Learn about Language & Culture in Southern France.
Disabilities as recognized in France include vision, hearing, and mobility impairments. Learning disabilities are generally not recognized, and psychiatric or chronic systemic conditions are viewed as medical conditions rather than disabilities.
French culture is not as sensitive to the needs of disabled persons as American culture. Although legislation regarding the rights of disabled persons was passed in 1975, the attitude of the general population is only beginning to become more sensitive to their needs. While there are a number of community-based organizations advocating the integration of disabled persons in the workplace and elsewhere, the movement does not have the same popular or governmental support that exists in the United States. The number of people with disabilities that one encounters on the street is limited. The general attitude toward those with disabilities has often been one of avoidance, but this is slowly changing and improving.
The study abroad program in Montpellier has hosted a blind student, a dyslexic student, and students with various psychiatric disabilities. Each of these cases posed its own problems, but on-site staff were willing to work with students to meet their needs as best they could. The individual disposition of the student was a factor in the success of the accommodations.
Available accommodations may very depending on whether the student is taking classes for American students or integrated courses at Universite Paul-Valery (UPV). Note taking services are not available for students with learning disabilities unless a fellow student can be recruited for this purpose. Students may tape record class lectures with instructor consent. Separate or quiet testing facilities could be made available. Test and assignment accommodations, such as extra time for examinations, would need to be addressed on an individual basis and will be more difficult to obtain in UPV classes. Copies of syllabi generally will not be available in advance, since they are rarely provided within the context of European higher education.
On a restricted basis and with prior agreement of the professor and the institution, sign language interpreters are available to translate lectures, but into Langue des Signes Français only. Induction loops and captioned videos are not currently available. Guide dogs are allowed in classrooms. With prior arrangement, funding and sufficient advance notice, the University can provide mobility orientation to campus and course materials in alternate formats. There is no Braille signage on campus.
Scribes could be made available for students with upper mobility disabilities. Most of the classrooms are technically wheelchair-accessible, but often only through circuitous routes. Limited classroom space may make it difficult to move a course held in an inaccessible location, but this could be explored on a case-by-case basis. The administrative building is not accessible. As of this writing (2000), there is a considerable amount of construction in progress on campus as well as in the city, which makes navigation especially challenging for a student with limited vision or mobility.
Excursions are optional in the Montpellier program and generally would not be wheelchair-accessible. It might be possible to recruit fellow students to assist a vision- or mobility-impaired student. Most group excursions require a considerable amount of walking or other strenuous activity (e.g. hiking or skiing). Sign language interpreter availability for needs outside the classroom is virtually non-existent.
Other organizations in the community do provide excursions specifically for the disabled and could be explored further for interested students.
The Montpellier program offers three different housing options: homestay, dorm, or apartment. Host families are unlikely to have wheelchair accessible accommodations. It will also be difficult to locate an accessible apartment. There is a building in town with 12 studio apartments specially equipped with accessible facilities, but there is typically a long waiting list and international students would not be given priority. These accommodations may also be quite costly since international students are not eligible for financial assistance from the French government. There are some dormitory rooms that are wheelchair accessible, although these rooms are not guaranteed and must be requested in advance.
Dining facilities at the “Vert-Bois” student cafeteria are accessible, but staff are not generally available for assistance in cutting food, reading menus, or carrying trays, nor are there provisions for special dietary needs beyond a few vegetarian options.
There are no TTYs or alert systems available in program-sponsored housing, nor are personal attendant services readily available. Most housing options would have refrigeration available, and some families may allow some personal use of kitchen facilities. Dogs are welcome in most public areas in France, so service dogs in housing or dining facilities should not pose a problem.
Some computer labs with internet and email access are available on campus for students to use for a fee. There are no TTYs available on campus. All adaptive technology (scanner, braille printer, text magnification software, large screen for magnified print, cassette tape recorder, and adaptive keyboard and mouse) is available on campus with the exception of speech output software, voice recognition system, and Braille'n'Speak note-taking device.
The Université Paul-Valéry has a disability services office on campus, but staff and services are extremely limited. Services are provided only for students with vision, hearing, or mobility-related disabilities. Organizations in the community provide services to these populations as well.
The campus library is able to provide assistance consulting the electronic card catalogues, taking books off the shelves, and photocopying materials. Other assistive technology is not available in the library, nor is there a private room available for working with a reader.
Public transportation in Montpellier is in the form of city buses, which run daily from about 6am to 9pm. A late-night bus serves limited locations until about midnight. Currently, the buses are not wheelchair accessible. However, a local organization for the disabled provides wheelchair-accessible van service within city limits for a reasonable fee. In addition, the new public tramway should be accessible. Distance to and from classes will vary depending on the housing option and whether or not the selected classes are all held on the primary campus of the Faculté des Lettres.
A nurse is available on campus and health care services in the city. Most clinics are wheelchair accessible, although some private practices may be located in old buildings without elevators. Since students are encouraged to use their host family's doctor, it would be advisable to explore the family doctor's facilities beforehand. Some English-speaking physicians may be available, but their proficiency may be limited, and it is unlikely that adequate counselling services would be available in English. Sign language interpreters are not necessarily available at health care facilities.