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The Ahead Journal

#AHEADjournal

A Review of Inclusive Education
& Employment Practices ISSN 2009-8286

MappED! Enhancing opportunities for students with disabilities to study abroad

Lorraine Gallagher

Information and Training Officer, AHEAD

About the Author

Most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘travel broadens the mind’ and so every year, thousands of students take up the opportunity to study abroad through the Erasmus+ programme in third level institutions across Europe and beyond. A study period abroad as cited by the Erasmus Student Network is

...a great opportunity for personal development, to gain new skills, learn a new language and be more employable in the job market.

Indeed, one could go as far as to say that with the move towards a more globalised economy, going abroad during ones studies and having an international experience is becoming increasingly important. But all too often, students with a disability miss out on this opportunity. The National Agencies Working Group identified a number of issues to participating on an Erasmus study abroad program for students with disabilities including:

  1. Disclosure of a disability
  2. Increasing numbers of students with complex needs who need more support
  3. Preparation time needs to be factored in, the work doesn’t start at the Airport
  4. Lack of information or inaccurate information
  5. Anxieties and fear of the unknown may deter students
  6. Both physical and cultural barriers

and they suggest sometimes shorter trips might be helpful.

So what could be done to redress the situation? ESN - Erasmus Student Network came up with the idea ‘mapping’ university campuses across Europe in a bid to provide students with disabilities with key information about the accessibility of a university’s physical location, the user-friendliness of its website and the availability of services for students with disabilities. This would enable students with disabilities to make informed decisions around participating on an Erasmus+ study abroad programme, with the expressed aim of increasing the involvement of this cohort of students. Seven partners got involved in the project, entitled MappED! - ESN International, ESN France, University of Vigo (Spain), University of Warsaw (Poland), UNICA Network (Network of Universities from the Capitals of Europe), AHEAD (Ireland) and Jaccede (Specialist NGO - France).

At 0.15%, the rate of students with disabilities going on exchange is abysmal. With MappED! we hope to encourage more students with disabilities to go abroad, by providing them security in the knowledge that support services are available to them at their host universities. - Thomas Pappas, Board Member of ESN.

Dublin Meet & Map
Fig 1. Meet & Map Dublin event

The MappED! Project created a web platform and mobile app for universities and students with disabilities to promote mobility and a set of guidelines for international and disability officers in relation to supporting students with disabilities partaking on Erasmus+ programmes.

The information on MappED! is crowdsourced, with content generated through user submissions. This has been made simple with the MappED! mobile app, available on Android. Through the app anyone can review and submit information on their universities’ accessibility within minutes. Each partner of the MappED! project held Meet&Map events across Europe. Participants learnt about why and how to create inclusive and accessible environments for those with disabilities and contributed to the MappED! online platform - thereby making information available about their college and city to students with disabilities considering a study abroad period. To date over 350 higher education institutions have been mapped.

The MappED.eu website features an Info Centre, where students are able to read about the special funding opportunities available and find contact information for all relevant bodies in the application process. The website includes testimonials of those who participated on a study abroad programme with lots of useful tips and insights.

Special thanks to University College Dublin, UCD School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, the students and ESN volunteers who helped make the Dublin Meet&Map event on 27- 28th March 2017 a great success: Frederico Rossi, Magdalena Gontarz, Barry Corbett, Jeanne Connolly, Tiernach O’Reilly, Ryan Doherty, Jack Shannon Cole, Erik Goulding, Yewande Ogunnaike, James Sedicol, Melissa Plunkett, Pamela Ramos-Luna, Sherry Hussain, Soo Chingu, Jonquille Phillips, Jeanne Connolly, Isadora Frangogianni, Ivona Brtan, Melani Grubic, Andree Militaru, Abhiyaan Kapoor, Anna Paola Mitterhofer, Josip ÄŒović, Didia Couval, Pauline Thomere, Tina Lowe, Catherine Convery, Peter Coulahan, Julie Tonge and Giacomo Severini.

Mapped Poster - text below

Unique online platform to foster mobility for students with disabilities

  1. Online map - Discover the accessibility of the buildings and universities around you
  2. Info Centre - Find out all the information about going abroad as well as the extra special needs grant opportunities
  3. Testimonies - They did it! Read their stories and find out how their experiences helped them to grow personally

Get involved!

  1. Cooperate with your Disability Office - Read how in our Best Practices guidelines
  2. Organise a mapping activity - Invite your friends and map the accessibility of your university and surrounding buildings
  3. Do everything from the comfort of your phone - Download the mobile app

João Pinto, President, Erasmus Student Network, president@esn.org |mapped.eu | mapped-coordinator@esn.org

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This article appeared in the AHEAD Journal. Visit www.ahead.ie/journal for more information