On the Activities of the University Senate’s Working Group on Barrier-Free Access in 2018.

May 2017 saw the University Senate establish a Working Group on Barrier-Free Access (AG Barrierefrei). And the interest in the activities pursued by this working group that has since developed can be seen not least in the fact that its members were already asked to deliver two reports on accomplished goals as well as recent outcomes of their work during 2018.

Over the summer of 2018, colleagues from the Information Technology Department—first and foremost Martin Hufnagl and Martin Kaufmann—reworked the mdw’s website according to guidelines compiled by Institut Integriert Studieren (an institute focussed on computers and communication technologies in the context of special needs) at Johannes Kepler University Linz in order to comply with that institute’s barrier-free standard of “AA”. This means that all publicly accessible information and service offerings on the website can also be accessed by people with sight impairments or motoric limitations without help from others and in a non-discriminatory manner. part from text, this also has to do with images, forms, and sounds. This status is more and more frequently being required by law the civil service sector, and state subsidies, grants, and approval of financing are increasingly often contingent upon its realisation. Therefore, the mdw’s new barrier-free website variant can be viewed as being positive and productive in this respect, as well.

Later on, in September, an initial training seminar was offered by the Johannes Kepler University for all members of the Senate Working Group. And at a workshop held at the mdw, employees of the departments and service units whose work includes website maintenance were schooled by Katharina Pfennigstorf and Martin Hufnagl. These schoolings are being continued on a regular basis via the Centre of Further Education. This website project was funded in part with money from the 2016 Diversitas Prize (see mdw Magazine, 1/2017).

One of the next challenges was to fill the new website section mdw.ac.at/barrierefrei, which had been set up by the Senate Working Group as a service and information tool for all students, teaching staff, and administrative employees and is closely connected with the mdw’s Administrative Department for Equality, Gender Studies & Diversity. Birgit Huebener, Katharina Pfennigstorf, and Beate Hennenberg are currently filling it with information one step at a time. The intent here is to raise awareness of barriers and of just what “barrier-free” means as well as to draw attention to the diverse topics associated with barrier-free access.

Each autumn witnesses several informational events relating to the organisations, service providers, and service points at the mdw, and events of this type held in both 2017 and 2018 offered opportunities to introduce the Working Group on Barrier-Free Access more broadly.

It goes without saying that the Working Group on Barrier-Free Access, through its inclusion in several teams focused on diversity measures, is also an active participant in the mdw’s diversity strategy. And accordingly diverse are the reasons why people decide to involve themselves in this area: “What I value about the Working Group on Barrier-Free Access is that it unites very different mdw community members behind a common goal: making the mdw a place that is accessible to more people—which goes far beyond just eliminating architectural obstacles,” comments Katharina Pfennigstorf. Michaela Bayer is “very glad to volunteer for the Working Group on Barrier-Free Access because it’s a great feeling to help people by generally lending them support and facilitating their integration. Helga Neira Zugasty considers it important to participate “because implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in practical everyday teaching can only succeed if all of us put our commitment and abilities behind the many small steps that need to be implemented.”

There’s lots to be done in 2019! At the very top of the agenda are research and development efforts with regard to alternative examination methods. According to § 59 of the Austrian Universities Act of 2002, students have the right to an alternative examination method if an impairment to which they are subject prevents them from taking an examination in the prescribed manner and the alternative examination method does not alter the material being examined.

And on 6 and 7 June 2019, the mdw will host the 14th Inclusive Music-Making Conference, for the preparation and conduct of which members of the Senate Working Group are contributing their expertise.

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