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General supervisor of the Disability Unit, Dr Khalid bin Nasser al-Alem, has stressed that PSAU is striving to become a distinguished and stimulating university as per the care it provides to people with disabilities, whether in education, work, participation in any social and cultural activities on the premises of the University. In unison with this trend, the Disability Unit was launched at the outset of the current academic year, with a vision compatible with the KSA Vision 2030. The aim of this Unit is to empower people with disabilities by providing them with whatever special amenities they need in all Saudi universities and so to enhance their role in society. He stressed that the Unit is currently liaising with all departments and deanships of the University for the purpose of making sure that all possible amenities are made available University-wide for people with disabilities to ensure they have unimpeded access to all educational services. Special attention is paid to the need for physical facilities that enable disabled people to have access to all services in the University. Dr al-Alem also pointed out that PSAU, with its unique Disability Unit, believes in the principle of equal opportunity without any bias based on any irrelevant considerations, and that PSAU trusts in the skills and abilities of its students and staff who are disabled and their capability of achieving distinction and demonstrating rare gifts and aptitudes in academic and work arenas.
The task of the Disability Unit is to communicate with people with special needs in order to learn about each individual case and to provide the necessary facilities for their learning and interaction within the University, providing support, guidance and academic counselling, and also establishing a special database for people with disabilities. The Unit will continue to work indefatigably to ensure a learning environment that is propitious for disabled people and to make any necessary changes on the premises of the University so as to accommodate them. The Unit will also constantly coordinate with the various departments, colleges and deanships to make sure the needs of disabled people are taken care of. A number of awareness programmes are now being adopted by the Unit that aim at educating the public about disabilities and their characteristics, and at getting disabled people to be involved in social and sports activities in the University and further afield. Workshops are going to be held from time to time to introduce faculty members to the needs of this group so that they will be better informed and prepared to help them efficiently with regards to their academic and social requirements. The Unit seeks to forge partnerships with bodies off-campus that may be able to provide services tailored to disabled people and to offer them counselling on logistics particularly of use to disabled people.
The Unit provides a number of services to students and University employees who have disabilities. These services can be classified into three categories.
Organizational and procedural services:
The Unit aims to develop a manual of organizational and procedural regulations to serve people with disabilities in the University. The regulations are put forward in compliance the laws of KSA. This manual aims to lay out an organizational structure that meets the needs of disabled people in the University by addressing all services that they are likely to require, and it aims to identify the organizational and administrative bodies germane to disabled people, to identify and distribute the tasks and responsibilities of people working within the Disability Unit, to pinpoint the duties entrusted to each individual so as to regulate the work relations amongst the employees in the Disability Unit and the people with disabilities who are benefiting from the services of this Unit, be they students, faculty members, employees or visitors of the University. This manual also increases awareness of the indispensable role of sound administrative organization in expediting the work of the Unit, by making it possible for staff in this Unit to deliver the best services possible in the most organized manner possible to disabled people.
The procedural manual aims to establish and document palpable and precise work procedures within the Disability Unit, to unify work procedures within the Unit, to make the procedure of requesting and obtaining a particular service fixed and unambiguous, to increase efficiency that is buttressed by fixed regulations, to eliminate inconsistent practices induced by individual whims, and to facilitate the supervision of services to make sure they are being delivered effectively.
Academic services: these include six types of services.
1st service: adapting tests to the individual needs of disabled people. This can be done through:
1. choosing a suitable place for the student that is free from distractions,
2. allocating extra time to complete the test,
3. using assisting technology (such as CCTV, reader programmes, etc.),
4. changing the form and/or design of a test (larger font size, using the Braille system, sign language),
5. using apps and computer programs (such as MS Word), and
6. preparing the desks in a way that suits the special needs of every individual student.
Students with disabilities will have the chance to choose from amongst a number of options prior to the start of the test. These choices include:
1. taking the test in the test stations alongside everybody else without any special arrangements,
2. taking the test in an adapted environment after the liaising between the Unit and the course instructor, or
3. taking the test on the premises of the Disability Unit itself, which is fully equipped to meet the needs of a wide range of disabilities.
