Two arched windows let light into a new gathering place in the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission and its EducationUSA Advising Center. It’s less about the setting and more about what is inside this corner space that matters – new accessible computer stations.
Computers equipped with screen readers and magnifiers, two large monitors, and a desktop magnifier, which will enable students with vision disabilities to have access to test preparation materials and information about U.S. study options.
Until recently, Ruxandra Radulescu, EducationUSA advisor at the Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission, had limited experience in working with students with disabilities. Yet, just one interaction with a student who is blind helped her to see the need to make their resources available and accessible.
“We could have and should have come to this realization even before we were presented with our first challenge, but sometimes it takes a special event to shake us out of our accustomed ways of estimating our students’ needs by the needs of the visible majority.”
The U.S. system of higher education is very welcoming to students of all backgrounds and has accessibility at its many facilities and services, as Ruxandra noted when she studied as a graduate student in the U.S.
“It was only appropriate for our EducationUSA office to reach out to students who are often kept to the sidelines, for a variety of reasons, often inadvertently.”
Once this awareness started, enthusiasm and support to increase outreach to and the inclusion of students with disabilities was found at every turn.
To kick off this new approach to serving students with disabilities:
- The EducationUSA Regional Educational Advising Coordinator (REAC) conducted workshops on inclusive best practices in academic advising,
- The U.S. Cultural Affairs Office at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest provided the grant to purchase the assistive technology,
- The Division Chief of the Disability/Reasonable Accommodation Division in the U.S. Department of State inaugurated their new Accessibility Corner.
It all facilitated greater access to their center’s wide range of educational resources and advising services.
Sustaining their Inclusion Efforts
Although this Romanian-U.S. Fulbright Commission and its EducationUSA Advising Center works primarily with high school and university students, they saw the possibility of using the new equipment to reach out to students with disabilities at all stages of their education – even those who are still in grade school.
During the summer, the center organized short-term English language and American cultural programs for children who are low vision or blind, grades 6 to 8, using the assistive technology in their Accessibility Center.
In the future, the center’s efforts will continue to build on its inclusive structure. They will initiate a co-organized volunteer project, as a means to reach out to, and work with students with disabilities.
Additionally, the center will implement EducationUSA’s Opportunity Funds program, designed to provide financial assistance in the application process to top students from underprivileged backgrounds, including students with disabilities from low-income families.
And this center has also built connections with students, teachers and volunteers from the Romanian Association of the Blind and “Regina Elisabeta” High School in Bucharest. This is perhaps the most basic of lessons: Build it and they will come.
EducationUSA is a U.S. Department of State network of over 400 international student advising centers in more than 170 countries.