Disability master plan: turning an ideal into reality

On November 20, the University's Board of Directors voted in favor of the new Disability Master Plan (SDH) presented by Agnès Fichard-Carroll, UM Vice President for Training and University Life and Disability Coordinator. Now that 43 of the 45 actions planned in the previous SDH have been deployed, and the success of students with disabilities has been included in the 2023-2025 Contract of Objectives, Resources and Performance (COMP), UM is pursuing its commitment to greater inclusion of staff and students with disabilities. 

Several months of discussions and meetings between Agnès Fichard-Carroll and staff, students with disabilities and the departments and services that support them, first and foremost the Campus Life Department with its Handiversity Service, preceded the drafting of this document. " This plan owes a great deal to the strengths and inspiration of the players we met throughout its development. As far as disabled staff are concerned, around thirty of them took part in these meetings, which is a good sign that the fear of having one's disability exposed is beginning to fade," emphasizes the vice-president.

Since 2020, the date of the last disability master plan, the legislative framework in favor of greater accessibility has been enriched by a decree(November 12, 2021) and two circulars(February 6, 2023 and March 27, 2023) concerning the adaptation of examinations and competitions in higher education for candidates with disabilities, and the health system for students and users of higher education. Agnès Fichard-Carroll announces: " We will continue to deploy our measures in line with these regulations and the main principles governing our action. We know that providing support is not the same as taking charge, and even less so as imposing, and that articulating an individual situation with the expectations of a group is complicated, but this new scheme will enable us to progress collectively. "

Success for students with disabilities

The main focus of this disability master plan is the success of students with disabilities. Between 2019 and 2023, the proportion of disabled students at the UM increased from 2.41% to 3.44%, compared with a national average of 2.2%, representing 1,641 students. " Thanks to greatly improved support during their studies, more students are accessing university courses. At the UM their percentage has doubled since 2015 which represents a source of satisfaction." 62% are enrolled in undergraduate courses, 29% in graduate courses, 5% in postgraduate courses and 4% in other courses.

To help them succeed, the UM is proposing a dozen or so actions to better welcome and support them. " The aim here is to offer students with disabilities the same opportunities as others, and to engage the community with them. Disability tutoring; international mobility; support for hospitalized students or even gratification of internships... On the welcome side, signage on campuses will be reinforced and a call for "Aliv'equip" projects will be launched to improve the comfort of rest rooms reserved for people with disabilities. " This measure seems to us to be an appropriate way of demonstrating UM's commitment to both equity and service ," explains the vice-president. " We are also considering setting up a cohort follow-up system to track the progress of students with disabilities who have passed through the UM.

To better support teachers, the keystone of this scheme, workshops on inclusive teaching practices will be offered by the CSIP in conjunction with Handiversité, and technical sheets on reformulating instructions for examinations, for example, will be provided. "We need to continue raising their awareness, by better informing them about the most common disabilities and explaining certain recommendations," continues Agnès Fichard-Carroll.

Career support

"Public-sector employers are obliged to employ 6% of employees who benefit from the employment obligation. At the UM, there will be 206 BOEs in 2019 (4.57%) and 220 in 2023 (4.84%). This percentage rises to 7.41% if we look exclusively at Biatss beneficiaries, but is only 3.1% among researchers, teacher-researchers and doctoral students. As we often point out, one of the difficulties universities face in reaching the 6% threshold lies in the high percentage of highly-qualified people at the university (PhDs, HDRs, in total more than 50% of category A staff), while it is a well-known fact that people with disabilities suffer from a lack of training. We are, however, registering clear progress", sums up the Vice-President. By way of comparison, in 2020, the rate of direct employment of beneficiaries of the employment obligation was 2.65% at Université Paris-Cité, 3.76% at Université d'Aix-Marseille and 4.26% at Toulouse Paul Sabatier. In the French state civil service, the figure is 4.36%.

" We know that there are obstacles to the recruitment of disabled people by competitive examination. Contractual recruitment is possible for Biatss staff, as it is for lecturers. Although the latter is still difficult to apply, the UM was able to recruit an MCU under this scheme this year, which we are delighted about. We believe that we should continue to seize every opportunity to encourage their recruitment. All the actions taken to improve career support for BOEs under the previous plan will be maintained (communication, workshops, specific accommodations, doctoral contracts for disabilities, etc.).

But employing people with disabilities isn't just a question of recruitment: according to figures from the French Ministry of Education, 85% of disabled people become disabled during the course of their lives. Career support is therefore essential. Underarticle 93 of the law on the transformation of the civil service, two opportunities for promotion through secondment will be offered for the first time in the employment campaign. " To achieve the objective of better supporting the careers of disabled staff, we also need to be able to rely on the network of prevention assistants present on all the University's sites. Specific training will be dedicated to them," explains Agnès Fichard-Carroll. Support measures such as telecommuting for the disabled, and reduced working hours for teaching and research staff, will be continued. It will also facilitate the study of workstations by the SCMPPS and the Handiversité department.

Committed to greater inclusion

The third and final axis of this disability master plan concerns accessibility. " Our aim is not only to support students with disabilities in their studies and staff in their work, but also to enable them to take advantage of all the activities associated with university life in an environment that is favourable to them," explains the disability coordinator. As far as real estate is concerned, several buildings have been made accessible during recent renovations on the pharmacy, Triolet (Village des sciences enter a new area), Staps (An exemplary renovation project) or Nîmes medicine(New areas for the Montpellier-Nîmes Faculty of Medicine site).

Inclusion must also apply to university activities and events. Invitations now mention disabilities, so that people do not hesitate to ask for accommodations. Many workshops and events organized by the campus life department are offered online, which can make it easier for people with disabilities to take part. " We should also point out that, thanks to the hard work of the SCD (Service Commun de Documentation), we have been granted Platon approval authorizing us to produce adapted versions (Braille, international DAISY format, etc.) of all available works." More generally, a simple vademecum will be produced to raise awareness of digital accessibility.

On the social front, we are continuing to increase assistance for staff recognized as disabled workers (RQTH) in terms of entertainment and reading vouchers, as well as cultural and sporting activities. " We also need to take greater account of disability in the allocation of social assistance to students," emphasizes Agnès Fichard-Carroll. A global policy in favor of inclusion that the UM hopes to export beyond its walls by pursuing the establishment's purchasing policy to encourage the employment of people with disabilities. Finally, conferences for the general public, a source of great interest, and Braille and sign language workshops, which are already well attended, will continue to be offered on a regular basis. " This master plan is a fundamental tool for making progress towards equity. The Chairman and I hope that it meets the expectations of people with disabilities, and we sincerely thank all the colleagues who have contributed and who work every day for greater inclusion.