2nd service: help with taking class notes
The aim of this service is to help people with disabilities who face challenges in taking class notes during lectures they attend. To this end, the following measures can be taken:
1. Utilizing technology (e.g. audio recordings, class note apps, etc.)
2. Volunteering, whereby one of the brightest students in class vouchsafes writing the class notes for a classmate whose disability precludes him/her from doing so on their own.
3rd service: attendance and modification of times for homework and tests
A number of disabled students are understandably susceptible to abrupt fits of illness occasionally. This could hamper their class attendance or their test taking, or it may preclude them from submitting their homework or term papers on time. They are accordingly in dire need for flexibility on the part of the course instructor. The role of the Disability Unit apropos of this issue is to ascertain the problem first, and then to contact the course instructor so as to make all the necessary personalized arrangements as per each individual case. That is especially important during the first few weeks of each new semester. At the outset of each semester, representatives from the Disability Unit listen to every disabled student in order to pinpoint their needs, and then they communicate with course instructors and make the arrangements tailored to help every individual case. These arrangements include class attendance, course syllabus, course content, etc. to make sure that the disabled student is by no means deprived of any portion of the course content due to their disability.
4th service: assistive technology
Assistive technology is an umbrella term that refers to gadgets or apps specifically designed to overcome any impediments that result from a disability. This type of technology gives disabled people equal opportunity to their counterparts in facile knowledge attainment and active classroom participation. The importance of assistive technology stems from its role in helping a disabled student achieve an acceptable level of autonomy. This technology enables disabled students to read and write on their own independently of a helping hand, which in turn cascades its benefits on the student’s active involvement and participation in the classroom, and thereby boosts their self-assurance and commitment to their academic mission. Moreover, the use of assistive technology will enable the University to stay abreast with the latest in this field, and it will open the eyes of people in charge to new ways of using the technology; it will pave the way for forging new partnerships with local and international companies that specialize in assistive technology, which in turn will contribute further to the welfare of disabled students.
The Disability Unit also offers training courses in computer technology as well as in using smart apps specifically developed for people with disabilities.
5th service: available mediums
The Disability Unit, in conjunction with the PR Unit in the University, gives faculty members of the University in the different departments the opportunity and whatever incentives are needed to produce innovative and simplified learning material (be it textbooks, publications, articles, video tutorials, etc.) that are easily accessible to for students with disabilities.
The Unit also persistently endeavours to make available some assistive devices for disabled students, such as screen magnifiers and text-to-speech programs.
Following is a sample from a multitude of user-friendly mediums:
1. Using PDF files creatively,
2. Braille for the vision-impaired,
3. Explanatory videos,
4. Voice description (i.e. a voice narration of images, video clips, charts, etc.)
6th service: sign language and interpretation
The interpretation service is provided for all the activities run in the University. The Unit also offers training courses in sign language, in cooperation with the specialized associations such as the Sign Language Association.
The Unit also works with a number of accredited sign language interpreters who can provide interpretation for classes and give training courses to students.
7th service: consultancy
The Disability Unit offers academic consultancy services by liaising between the disabled student and the faculty member. The Unit also tackles all concerns of students and employees with disabilities who might come up against stumbling block of one kind or another during their studies or work on campus.
Physical modelling of the University buildings and facilities to make them suit people with disabilities; this is of two types of service.
1st service: construction of buildings and WCs
Through collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering and the Department of Projects and Maintenance in the University, the Disability Unit continuously checks to make sure that all the University buildings and facilities are designed in such a way as to be compatible with the special needs of disabled people (whether the disability is motor, aural, visual, colour blindness or multiple disabilities). The Unit ensures that the University environment is compatible with ideal design standards, and so to make sure that all facilities can be accessed without impediments and are safe to use for everyone.
Examples of that:
1. Special tracks for the visually impaired
2. Assistive means for people with motor or visual disabilities
3. Making the entrances accessible for people with motor or visual disabilities
4. Automatic doors
5. Voice maps
6. Equipping the lifts with Braille and audio alerting systems.
2nd service: disabled parking
Through collaboration with the company in charge of the parking as well as the Department of Projects and Maintenance and the University security, the Disability Unit makes sure that there are enough disabled parking lots near the entrances of all the University buildings. The Unit also issues the permits to disabled people and continually checks to make sure no-one else is using those parking lots.