“At Fulbright University Vietnam, we believe in education being accessible to all, and in ensuring the success of all our students. This is only possible in a diverse and inclusive learning environment, where students thrive through each other’s unique contributions,” said Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam.
A 2016 UNICEF study found out there are 6.2 million people with disabilities in Vietnam, accounting for 7% of the country’s population. Meanwhile, although children with special learning needs or disabilities share the same curriculum as their peers, only 2% of primary schools and secondary schools in Vietnam were found to be suitably equipped. This problem continues through tertiary education, with only 0.1% of Vietnamese youth with disabilities attending college.
Since its early design, Fulbright University Vietnam’s Crescent campus was intended to be wheelchair accessible – from the visibly flat floor plan and Crescent Plaza’s elevator access, to smaller details such as softer rugs that allow for better wheeling. But as a growing “start-up” university, Fulbright must continuously strive to improve the educational experience of students with varied learning needs. As we prepare to receive our first visually impaired students, activities have gone into full swing to prepare for their arrival.
“To refine and perfect our renovation efforts, I contacted several visually impaired people working or studying in Vietnam, from visually impaired students graduating from RMIT to visually impaired people working at Sao Mai Center for the Blind, Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind, a Disability Rights Officer at Hanoi’s UNDP office, and more. We have also received invaluable feedback from our new students as they attended the Bridge program. It was important to get their perspective and discuss how to create a truly inclusive teaching and learning environment for visually impaired students,” explained Hoang Thi Nhat Tam, learning specialist at Fulbright.
This process mobilized many facets of Fulbright’s organization. Under advisory from Tam, Fulbright’s Facilities Team implemented braille signage throughout our Crescent campus and Waterfront dorms. Fulbright even prototyped an embossed map of campus to their peers with orientation.
On the 5th floor, our student center is further undergoing major renovations to thoroughly enhance the student experience. There, Fulbrighters will benefit from a variety of services, from learning, career and counselling support to wellness amenities, or registrar and student life offices. The student center will incorporate tangible improvements for disability access, such as guiding lines along the wall, rounded corners on furniture, and improved wheelchair accessibility, under guidance from Student Life and Learning Support.
Inclusiveness involves a multitude of factors, with varying degrees of synergy; although it is possible to find an ideal height to affix door signage so it can be both read comfortably by persons in wheelchairs, and touched by the visually impaired, facilities will include flexible as well as inflexible chairs to ensure the safety and comfort of students with varying needs. Most importantly, the center will feature an accessible study room.
Indeed, beyond ensuring our students can safely and comfortably get to their intended destinations, it is critical to establish an environment where learning happens as seamlessly as possible. Our IT Department collaborated to implement technical by equipping Fulbright with assistive technology, such as the screen reader Jaws, but also high-performance computers, large screen displays, a braille display machine, low vision lamps, headsets, and more.
Tam further ensured our professors were briefed on how to create digital materials accessible to all users and provided guidelines on inclusive teaching, with more virtual workshops coming at the end of this month, followed by student inclusiveness workshops come September. Those guidelines involve every aspect, from course design to document formatting, testing, and establishing a class climate that fosters belonging for all students. For example, handouts should always be in accessible PDF format, not scanned from documents, and provided as early as possible to offer time for visually impaired students to read at their own pace. Guidelines can also be shared with sighted students on how best to collaborate with their visually impaired peers.
“Our design philosophy always demands we strive for the latest advances in education research and technology. Accessibility and inclusiveness are 2 core pillars of this design. This is what we strive to exemplify in the very infrastructure we inhabit, but also in every aspect of campus life, from staff training to course design, education technology and student activities. In this way, inclusiveness requires of us exactly what it will of our students: empathy, cooperation, problem solving, and ultimately growth,” concluded Dam Bich Thuy.