Going to study abroad is a challenging time for young people, as we are facing an unfamiliar environment, a new language and culture to name but a few things. In addition, it can be more even more difficult for students with disabilities who may face inaccessible environments or disability-related stereotypes. As recognition of such challenges, ESN developed the ExchangeAbility project to make our organisation accessible for students with disabilities, to help remove obstacles to participation in exchange and promote the opportunities available.
The ExchangeAbility project was initiated due to a recognition of the current situation regarding the mobility of students with disabilities. According to the data from the European Commission, during the academic year 2009/10 230 students with special needs receiving a supplementary grant participated in Erasmus for study. This represents 0.14 % of all Erasmus students. Although an increase compared to the previous years has been observed, the number is still exceptionally low.
Aims of the project
The project has dual aims that can be summarised as:
- Making ESN a more accessible association for disabled students at all the levels of its activities. This means that ESN wants to provide the conditions and opportunities for the disabled students to actively be involved in the work with international students and therefore to benefit from the exchange programmes at their home universities.
- Increasing the number of students with disabilities going on exchange. The long-term vision of the project is to promote the opportunities and support offered for students with disabilities to study abroad. Also, ExchangeAbility works with ESN sections, HEIs and organisations that are experts in the field to create the best conditions possible for disabled students during their stay abroad.
MapAbility is another project related to ExchangeAbility. The project aims at mapping the accessibility of European HEIs to students with disabilities and special needs. The main aim activity planned for the project is a European Conference to evaluate the process of integration of students with special needs and to enhance their inclusion to the local community.
The promotion of student mobility in Higher Education is of great necessity and to facilitate an increase of student mobility among students with disabilities, socially oriented students and ExchangeAbility coordinators from each member country will gather together in Brussels to share best practices and experience, map different European universities according to their architectural barriers and accessibility and create a common vision regarding social inclusion of disabled youth in student mobility. During this 4 days meeting, the participants from 36 countries will gather together and receive trainings and workshops by experts in the field. Through specific capacity building activities and improvised simulation sessions, we aim at increasing the awareness among students to improve social inclusion for all students, regardless to their abilities or disabilities
Useful Information and websites
For more information about the opportunities for students with disabilities to participate in the ERASMUS programme and other useful information please check out the following websites:
- European Commission page for students or staff with special needs in ERASMUS mobility
- ESN ExchangeAbility Project
- European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education
- LINK- Learning Inclusively Network + Know-how
The ExchangeAbility International Team: [email protected]