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Leaving at the very last minute to run and catch your metro, not having to think where the elevator is in a new building, taking the stairs to class, living a chill life without having to take antidepressants… it sounds great - but not everyone can freestyle their life to the same extent.
Whether you're a student with a disability(ies) or just curious, here's everything you need to know. What is KTH doing to help? How do people feel about it? In this article I will try to give an overview on how disabilities are perceived at KTH, what resources are available for students who might need them, and what are the accessibility measures taken to ensure that all students have access to a fair and equal education.
We will meet Eric and Hanna, two students with firsthand exposure who can share their experiences with us. Eric is the Head of Student Welfare at THS. He has visual impairment and autism. Hanna is a student in KTH. She has conquered a battle against a more than 10 year long depression. We thank them for their kindness and interesting testimonies. The anonymous testimonies that will be included in this article are also gratefully acknowledged.
Eric: Funka [the KTH group that coordinates support at KTH] is giving students support during examinations, is able to provide mentor support for planning and organization, (...) but they also have physical resources such as the resource room, which is supposed to be a quiet place to study.
How does Funka help you with your studies at KTH?
Hanna: [My disability] was a long time depression. I got rid of it in 2019, so I don’t have a disability anymore. But [my mentor from FUNKA] helped me very much with organizing my studies. We booked like one [2 hours] meeting each week. We would look through my study plans. She wouldn't necessarily help with what I was studying, but how to organize it. I still use a lot of the study techniques that she taught me, especially with the beginning of the semester. I am organizing a sheet where I write down each day and then all deadlines of the different courses.
Does KTH offer sufficient help to students with disabilities in your opinion? What could KTH do more to allow students with disabilities to have the same chances in their studies as students without any disabilities?
Eric: I think that most of the faculty is already aware about what sort of resources some students require. The information given to the teaching assistants about the fact that there are students with special needs can however [be improved]. For example, I write exams on a computer and sometimes I had teaching assistants telling me “you're not allowed to use your computer”. I wouldn't say that there's a severe issue with communication, it's something that usually gets clarified in five seconds. But this is only from my personal point of view, I cannot say for certain that other students have not encountered bigger obstacles.
Anonymous-1: [Concerning myself], my main issue is with how teachers communicate/structure their course. If there is anything that is unclear, I don't function. In the past, many teachers have been great, but there have also been some that don't communicate to the students in time, have vague descriptions of projects and assignments or change things during the course which makes it very difficult for me to follow along. There have also been group projects, where you are required to work in a group of 6-7 people in order to pass the course. With autism, this is very difficult, takes a lot of energy and requires skills that I do not have.
Anonymous-2 [translated from Swedish]: One problem with extended writing time for example, is that when others have finished writing seminar tests, the environment becomes quite messy, which is directly counterproductive for those who need extended writing time. Exercise leaders rarely say anything.
If I understand them correctly, it sounds like Funka does help a lot with your studies. One thing to really improve is that the teaching assistants and professors should be more aware of disabilities. They should be more trained to know about accessibility.
Hanna: It's very hard to do. Most professors don't have the interest to learn these things. Trying to also enforce [equal opportunities and gender diversity] with the teachers, it's really hard.
I don’t know how we could change that. Professors and teachers are a main part of studying. It would be nice to have an improvement from KTH on these problems. Do you think Funka is transparent about the help they provide, is it easy to contact them?
Eric: In my experience, when I started studying in Flemingsberg, I contacted them and then we had an introductory meeting. I explained what sort of disabilities I have and how it affects my studies and my everyday life. Then they responded by informing me what sort of support and resources that I am entitled to.
Hanna: It wasn't that transparent. I worked last year with some Funka questions. I have seen the sheet of about 50 different things that you can get with Funka [that I didn’t know about, even if I was a Funka student]. (...) I think I was also one of the first students with depression to actually apply for support. They didn't quite know what to do with me. It wasn't that standard cause it was mostly people with dyslexia and also people with physical disabilities (and several others disabilites that Funka students had). I've tried to talk with a lot of people with depression since then, to get them to also apply.
Anonymous-3: Personally, I don’t believe that Funka is able to offer any support which would be helpful to me. This is not because I think they are bad, and certainly not because I don’t struggle with problems from my disability. It’s just that none of the problems I have happen to fall in areas where Funka can provide support. I also really do think it’s important that (...) people know the inherent limitations of disability support. The truth is that even if Funka functions perfectly, that still won’t mean that all students with disabilities are able to function as well as their nondisabled counterparts. Funka is an aid for some, but it is not a cure for anyone. We will never not be disabled.
This is something really important to keep in mind. Students with disabilities have different challenges that are inherent to the fact of being disabled. Funka or any other helping group could never erase disability. In your opinion, who should be the main actor in the Student Union to help with accessibility?
Hanna: There are things everyone can do to make the environment better for everyone else: it can be from THS or KTH for whom it is easier to work with these issues, but also from the chapters and individuals. Concerning the chapter it can be more challenging to focus on this. One year is not enough time to actually make an impact in most things. And the things that you make an impact on are the things that you are very interested in. (...)They're like “ah, but I didn't get elected to work on these things”. Especially most disabilities, where the best result is usually received when also taking into account that everyone works differently. (...) But they can also do a lot of things while being really close to students. Everyone needs to work together to have a more accessible university!
What is THS working on in regards to disabilities?
Eric: I will say that we do have a lot of interesting projects. These projects cover everything that can affect the psychosocial study environment, such as mental health awareness, inclusivity, international students, reaching out to new students, and making sure that they understand the resources that are available to them. And on the accessibility front, I would say that my main project is the subgroup “Insight”. They do some formative activities such as board games and card games. The core part of it is just the community and being able to discuss how your life is going.
Hanna: I think it's much easier for THS [than for the chapters] to force changes. I think they have done a great job doing that in the reception, but unfortunately the reception is not so long. I've heard from many people with disabilities that during the reception it's super fun to be a part of it, but afterwards, they kind of get forgotten.
We can see that there are quite a few different initiatives by Funka, THS or associations at KTH. Talking about society, do you think that physical and psychological impairments are treated equally?
Hanna: They have their own difficulties. If you have a physical disability that is usually very visible for people to see. It makes that person feel different from the start. But it is also easier for people to adapt to that person and be reminded about it, and then they can ask how they can help and be there for them and adapt things.
When people have an invisible disability, they aren't that open about it, especially not in a new situation. They can hide it more, but it's still there, it still affects them. I don't think today's society works well for either of them. It would be great if society was more adapted.
Thank you a lot for all these testimonies! Is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers?
Eric: I would definitely encourage the people that are interested in such questions to check out THS Insight. It is such a great and diverse community to interact with and learn from! You don’t need to have a disability to join, you just have to be curious!
Hanna: When I was sick, I didn't think it was possible to get healthy. So I guess that's the thing I want to say, that it is possible. I'm not sure if it is for everyone, but it is possible for some. And Funka can help if you have depression.
KTH can provide help with your studies through FUNKA. For inquiries and assistance, FUNKA's contact details are available on their KTH webpage.
For social purposes, the THS subgroup Insight (@ths_insight_kth on Instagram) is organizing social events with the aim of creating a safe place for all students at KTH.