be done by adapting exams or providing audio books and reading programs. Dyslexia is incidentally the most common challenge," Dyrholm says.

The Office for students with disabilities primarily goes to the student advisers when helping a student, but it also goes to faculties and lecturers, so they can be informed of the student’s situation. Then also they can help the students to relax when they feel that things are stressful.

Universellforum at UiA

Universellforum is a meeting place for those who work with universal design and accessibility at universities and university colleges. The seminar is held every other year and takes place at UiA on 8 November. The course will soon be fully booked.

Universell has a mandate from the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research and cooperates with all the Norwegian universities and university colleges. They are up-to-date, and the Office for students with disabilities can contact them if they need help or have questions. Universities and university colleges sometimes have the same questions. Therefore, it is good to meet up to try to find solutions together.

This year’s Universellforum is about quality assurance of offers and services to students with disabilities in the digital learning environment.

The target group for the seminar is employees and students who work with accommodating for students with disabilities, as well as people who work with or are interested in universal design of ICT in higher education.

"We have worked on this seminar’s programme since this summer, and we are really looking forward to this," Dyrholm says.

She also mentions that UiA won a tender and has made a course in universal design for Statped, the national service for special needs education. UiA is proud of the result, and Statped was pleased.

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