Last May, Lotte van Kerkhoven (Civil Engineering and Geosciences) and Eleana Vallianatos (Mechanical, Maritime and Materials Engineering) expressed the hope that students with a disability would unite more and better.
That hope soon became reality. In October, Van Kerkhoven, Vallianatos and fellow student Tim Bruyn (Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science) set up Student Onbeperkt (Student Unlimited), the official platform for TU Delft students with a disability, and took seats on the Board. Delta spoke to them on Teams.
What is Student Onbeperkt?
“Student Onbeperkt works for all TU Delft students with a disability. We define this as any condition that hinders students in functioning. The platform brings these students in contact with each other. We give our input on TU Delft’s policies and disseminate information about studying with a disability to both students and staff,” explains Vallianatos.
How has the role of the platform changed compared to the previous academic year?
Van Kerkhoven says that one major change is that “While TU Delft used to ask us for feedback, we now offer it to them. We raise subjects that we think are important. We have made much progress here.”
‘My first proctored exam was a total disaster’
How do you decide which subjects are important?
Van Kerkhoven continues. “We get a lot of input from our members during our open discussion evenings, theme sessions or through the problems form. Students with a disability fill in this form to note the obstacles that they have faced during their studies and either how it was solved or how they would like it to be solved. The problems and potential solutions are then discussed during our monthly consultation meeting with Education & Student Affairs and the academic counsellors.”
What issues are there?
“One issue that our members expressed during a theme session was proctored exams,” says Van Kerkhoven. “This exam method is challenging for many of us, including myself. I have a visual impairment and my first proctored exam was a total disaster. The programme blocked my laptop so I could not access my screen magnification software and I was not given any extra time.”
Bruyn adds that “There were also concerns about the software itself. The programme sometimes labels exams as ‘potentially fraudulent’. Does it mean that the exam is declared invalid and that the student has to do a resit? We discussed these and other issues with Willem van Valkenburg, Chair of the Exam Taskforce. He explained that the label only means that someone will check the exam by hand. Our constituency was very relieved when they heard this.”
Van Kerkhoven summed it up. “But the most important thing was that we could tell our members that there are alternatives for proctored exams.”
‘Few students know about the opt-out rule’
What alternatives are there for proctored exams?
Van Kerkhoven explains that “You can sign up for the opt-out rule. This is a rule for students who, whatever the reason, are unable to do their exams online.” Bruyn says that “Even a lot of academic counsellors didn’t know about this rule.”
Van Kerkhoven continues. “It does involve a lot of arranging though. You need to sign up for the opt-out, inform your academic counsellor and the Board of Examiners, and then bring all these people into contact. I can imagine that a lot of people do not want to go through this.”
Vallianatos adds that “I am happy that I know about it as I can now do my maths exam on campus, on the Drebbelweg as usual. I will have an invigilator instead of a camera so I will feel comfortable to stretch or drink some water.”
Almost all teaching has been online since March last year because of the corona restrictions. What is that like for you? Can you attend all the online lectures?
“Not always,” says Van Kerkhoven. “I took a subject on Collegerama where the teacher wrote the entire lesson on the board. The camera swung all over the place and zoomed out really far. It was very hard for me. I asked my academic counsellor and teacher if I could attend the class physically. Luckily it was no problem and we arranged it quickly. It made me realise that if something does not work, there are often alternatives. But you do need to arrange it yourself.”
Bruyn says that “Many students are reluctant to do this, though. They think that exceptions have to be made just for them. But the other side of the coin is that they need to be able to study properly. Everyone has the right to be able to study properly. It is a shame that this is still a barrier for many students. At the same time, online classes are better for students with fatigue syndromes as they do not need to travel to TU Delft anymore. There are pros and cons.”
How do you support your members?
Van Kerkhoven explains. “This topic receives a lot of attention at the open discussion evenings. The members have a lot of contact with each other through the group app and on our Discord channel. And we recently started having breakfast together!” Vallianatos adds that “Anyone who wants to can join the ‘unlimited breakfast’ online. We check how things are going and then we start the day with a short energiser like yoga.”
Van Kerkhoven continues. “Many of our members have ADHD or are on the autism spectrum. This makes studying and concentrating at the computer a challenge. Our breakfasts, with their shared start to the day, can sometimes give that little bit of a routine and motivation.” Vallianatos agrees entirely. “It’s absolutely true! It gives me structure and motivation. I then don’t mind getting up and it makes me keen to start a new day.”
‘We are very happy that our platform is involved more and more’
What else do you do for your members?
Vallianatos explains that “We are organising the Onbeperkt Studeren (Unlimited Studying) week from 15 to 19 March. It is a week about studying with a disability.” Van Kerkhoven adds that “TU Delft will present its new policy plan that week. Our platform is making an important contribution to the plan. During the presentation, our members will discuss what the plan means for our academic life and what our rights are.”
Bruyn says that “We also organise lunch lectures that are open to everyone. One of these is a ‘getting things done’ training that I highly recommend to students with and without a disability.”
“Another thing we are thinking about,” says Van Kerkhoven, “is a workshop for TU Delft staff. This is high on our agenda. We want to let teachers and academic counsellors in particular know how they can help or support students with a disability.” Bruyn adds that “We want to improve so many things, but we do not want to further burden the teachers, who are already really busy. We hope that if we work together, that we can find ways to make it easier for teachers, academic counsellors and students.”
Vallianatos mentions that “One important development is the contact that we sought with the Student Council. Our contact with Charlotte Eijkelkamp (Oras) means that we are well abreast of current issues and we share our thoughts regularly. We are very happy that our platform is becoming more involved.”