Diversity for all - University of Stuttgart on its way to reaching an inclusivity agreement

July 27, 2022

Three workshops, over 20 participants and the challenge of coming up with an agreement for 5,000 employees and over 20,000 students at the University of Stuttgart by December 3, 2022 - this is the challenge facing the university on its path to reaching an inclusivity agreement.

The process is being directed by the university's inclusion officer, Dr. Ulrich Eggert, who says that the main goal of the open research group is to “make my work redundant”. The aim for the future is that all employees and students should experience inclusivity so naturally that there is no longer any need for the involvement of separate institutions to ensure that everyone is able to participate.

A very diverse research group

Eggert launched the initiative on December 3, 2021, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Supported by the Vice Rector for Diversity and Internationalization, Prof. Silke Wieprecht, the plan emerged that the agreement would be drafted and formally agreed by the next International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Everyone involved understands the importance of not just creating a piece of paper with nice wording, but rather an agreement that can truly be experienced in everyday life.

20 people from administration, equal opportunities, IT, institutes, and the staff council met at the project launch on April 27. Vice Rector Silke Wieprecht and Chancellor Jan Gerken participated on behalf of the university management. Both disabled and able-bodied people came together to brainstorm ideas, identify weaknesses, and share successes. A key focus of the meeting was to define the working method - workshops in larger groups, elaboration in small groups - as well as clarifying the terms to be used.

14 people from the university discuss via video telephony about the inclusion agreement.
A screenshot from the launch event.

With the English quote “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance,” Wieprecht defined the focus of the project. That the university is diverse and intelligent through diversity was demonstrated by the diversity of those involved. However, several participants criticized the fact that the proportion of employees with disabilities is still far too low. This year, the university has even been fined because of this.

There was agreement that diversity and inclusion should be thought of in broad terms, i.e., encompassing everyone living together in harmony. The Chancellor suggested the slogan “Being different together”. In order to ensure that things don't get out of hand, the inclusivity agreement focuses on needs assessments, projects and measures that make it easier for people with disabilities to study and work at the University of Stuttgart.

Successes and incentives

The initial ideas primarily looked at how the university could become a more attractive employer for people with disabilities. So far, there have been successes above all in the improvement of accessibility - for example, since 2015 through the Working Group Accessible Campus, which has been working towards structural and digital accessibility. Corporate Workplace Integration Management (BEM) [link to German page] helps many individuals returning to work after a long period of illness.

According to some of those involved, there is need for improvement, particularly in measures such as compensating disadvantages for those affected by disability of illness, incentives for institutes and the necessary intuition when filling positions. Despite the university receiving a fine, there has been no additional state funding to create more jobs for people with disabilities, he said. However, there are public subsidies, for example, so that an institute can procure technical aids for a blind or deaf employee.

Chancellor Gerken called for a “culture change,” which he envisioned as all university facilities working together to provide funding. Improvements would also have to be made to the political framework, especially since, as a member of the staff council noted, the EU would in future demand inclusivity concepts for all groups in need of integration. Vice Rector Wieprecht suggested identifying areas where it would be easy to accommodate people with certain physical limitations.

Over 40 starting points

Two workshops followed - divided between the Stadtmitte and Vaihingen campuses – where general ideas became more structured. At the end of May and beginning of June, five motivations and seven requirements were determined, which led to twelve project proposals and 17 specific measures.

One example is to push for academic accommodations for people with disabilities or for people who find themselves in difficult personal or family situations. For students in particular it is important to ensure a higher level of awareness among lecturers. Professionally led groups are required in order for those affected to be able to exchange information. Another example results from recent experiences: Digital teaching has made many aspects of university life easier for students with chronic illnesses and disabilities. These benefits must remain, despite the return to onsite teaching. To support this, prizes could be awarded for particularly accessible teaching.

Training and courses should aim to increase skills in the field of digital accessibility and remove any insecurities about diversity at management level - ideally during onboarding. The research group sees recruitment procedures as a major aspect: job advertisements must become more attractive; in addition, it should also be specified in the advertisement that some jobs are suitable for people with physical disabilities, for example. The procedure preceding the interview also needs to be made more accessible. For example, this might include collecting applicants at the entrance to the building.

To implement the measures and projects, the research group envisions not only the development of guidelines – for example compulsory service commitments for employees – but also asserts that leading by example and gentle changes to university culture should help drive a change in behavior. Attention must also be drawn to communicative examples of successful inclusion in the university community.

Come and join us!

Over the summer, these motivations, requirements, projects, and measures will by formulated and finalized in further rounds in the fall. The research group is as colorful as the people at the university - which is why you are also welcome to attend future meetings and to help shape inclusivity at the University of Stuttgart. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Ulrich Eggert.

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