METU – Middle East Technical University – Ankara, Turkey

The program is officially known as the “METU Disability Support Office.” It was initiated by academic staff members who spearheaded the first accessibility projects at METU. The office is aimed to improve the accessibility of buildings, pedestrian ways, and transportation routes within the campus to accommodate students with disabilities. The office supports persons with disabilities. This equity group was identified by the national plan, university’s internal policies, by students, as well as by community, citizens, and other external stakeholders.

In the last two years the office has carried out the following activities with regard to equal access/inclusion/diversity:

  • Support and counselling for students and university staff,
  • Lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teaching staff,
  • Improving physical accessibility,
  • Improving digital accessibility

In the context of implemented programs and activities, its management team believes that providing specific accommodations based on students’ health condition and diagnosis had the most significant impact. Namely, the difficulties students with disabilities face regarding the accommodation create an extra burden on top of their already existing academic responsibilities. Therefore, accommodations have the greatest impact since they alleviate or eliminate this extra burden.

One of the new useful mechanisms implemented through this program is  accessible vehicles for wheelchair users and visually impaired or blind students. Transportation of wheelchair users and  visually impaired or blind students is extremely important for these young people to get involved in life and come together with their peers.

The motivation for establishing the program was to explore the problems faced by students with disabilities and develop suitable systems for the solution of these challenges. The key factors that influenced the institutional leadership in establishing the program were confidentiality, voluntariness, regard, academic equality of opportunity, accessibility, openness to feedback, and responsibility. These principles have been foundational since the office’s inception and continue to guide the program’s services. This office is successful because it employs full-time staff who are fully dedicated to the educational process of students with disabilities. Additionally, the office provides services for various disability conditions such as ADHD, learning disabilities, and mental health issues. The office especially cares about these “invisible conditions” since they may be neglected and those who have these issues may develop other comorbid situations due to a lack of appropriate support. Another one is the communication network between DSO and other relevant offices and personnel at the university. The fact that the office can establish direct and fast connections with transportation, IT or health-related offices, when necessary, can help in providing more efficient services for students.
The METU Disability Support Office reports to a Vice President or Advisor to the President. The office is governed by a director, DSO Faculty/Institute/School Coordinators, and a Board of Directors. The Board of Directors consists of the director, a representative from the Learning and Student Development Unit, academic or administrative staff in relevant fields, and a student representative. The office employs three staff members, including two academic employees responsible for the assessment process and one administrative employee. Diversity, inclusion, and equality are explicitly mentioned both in the program and in the university’s strategies, policies, work plans etc. The office regularly receives feedback from students with disabilities, part-time student assistants, and the academic personnel. The feedback received from different sources shape the services to a great extent. Other than this, the staff of the office who works directly with students, have a chance to observe the efficiency of the services provided. They can offer new services or suggest reviewing and updating the services, if necessary. Lastly, the director of the office and /or the advisor to the president can make contributions to the services in accordance with the strategic plan of the university. The office is a member of local networks and national networks. These memberships are important for contacting other colleagues working in this field, getting to know different application examples, having an opportunity to get a consultation for some cases.
There is the Constitution and the Turkish Disability Act. The General Directorate of Services for Persons with Disabilities and the Elderly is the focal point of Turkey for promoting the implementation and monitoring of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities at the national level. In the academic context, The Council of Higher Education has two regulations related to adjustments of the academic settings for individuals with disabilities.
The main challenge is the fact that the responsibility to respond to issues of people with disabilities is not yet internalized.Delivering adequate and timely support to students with mental disabilities presents a distinct challenge due to their invisibility and the heightened stigma they experience in comparison to other forms of disabilities. The sustainability of our office is undermined in circumstances where the medical model of disabilities prevails in society, emphasizing the body and medicalization as top priorities over alternative forms of support that may be more appropriate for addressing other issues. When the disability is visible, the approach is much more cooperative. However, when it comes to invisible disabilities, it becomes much harder to explain and make some people accept the regulations. Psychological conditions are unfortunately still open to prejudices. Another one is the medical model. The disability is related to the body in the first place. However, the medicalization of the whole procedure makes us miss out on the special characteristics of disabled people. The program is funded through the university budget, utilizing public resources. Thus, the funding is relatively stable. However, ensuring the long-term sustainability of the program faces obstacles such as economic crises and the cost of physical environment arrangements to accommodate individuals with disabilities.
The office has a formal evaluation process in place. To measure success, they use quantitative indicators such as the number of students, the number of academic accommodation letters issued, and the count of student assistants involved. Evaluation data is collected through various means. Surveys related to services for students with disabilities, part-time student assistants, and instructors are conducted at the end of each semester. Additionally, all stakeholders are encouraged to provide feedback and share their experiences through the website or mail. The evaluation report is disseminated widely, reaching all stakeholders. Moreover, an official annual report is prepared for dissemination to the President’s Office, ensuring that key decision-makers have access to the evaluation findings and can take appropriate actions as needed.

METU - Middle East Technical University

Ankara, Turkey