Universiteit Leiden

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Additional support for students with a disability

How do I get into this hard-to-reach classroom with my wheelchair? How do I learn to divide my time better over the courses I’m taking? Can I take an exam on my laptop? These are all questions with which students have approached Jaap de Witte. For several years now, he has been a study adviser for students with a disability. This additional assistance is part of the diversity and inclusivity policy of the Faculty of Humanities and these students are one of the target groups of that policy.

Jaap de Witte

Automatic doors

‘There are two main aspects to my job: guidance and facilitation. In terms of facilitation, I organise everything that a student with a disability is entitled to, such as additional time for exams, taking an exam on a laptop or in a particular room. Or practical matters relevant for students in a wheelchair, such as ensuring that an accessible spot is reserved in the lecture hall. In some buildings, doors don’t open automatically, so you really need help if you're in a wheelchair,” Jaap explains. He knows the ropes and how things work. He himself studied History at the faculty and was also a buddy and student counsellor.

Low threshold

He assists approximately 45 students every year. There are many different functional disabilities, from autism spectrum disorders to blindness – all with different assistance requests. Jaap: ‘I have a lot of contact with student deans, student psychologists and study coordinators. They provide me with input about the problems students are facing. The guidance in the first year is very intensive, after which it is reduced incrementally. My door is always open to students I assist and they can just pop by. This low-threshold accessibility makes it easy for problems to come to light, although sometimes you do have to be a little strict. If they have not done things they should’ve, I’ll find out why that is. Problems used to pile up in the past, but now, thanks to this intensive level of contact, I can make sure that the smallest issues are quickly addressed.’

Prioritising

Jaap helps with drawing up schedules and plans. He advises how best to prepare for an exam or write a paper. When do you need to start? How can you make sure you stay focused on something longer? He is able to do his job well because he knows exactly how it works and has experienced everything himself. ‘I also help them prioritise: what's important now and what can be done later. My work is a lot of fun and it really makes a difference. Every week, we run through a detailed schedule. This is how we see what is and isn’t working and we discuss why something failed. It generally works well. Students get a clearer overview and that means a lot to them,’ Jaap says enthusiastically.

Humanities is the only faculty with its own adviser like Jaap. It was clear that study coordinators had neither the time nor the resources to offer intensive guidance to students with a disability. With Jaap’s appointment, the faculty has responded to the social development of offering greater assistance to students with a disability, so that they can develop fully and ultimately complete their studies with good results.

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