As an AUT student, I’m pretty proud. I happily rate our university highly to anybody that asks, and I always find while walking around our neighbouring uni that things look a little beige compared to over here. But why do I feel like this place stands out next to the others?
AUT has always identified itself as an institution that caters to the needs of each individual student and produces great graduates, an institution that delivers education and knowledge in a way that each student can fairly receive it, and one that breaks down barriers that might stop success.
A facet of this is the access or impairment barriers that may stop some students from being able to easily reach their classes or progressing in their studies. This has been a point of contention before. Last year AUT was painted negatively in the media as a university that was discriminatory in its ability to cater to a student that used a wheelchair.
A staff member with AUT’s disability support department, Anna Nelson, says that although there are services the University can and will provide, sometimes they need plenty of time to identify and provide these. For example, if a lower workbench or an extra support person is necessary, then the department needs to be well aware of this prior to the commencement of study.
“AUT and Disability Student Support at AUT are all about creating great graduates. So we really don’t want to allow barriers to prevent successful study. We all need to be reasonable and realistic – including students,” she says.
She adds that AUT must help students live to their full potential, something she is helping to make happen. “Students with impairments can and do go on to do great things once they graduate like starting their own business, becoming a lawyer, working in government. And it’s important that we are enabling them to gain the skills and independence while they are studying to be able to be great graduates.”
It’s all well and good for me to say I’m a proud AUT student, but on this topic, I am truly ignorant. So I talked to a current student who uses a wheelchair about how she thought AUT was rating on the accessibility scale. (This student chose not to be named.)
She told me about how a meeting was held before she started the semester called a ‘transition meeting’ to discuss how best her specific individual requirements could be met by the university. In her experience, AUT have been pretty great at helping her to be an independent and successful student thus far. She added that although the university is in large part built for the majority of able-bodied students, meaning there will always be some inaccessible elements, she feels that for the most part her needs have been addressed.
In some instances, AUT also supports students by funding additional technology on top of the Microsoft 365 that all students have access to. They then also look at the option of human support, such as a notetaker in class, or a writer for tests and examinations. You may have seen some of these services around uni: sign language interpreting, loop systems, digital recorders, SmartPens, assistive technology, magnifiers and specialised software. As you most likely know, it is not uncommon for AUT to provide extra time or specialised enlarged printed papers in exams for students that genuinely need it.
Again, I feel I should stress, I have been largely ignorant to the support that AUT offers. I also think I should stress this – from what I can tell they seem to be doing a pretty nice job of it. So if you feel in any way you are in need of extra assistance or support, or there is a barrier that is hindering your success, then you should definitely go and chat to the people upstairs (probably being the aforementioned Anna Nelson).
If our uni is going to claim that they are the best on the accessibility block, we as students have every right to make sure they live up to that promise.