National and Kapodistrian University of Athens – Athens, Greece

The official name of the office is the Accessibility Unit, located at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece. The program was initiated in 1998 by Professor Georgios Kouroupetroglou with the aim of providing support services to students with disabilities. The motivation behind establishing the program was to achieve equal access to academic studies for students with different abilities and needs. These equity groups were identified by national plan/legislation, university’s internal policies, literature review (relevant academic and policy research).

The Accessibility Unit has been actively engaged in various activities to promote equal access, inclusion, and diversity for students with disabilities. These activities include:

  • Support and counselling for students and university staff,
  • Lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty, and non-teaching staff,
  • Training courses for peer educators,
  • Public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts),
  • Fundraising events,
  • Improving physical accessibility,
  • Improving digital accessibility,
  • Assistive Technology

 

The program management finds that Digital Accessibility and Computer-based Assistive Technology had the greatest impact because they are the most necessary to students.

In addition to activities to support inclusion, the program implements binding policy (legislation), strategy/action plan and recommendations/guidelines to counter exclusionary and discriminatory practices at the university.

The most innovative practice implemented in the program was Accessibility Support Voluntary Service (ASVS). The ASVS aims to coordinate the systematic, discrete and safe support of students with disabilities of the University in matters related to their studies by properly trained volunteer-students. This coordination involves a network of compassionate students who voluntarily assist their peers within a formal collaboration framework based on the peer-to-peer model.

The motivation for establishing the Accessibility Unit was the recognition of the need for a dedicated service to ensure wider access, inclusion, and diversity for students and staff. The aim was to provide support services and create an environment where students with disabilities could fully participate in academic studies. The program’s purpose is to eliminate barriers and provide necessary accommodations, such as Assistive Technologies, to enable students with disabilities to succeed in their education. The fact that decisions are made with the participation of students with disabilities is the main reason why this program is considered a successful one.
The program aligns its activities with national policies and legislation regarding accessibility. The decisions regarding program design and other activities are made by the Accessibility Committee, which ensures the involvement of stakeholders and students with disabilities.
An Accessibility Advisor Professor (and his/her Deputy) has been appointed in each Academic Department of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in order to support Students with Disabilities during their studies. A Person in Charge for Students with Disabilities (and his/her Deputy) has been appointed in each Academic Department Secretariat of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Diversity, inclusion, and equality are explicitly mentioned both in the Accessibility Unit and in the university’s strategies, policies, work plans etc. The Accessibility Committee contributes most to decisions regarding program design and other activities. The Accessibility Committee is a national network which helps in exchange of know-how.
The program is funded by the Hellenic Ministry of Education and the university itself. The stability of funding has improved over the years, and the program has become more sustainable. However, challenges were faced in the past due to the absence of relevant legislation, which impacted the availability of government funds. Nevertheless, the commitment to supporting students with disabilities and the step-by-step development of services have contributed to the program’s success and sustainability. The work of this office relies moderately on the contributions of unpaid volunteers.
A formal evaluation process for this unit is indeed in place. The success of its activities is measured using a combination of quantitative and qualitative indicators. Evaluation data is collected through the use of evaluation forms and statistical data. Once the evaluation is completed, the evaluation report is disseminated to the Hellenic Authority for Higher Education and the Hellenic National Accessibility Authority.

Accessibility Unit for Students with Disabilities of National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

Athens, Greece