About 15% of all students state that they "have disabilities" or are "chronically ill" (Deutsches Studentenwerk, 2011). However, they have to show the same performance during their studies and in exams as their non-disabled fellow students. This challenge underlines the necessity to consider the situation of students with particular physical and/or mental abilities and/or chronic/mental illnesses individually. The “Berliner Hochschulgesetz” also obliges Freie Universität Berlin to take the measures required to integrate students with physical/mental challenges. For example, they are entitled to an individual compensation for disadvantages in studies and exams. We recommend that you contact the officer in charge of students with disabilities directly in order to obtain information about the official regulations and further information.
Teaching at the FU, you can make an important contribution to integration by reacting to the affected students with an open mind. Students with reduced mobility, students who are chronically ill and/or hard of hearing and/or visually impaired may have difficulty using the libraries or preparing scripts during a seminar. In exams, they often have to use aids and require much more time and energy for this effort.
In the following, you find some information about certain diseases and the related challenges you and the students may be faced with in the classes.
The physical condition of students suffering from chronic diseases is often considerably affected. They need more time for seminar papers and exam preparations and are not capable of attending all mandatory classes. While they are “disabled” from a legal point of view, they often do not regard themselves as “disabled persons”. As their health restrictions are usually not visible for outsiders, they have to explain their situation. For example, some diseases may require going to the toilet more frequently or entail concentration problems due to physical conditions. People with “invisible” disabilities often have difficulties in getting appropriate compensation for their disadvantage.
Students with physical restrictions are quite obviously handicapped by construction barriers: lacking ramps, heavy doors, lacking or defective elevators, lacking wheelchair-accessible WCs, etc. In many cases, wheelchair users cannot attend your class because they cannot access the room or because they need much more time to access it than non-disabled students. Due to the risks entailed for all people involved, however, carrying the affected students up to the room is no solution either. Instead, you should rather ask the administration of the faculty for structural changes in the building.
Here, the main problem is communication. The fact that a hearing impairment is invisible makes it difficult for outsiders to recognize. In many cases, a hearing impairment cannot be fully compensated for by hearing aids. Often times, students have to try and understand what is being said by drawing conclusions from the little they can hear. Background noise like murmuring, rustling paper or noise from outside is not only a nuisance, but often makes (acoustic) understanding completely impossible.
One problem for visually impaired and blind students is the quantity of literature to which they must have access – like all students – in order to be successful in their studies. Here, reading at the computer is a great support as electronic Braille lines or speech output programmes serve to handle the texts better and faster.
Another difficulty is the utilisation of the books in the university library which are only accessible to them when converted into a text file, tactile letters, large print or read aloud by others. Visually impaired students are also confronted with another problem as there is a lack of tactile signs in many places of Freie Universität Berlin.
Language impairments may be genetic or a consequence of diseases (tumours, traumatic brain injury, etc.) or accidents. They are manifested as stuttering, repetitions, frequent pauses, unclear and excessively fast speech or the slurring of sounds. Students with communication and articulation difficulties often find it particularly difficult to speak in front of a group.
Even though there is a large number of pictograms for disabilities, the wheelchair symbol is used almost everywhere, which is somewhat misleading as disabilities and restrictions are quite individual.
Parking space for the disabled
Access without steps via a ramp or direct access
Toilets for the disabled
Elevator with a floor space of min. 140 x 110 cm
We would like to thank Mr. Classen (Advocate for Students with Disabilities) for the advice and information he gave us during the preparation of these recommendations.