Academic Accessibility Support Center Inaugurated at Technion
The Accessibility center was established with the support of Israel’s National Insurance Institute and will meet the needs of hundreds of students with physical and sensory disabilities, including sensitivities in attention and concentration.
The Technion Academic Accessibility Support Center was inaugurated on Wednesday, November 30, 2016, at a festive ceremony in the Ullman building at the heart of campus. The ceremony was attended by Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie; Dean of Students Prof. Moris Eisen; Shmuel Weinglass, Director of the Fund For Service Development For People with Disabilities; and Sarah Katzir, Head of the Unit for the Advancement of Students at the Technion.
“By opening the new center, the Technion has come full circle, after having championed the principle of equal opportunities ever since its establishment,” said Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavie. “Its doors have always been open to students, regardless of religion, race or gender, and today the Technion is also open to people with disabilities, helping them succeed here without compromising academic standards. Students attending the Technion represent Israeli society in all its diversity, and I wish that the relations between them at Technion were characteristic of the State of Israel as a whole.”
Mr. Shmuel Weinglass said that: “The establishment of a support center at Technion – the oldest university in Israel – will allow an increase in the number of students with disabilities who will be able to acquire a college education in the fields of science and technology, thereby enabling their integration into normative employment in jobs appropriate to their ability and their potential. Over the past six years, the National Insurance Institute of Israel’s Funds have spearheaded the project of making higher education in Israel accessible to students coping with disabilities, through the establishment of support centers in 35 academic institutions throughout Israel, paving the way for genuine social equality.”
According to Dean of Students Prof. Moris Eisen: “The number of students with disabilities at the Technion is increasing, mainly due to their desire to integrate into the labor market. The inauguration of the Center is an important step in the absorption of these students; and in the support that we provide for them.”
“The purpose of the new center is to concentrate services provided to students with disabilities under one roof, and to raise awareness of these disabilities among faculty members,” explained Sarah Katzir, Head of the Unit for the Advancement of Students at the Technion, “The center, which will operate in the Ullman building under the responsibility of the Office of the Dean of Students, includes: accessible computer workstations; a workshop room; rooms for computerized tests; and a room for the academic accessibility coordinator. The center was built by the Construction and Maintenance Division, with the assistance of the Division of Computing and Information Systems, and with ongoing input from the Head of the Office of the Dean of Students and members of the National Insurance Institute of Israel’s Funds Committee. Financial support was provided by the National Insurance Institute of Israel via the National Insurance Institute of Israel Funds, and by the Technion.”
Academic Accessibility Support Coordinator Sigal Blum coordinates all matters pertaining to students with disabilities at the Technion, providing individual counselling and personal support, for every student that contacts her. This is accomplished by adapting the academic workload to the student’s disability; developing learning skills; recommending accommodation according to the student’s limitations; coordination between the faculties in order to meet the student’s needs; contacting relevant entities outside the Technion; and counselling applicants with disabilities interested in obtaining information about accommodations and about the nature of studies at Technion.
To date, Ms. Blum has handled about 200 students with physical and sensory disabilities. About 500 students with attention and concentration issues are handled by specialists Rosie Engel and Gil Berkowitz at the Unit for the Advancement of Students, .
The event included lectures by Dr. Shiri Pearlman Avnion from Tel Hai College and by Assistant Professor Avi Avital from the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion, as well as a panel discussion by Technion alumni on the challenges faced by alumni with special needs in the labor market.
The Story of Eli Cohen
Eli Cohen, a native of Kfar Sava, was an outstanding student until the middle of eleventh grade. Then, in unclear circumstances, he lost hearing in both ears. “This was at a time when there was no awareness of the need for accessibility in the education system. I very quickly stopped understanding what the teachers were saying and my grades plummeted rapidly.”
Needless to say, this was accompanied by new social difficulties and a tremendous feeling of helplessness. “After all the years of getting grades of 90 and above, all of a sudden I was failing tests. I left the physics-biology program and switched to economics and business administration, but I still failed to complete the matriculation exams.”
After high school, Cohen volunteered to do National Service in Magen David Adom, a decision that proved wise. “It began with a month-long medics course that included room and board, and suddenly I felt smart and useful again. I worked on mobile first aid units and then I took an intensive care course and started working on mobile intensive care units.”
At the end of his service, he retook his matriculation exams to improve his grades, completed the psychometric exam with an outstanding grade and began studying at a college in central Israel. “It was very hard, with virtually no help and without accessibility,” so he decided to transfer to the Technion and began studying at the Faculty of Industrial Engineering and Management.
“Here, everything was different – from the moment I contacted Malka Rosenfeld from the Student Union and the learning disabilities coordinator. Subsequently, when the Accessibility Center headed by Sigal Blum began to operate, it was an even bigger step up. Today, I have an improved hearing aid purchased with the help of the Student Union; I work on a computer that has been adapted for me personally at the Accessibility Center (which is open round the clock); I have a mentor; advice about courses; and more. Even my apartment in the dorm is accessible for me and all this, to the best of my knowledge, exists only at the Technion.”