Thanks to the “Accessible University” competition coordinated by the National Centre for Research and Development, the AGH University of Science and Technology will receive nearly PLN 13m for the project called: ‘Accessibility Academy – Improving AGH UST’s potential to better support persons with disabilities’. The project covers essential initiatives required to prepare the staff, procedures, teaching aids as well as infrastructure for improved accessibility of the university for the disabled.
Higher education institutions could enter their proposals in one of three categories: small, medium or large, depending on the level of advancement of the accessibility-oriented actions and the maximum amount of funding requested in the proposal. The AGH University of Science and Technology received one of the highest grants awarded through the competition (PLN 12 811 487.90) and will deliver the project under the ‘large’ category. The value of the entire project, which has been scheduled for implementation in the period from 1 January 2020 to 30 September 2023, is PLN 13 207 720.90.
The “Accessibility Academy” scheme provides for the development of areas of support for persons with disabilities within AGH UST structure. Action plans for the next four years focus on five main areas: improvements to the architectural accessibility of the AGH UST infrastructure, implementation of supporting technologies and educational support, upgrade and/or preparation of comprehensive university documentation (procedures) addressing the needs of persons with disabilities, training activities and other initiatives increasing staff competencies (including awareness raising), networking through cooperation with the academic world, social and business environment as well as amassing and disseminating knowledge about accessibility through the Accessibility Competence Centre. The proposed actions include design and implementation of, among other things, an ICT system for navigation around AGH UST buildings and premises, in particular for persons with sight and hearing impairments, a remote student service platform for persons with disabilities, an e-learning course including video tutorials, as well as standards of architectural, digital and information accessibility. In addition, the project aims at improving access to internet services compatible with the current WCAG standards, digitization and provision of access to educational resources for persons with specific needs resulting from disability as well as remote psychiatric counselling service for the university staff offering professional advice on how to handle emergency situations involving students with disabilities.
AGH UST staff will gain knowledge, skills as well as vital awareness of how persons with disabilities function in the modern world. They will also get insight into principles to be obeyed in their day-to-day work with regard to implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in order to contribute to the creation of the environment based on equal opportunities, which should promote active participation from persons with disabilities and provide them with more educational opportunities.
In order to increase the effectiveness of proposed project actions, the university has entered into alliance with three NGOs working in the field of disability: Foundation Institute of Regional Development (FIRR), Foundation for Persons with Disabilities and “Twoje nowe możliwości” Equal Access Society.
The proposed actions will directly translate into improved accessibility of universities for persons with disabilities as well as increased competencies of the project participants with regard to provision of equal opportunities.
The “Accessible University” competition is one of the activities undertaken as part of the government programme “Accessibility plus”, which constitutes the first major review of accessibility in Poland. The aim of the competition is to remove barriers to participation in post-secondary education. Funds transferred through the competition will promote organisational changes at universities as well as help raise awareness and competencies among academic staff, which is expected to translate into improved access to education for persons with disabilities. The competition is funded through the POWER Programme from European funds. The amount initially allocated to the competition was PLN 200m, yet in view of the high quality of the submitted projects as well as the importance of proposed actions, the final budget was set at more than PLN 121m over the initial commitment so that all proposals recommended for funding could receive the funds.
The competition was open to public and private universities, regardless of the number of students. The projects submitted for the award could focus on actions aiming at provision of information accessibility, university-administered websites, computer and software tools, modifications to teaching programmes and procedures as well as actions focused on architectural solutions promoting accessibility. While delivering these projects, the universities will cooperate with NGOs, entities committed to the removal of barriers to higher education as well as persons with disabilities who are actively involved in accessibility issues.
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