The University of Bologna and Students with Special Needs

Interview with Chancellor and Professor Giovanni Molari.
Alberto Borghi

The University of Bologna has not just recently been concerned about the needs and rights of students with disabilities or with specific learning disorders (SLD). What are the most relevant services provided to this group of students?


Our university has a structure that offers students with special needs a variety of services to encourage their active participation in university life and develop their autonomy. In addition to accommodation for exams and class attendance, other services are also provided, among which are mobility support with walking assistance, carried out with the help of peer tutors (fellow students), or study support, also provided by peer tutors. A recently introduced measure, the result of the process of constant monitoring of student needs to continually improve services, is the issuing of calls for proposals for students with special needs, and with special economic conditions, aimed at financing the purchase of aids or services that can fully facilitate the fruition of all the opportunities offered by university life.


Prof. Giovanni Molari, Chancellor of the University of Bologna

As a result of the implementation of measures to address COVID-19, have there been any unique difficulties for students with disabilities or with SLD?


Overall, and beyond the fact that the wide spectrum of situations and needs of students should be considered, no particular challenges have been reported. It should be noted that some have benefited from the possibility of distance learning and taking their exams in a comfortable environment such as their own home, while others have had difficulties with respect to Internet connections (often unavailable or not suitable to support full days of learning) and the access of appropriate devices (PC, tablet). Several departments have come to the assistance of these students by lending the required equipment to attend classes and take exams.



Do distance learning and the possibility of taking an exam remotely represent emergency measures or can they become additional tools available to all students to be maintained on a permanent basis?

What is currently being studied by our community and will lead to results in the coming months is the transition from an emergency type teaching to a teaching approach that is truly innovative. With regard specifically to the needs and services offered to students with disabilities and learning disorders, there is no doubt that distance learning, the possibility of taking exams remotely and new services have proven to be valuable resources. This is something to consider for future decisions regarding these situations. Assistance and support for students with disabilities or with SLD are also the subject of university studies and specialized training courses.



Prof. Giovanni Molari, Chancellor of the University of Bologna

Do you think that the Italian legislation adequately guarantees their right to study?

Italian legislation on school inclusion has always been recognized as the most innovative in the world, but it is not enough on its own. There is a need for continuous study, ongoing experimentation of avenues, unexplored solutions and, even in the regulatory area, there is a need for further improvements to achieve an ever-greater expansion of the right and access to education for all. Here are two examples. In the national tests, and in the CISIA Online Tests (TOLC) which, I remind you, are outside the direct scope of universities, there are questions that do not take into account the situations of all students, questions, for example, related to images which are not accessible to those with vision loss. So, considering legislation that allows for often appropriate measures to be taken, it would be useful to rethink the assistance and support for students with disabilities or SLD considering all the factors that, especially in recent years, determine access to the university system, and work to ensure a fair chance of access. Clearly, this also requires a cultural intervention, which we are working on, that makes inclusiveness a cardinal principle of many assessments. There is also the issue of access to educational materials in digital format. Not all publishers provide university texts in digital format, making it difficult for students who are unable to use hard copy material to obtain exam texts. In addition, if with the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty (on access to published works for the blind and visually impaired) additional possibilities have opened up within our national legislation as well, the collaboration and awareness of publishers remain, from this point of view, an important measure in which to engage.


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