Nazarbayev University: equal access and equal opportunities for everyone

The development of a barrier-free environment for students with special educational needs, equal conditions and opportunities for everyone are the main principles of Nazarbayev University.

Ziyat Abdykaimov is the first blind student and graduate of the graduate program of the Graduate School of Education in Inclusive Education. After graduating from Nazarbayev University in 2016, Ziyat started working as an expert manager for assistive technologies and accessibility of the NU Library, and advises teachers and students on issues and problems of applicants with special needs.

Ziyat spoke about the technical equipment of the NU Library for students and users with special needs.

When did the library purchase equipment for the visually impaired and what features does it have?  What other technologies does the library provide for patrons with special needs?

In 2015, I requested that the library purchase a set of auxiliary typhlo-technical equipment (tiflocomplex).  Three years later after the library’s renovation was complete, an office and specialized workplace was established to provide access to information resources and educational materials for those with visual impairment.

Tiflokompleks is a special computer for people with visual impairment with specialized software (software) and peripheral devices. These include the Everest V4 Braille printer (used to print important information in a concise form), Zyfuse Heater – a thermal printer for creating tactile-graphic images, which allows you to read illustrative information. In addition, we have the so-called Focus Blue Braille display, which helps to read and enter information. And computer software is designed to read information from a computer monitor (JAWS), translate material into Braille (Duxbury), and convert printed text to audio material (OpenBook 9.0).

Last year, the Library introduced additional equipment for other categories of users with disabilities. For example, wheelchair users now have an ergonomic table with individually adjustable height. For people with spasticity – the Clevy keyboard with special pads to prevent accidental clicks and the Trackball SimplyWorks computer roller that replaces the mouse.

For people with hearing impairments, the University’s Library has a portable information-induction system “Source A2”, thanks to which hearing-impaired students can comfortably interact with the librarian.

What do you think could be improved and implemented further?

The concept of “accessible environment” should include not only the physical environment such as the buildings and the surrounding area, but also the information infrastructure of the university. To create a barrier-free environment, the University’s Library and campus must be equipped with elements of accessibility and non-visual navigation.  Specifically, the library needs to ensure accessibility to all of the main communication channels such as websites, internal portals, electronic document management system, and mobile applications. This is integral to creating an inclusive university environment

I was one of the first students in Kazakhstan for whom the university acquired assistive technologies. Prior to that, I studied at the undergraduate program in political science of KazNU al-Farabi. Having entered Nazarbayev University in 2015, I saw the University’s readiness, in particular from the library, to help with the development of inclusive education. Unfortunately, not every educational institution has a directive for the development of inclusion, some universities believe that it is enough to provide students with ramps, and after all, every student with a disability needs individual provision. In this regard, NU is unconditionally a leader.

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Can you give an example of foreign universities that serve as the best examples of inclusive education?

In fact, there are quite a few such universities around the world.  Comparing their conditions to ours, the first difference is that the degree of conditions here is not standardized because there are no fixed documents to regulate such issues.  Because inclusivity is not regulated, how it is implemented in Kazakhstan varies institution to institution and is based on how each institution sees the need to provide such services and equipment, and the desire and resources to provide it.

From my personal experience, I can mention Indiana University Bloomington, USA. I studied there in 2014, and the university had the same assistive devices that are now available at Nazarbayev University. At that time, the main goal for me was to learn English, and I had access to all information resources. I requested Braille material in advance at the Assistive Technology & Accessibility Centers, and after a while I got everything I needed.

As a rule, foreign universities describe in detail the services offered for people with disabilities on their websites. In the countries of Europe and the USA, there are necessary documents on inclusive education, certain policies and direction strategies. In comparison with them, our University can be considered a beginner, for Kazakhstan this is a new phenomenon.

You are the author of the guide “Culture of Interaction with People with Disabilities”. In your opinion, is it necessary for everyone, whether a teacher or a student, to know the rules of etiquette for communicating with people with disabilities in order to create an inclusive social environment?

Of course, it is advisable to conduct educational work with everyone who wants it, but most importantly, the university should help create the right conditions. In order to provide high-quality services and effective communication of University employees and people with special needs, I consider it necessary to conduct regular trainings on the correct terminology and ethics of communication with people with disabilities.

We started with the Library, where at least one training was held every week.