On January 18, an online meeting between the students from each of the 5 partners in Armenia and students from TUD, Germany were invited to an online international students’ event in framework of Erasmus+ Support for Innovative Methodology, Approaches and Tools for Teaching through the Medium of English in order to improve Educational Yield, Sustainability and Internationalization [SMARTI]. The event was organized by TUD Team with support of Liverpool John Moore University. 

The agenda of the meeting covered the following topics:

-Accessibility in Society (Focus on Challenges in Daily Life and how IT, Architecture, and Language Acquisition Can Support This)”.

-Accessibility to Education for non-native German speakers

-Accessibility in Public Buildings

-Accessibility to Digital Documents

The meeting was also attended by Gerard Cullen, the SMARTI project coordinator from TUD, TUD students: Verena Well, Nina Zaunick, Lea Müller, as well as Meri Abgaryan; a student of IT who studied before in Yerevan and is doing her master’s degree at Drezden. The latter took the lead in giving a thorough summary of how non-native German speakers can get an education in German HEIs, highlighting the challenges the students face, as well as the ways how to overcome them and the future impact and benefits of their experience. She stated that one-third of all school-age children in Germany have a migrant background and do not speak German as their mother tongue.

Nina outlined a number of difficulties non-native German speakers encounter, such as the language barrier that makes it difficult to comprehend the course material. Other obstacles were prejudices and stereotypes as well as social and emotional adaptation. Inadequate resources were also mentioned, particularly standardized ones that couldn’t satisfy a range of needs. The impacts of these challenges were categorized into individual and societal consequences. Academic challenges and emotional consequences, potentially leading to lower socioeconomic status, were identified as individual impacts. Societal impacts included strains on inclusive practices, marginalization of language and migrant groups, and limitations on workforce diversity in globalized industries.

To address these challenges and impacts, Nina proposed a multifaceted set of solutions. These encompassed language support programs, cultural integration initiatives, teacher training and awareness programs, curriculum adaptation, community engagement, resource allocation and funding, and promoting diversity in education policies. Peer support programs, flexible learning environments, and monitoring and evaluation were also highlighted as crucial components of the proposed solutions.

To assure the efficacy of the suggested measures and pinpoint areas for development, Nina emphasized in her closing remarks the significance of inclusive policies, peer support programs, flexible learning environments, and continual monitoring and evaluation.

Lea carried took the floor by illuminating the critical subject of accessibility in public spaces and highlighting the necessity of inclusive design and individual empowerment. She discussed the basic idea of accessibility, which is creating places, services, products, and technology with the goal of accommodating individuals with impairments. Establishing inclusive environments that promote self-determination and empowerment is the aim.

Lea explored a range of domains that are critical to attaining accessibility, including anthropometry, sensory considerations, mobility, motor capabilities, physical state, and cognitive abilities.

She defined anthropometry as the study of measures made by the human body, stressing that anybody can use it, regardless of size, age, or aptitude. The human body must be taken into consideration when designing, with both static and dynamic measurements

Lea emphasized the need of having broad doors and corridors, ramps or elevators, wheelchair-accessible facilities, and enough area for mobility. The emphasis on automatic doors was another way to improve inclusion.

She discussed tactile, gustatory, olfactory, visual, and auditory components of sensory perception that are important to consider while establishing an inclusive environment.

Lea also emphasized the significance of sufficient lighting, legible signs, strong luminance contrast, and appropriate size and placement considerations for visual perception.

Moving forward she talked about tactile guidance systems, which use surface or level changes to help with orientation and navigation. These consist of raised letters, signs with symbols, textured floors, detectable warning devices, and Braille labeling.

In her concluding remarks, Lea used the Reichstag building as an example. She clarified that the ramp not only dictates the overall design but also acts as an inclusive element. All users, including those carrying baby carriages or using rollators or wheelchairs, can have an accessible experience. One example of how accessibility elements can be successfully included into architectural design is the Reichstag.

Verena addressed the accessibility in digital documents and gave an overview of accessible resources and procedures as she wrapped up her talk.

She outlined the essential resources for improving accessibility in digital publications, such as screen readers, Braille displays, and larger letter sizes. She highlighted the features of screen readers, which allow users to navigate documents using tags and read aloud content.

Verena emphasized the significance of tags for text style and organization in digital documents; to improve a machine readability, tags classify text elements including headlines, lists, tables, and regular text.

She said that the efficiency of tagging PDF documents to improve accessibility varies depending on the program being used and offered some helpful pointers to increase accessibility: underlining, a bold text, and a cursive rather than changing the color, tags to make navigating easier, accessibility verifiers, lists and tables to organize massive data sets etc.

Verena’s observations provide a thorough manual for improving the usability and accessibility of digital content.

Following the presentations, participants engaged in group discussions to provide feedback on various aspects, including the presentation itself, the topics covered, and any technical issues that may have arisen. This collaborative feedback session allowed for a comprehensive assessment and constructive input from diverse perspectives.

Subsequently, a Q&A session unfolded between Armenian and German students, addressing pertinent topics such as:

  1. Studying in Dresden; questions centered around the aspects and challenges related to studying in Dresden.
  2. Availability of Scholarships; inquiries about the existence and accessibility of scholarships for students.
  3. Visa-related Challenges; discussions on problems associated with obtaining a visa, exploring the complexities of the process.
  4. Benefits of Studying in Armenia; explorations into the advantages and positive aspects of pursuing education in Armenia.

This interactive Q&A session allowed students to exchange valuable information, insights, and personal experiences, fostering a collaborative understanding of the educational landscape in both Armenia and Germany. 

Armine Asatryan, 

2nd Year Bachelor student in English language and Literature, Faculty of Humanities, GSU

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