INTERVIEW| “Our inclusive higher education experience is already accepted as a model in the republic”

06 OCTOBER 2022 | VIEWS:

October marks the 7th anniversary of the establishment of the Inclusive Education Center of UNEC. The coordinator of the center, Sevinj Mahsimova, gave an interview to UNEC News about the inclusive educational environment created at UNEC, the 7-year activity of the center, the implemented innovations and future plans.

– Ms. Sevinc, how did the initiative to create the center come about and what was the necessity?

– We started the initiative to create the center in 2013 with the coordination of Khazar University and 5 partner universities with the ERASMUS project “Creation of higher education environment for people with physical disabilities”. In those years, there were few young people with disabilities who received higher education in the country. In general, the integration of young people with disabilities and limited health into society was poor, and in this direction, there was a need to educate society, parents and young people with disabilities themselves on many topics.

At that time, 26 young people with disabilities were studying at UNEC. The largest number of students was in this university. All of them were studying part-time and believe me, some of them came very reluctantly and usually sat in the back rows. Shame, shyness, self-doubt, insecurity, lack of confidence… these were the main feelings of young people with disabilities at that time.

We decided to change this situation and create an inclusive educational environment. I can say that we have made great achievements in this direction.

– How many students with disabilities are currently studying at UNEC?

– In 2020, this number was 115 people, in 2021, 85 people. This year there are more than 70 people. Exact statistics have not yet been determined, as the number of young people with disabilities studying in the first year is being clarified.

– As an inclusive center, how do you support students with disabilities, and in what direction do you build your activities?

-Actually, many people think that lessons for students with disabilities are conducted by the Inclusive Education Center. This is not so. The center coordinates services for those students. Students with limited health and disabilities study together with other students in the faculties of their specialty.

Students with limited health and disabilities often feel uncomfortable in a stressful environment, which prevents them from achieving high grades in the learning process, especially in exams. In such cases, they apply to the center, and we give them the opportunity to listen to some classes and take exams at the center. As a center, we support the full integration of students with limited health and disabilities into university life, as well as encourage them to be active in social life, participate in projects implemented by student organizations, as well as ensure their participation in conferences, seminars and other events organized by the university.

I want to mention an important point,the Inclusive education center also conducts social work. The necessary psychological support is also provided to students with limited health and disabilities. Recently, a Psychological service center was established at UNEC. I am sure that the opening of the center will make our work in this direction easier and more useful.

As a center, we also do social work with parents. You know that parents of students with limited health and disabilities can be considered a more sensitive group and it is more difficult to work with them. Because the society’s stigmas such as “condemnation”, “criticism”, “shame”, “rejection” have wounded them more deeply.

There are many innovations in teaching. For example, an audio-textbook project is ongoing at UNEC within the framework of individual education trajectory. Teachers convert their lectures into audio format. Additional classes are also held at the center for students with limited health and disabilities. In special cases, lessons are organized in a hybrid form. If a student with a disability cannot come to the university for an excused reason, he can join an online class from home.

– Was UNEC able to create an inclusive educational environment?

– Yes, UNEC continues this work successfully. I am proud to say that our experience of inclusive higher education is already accepted as a model in the republic. Of course, there are some shortcomings, but work is being done to eliminate them. In particular, I would like to note that the development of inclusive education at UNEC was considered one of the priority goals. We achieve the set goals with the joint support of all structural managers and employees of the university.

– What difficulties do students with disabilities face more often?

– Mainly, as an infrastructure, there is a problem in the use of sanitary facilities. The sanitary junction of educational building No. 3 was installed taking into account students with disabilities, and works are being carried out in this direction in others.

-Are there participants in dual diploma and exchange programs among students with disabilities?

-Yes I have. It is very gratifying that, like all students, students with limited health and disabilities participate in both exchange and dual degree programs. They also properly represent our country abroad. We are happy that this year, among the 12 young people who graduated from the dual diploma program of UNEC University of Montpellier, there was a student with disabilities. Also, several of our students with limited physical abilities and disabilities studied at European universities within the framework of the Erasmus+ international exchange program.

– How is the social activity of students with disabilities ensured?

– At UNEC, students with limited health and disabilities are fully integrated into the life of the university. Of course, some, if not all, participate in all events, projects, seminars. UNEC Student Trade Union Committee is always with us in this work. Excursions to various historical and touristic places are regularly organized for them, as well as we go to watch movies, opera, performances and exhibitions with these students.

At the beginning of the academic year, meetings are held with the heads of student organizations and assignments are given. We have more than 11 student organizations in various directions. Members of the organization get to know young people with disabilities studying in all faculties. Those students participate in projects as members of the organizations they want.

– Among those students, are there young people who are distinguished by their special skills?

– In fact, each of the young people with disabilities has a wide range of interests and most of them are distinguished by their special skills. Among our students with limited health and disabilities are poets, writers, artists, mathematicians, professional IT specialists. I can say that our graduate Zahid Aliyev is one of the country’s well-known experts in the field of IT.

We have students who are engaged in creativity, especially those who write poems and novels. With the support of the university administration, Mahsim Badirkhanli’s book of poems was published and widely presented. This was a great motivation for him. I would like to emphasize the writing talent of our other graduating student, Seyfullah Aliyev. His detective novel was published in UNEC publishing house. People’s writer Chingiz Abdullayev, well-known writers of the country and public representatives also participated in the presentation. Another student of ours received a patent for intellectual games and competitions. We are proud of them!

– Does the university provide any support for the employment of students with disabilities?

-Employment is one of the most important issues. UNEC has taken very serious steps in this direction. Memorandums have been signed with many state institutions and organizations, including the State Employment Agency, and joint projects are being prepared. As a center, we are also negotiating with many organizations, companies and institutions to further expand these collaborations.

In particular, in 2018, for the first time in the republic, we held a job fair for young people with disabilities, organized by UNEC, with the support of the Ministries of Youth and Sports, Science and Education, Labor and Social Protection of the Population. That fair was a great boost in ensuring the employment of disabled people. More than 1200 young people with disabilities participated in the fair. 108 people were hired on the very first day of the fair.

To date, 36 of our graduates with disabilities have been provided with permanent employment. Many of them also participated in self-employment programs sponsored by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of the Population. Our work in this direction continues.

In conclusion, I would like to say that an inclusive educational environment based on international standards has been created at UNEC and is being systematically updated in accordance with global challenges. I am sure that together with local and foreign higher education institutions and organizations, we will achieve great success in the future.

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