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Studying with a disability: IT’S PERFECTLY POSSIBLE

Naturally, it is possible to study in Germany if you have a disability or chronic illness. Most higher education institutions even offer specific services for students who have special requirements. However, it is important to start planning in good time.

by the editors and Florian Schubert (last updated May 2019)

Older woman is talking to international student © DAAD/Abbis
Consultation . © DAAD/Abbis

On 21 April 2009 in Germany, the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) resolved to implement the recommendation “Higher education for all”, thus also complying with the principle of non-discrimination in the German constitution and other legislation on the equal treatment of students with disabilities. Naturally, this legislation also applies to international students: you thus have the right to attend a German higher education institution autonomously and on the same terms as other students.

The aim is to ensure that “disabled students are not disadvantaged in their academic studies and that they can make use of the institution’s offers without outside help.” (Section 2 (4) HRG). This means that higher education institutions in Germany are required to make sure their facilities are accessible to people with disabilities or chronic illnesses. In Germany, this duty is firmly enshrined in the Higher Education Framework Act (HRG). Accordingly, in recent years many higher education institutions have invested in improving accessibility, increasing help and guidance and providing various programmes.

In 2016, 11% of all students in Germany indicated that they had one or more health impairments which, according to the students concerned, affected or is affecting their academic studies (21st Social Survey of the Deutsches Studentenwerk). So, you are not alone!

What does equality at higher education institutions mean for you?

International student is writing a test © DAAD/Jan Zappner
Compensation for disadvantages in a test . © DAAD/Jan Zappner

At your higher education institution, various measures can be put in place to compensate for any disadvantages. These will enable you to participate in lessons and exams on equal terms with other students.

Application/admission:

Compensation for disadvantages is available to you as early as the application stage or when you are admitted to a degree programme. If your disability or chronic illness means you cannot prove you meet particular requirements for the degree programme, other achievements may also count for meeting the requirements. The best thing to do is ask your degree course’s department at your higher education institution about these.

As you might need more preparation time for your stay in Germany, notification of whether you have been admitted to a degree programme will be sent to you by the higher education institution before it is sent to other students. This ensures you have enough time to prepare everything in an organised way, so that you will feel completely at ease during your study visit and have everything you need.

Academic studies/exams:

Higher education institutions are always required to find alternative solutions if your disability or chronic illness places you at a disadvantage. This means that the examination regulations for degree programmes also need to demonstrate equality of opportunity for you. If you are blind, for example, alternatives to visual exam questions will need to be found.

The study structure, which is often very clearly defined in the Bachelor's and Master’s system, can be flexibly arranged for you with the higher education institution, depending on your needs. In most cases, the regulations for this are already set out in the study and examination regulations for your degree programme. The best thing to do is ask your higher education institution what the regulations are, as each higher education institution can define them differently.

Any compensation for disadvantages is not allowed to be recorded on your final degree certificates or completion reports for individual courses. This means that your certificate will look exactly the same as those of all other students.

So, you can pursue your academic studies normally like all other students, with structures flexibly adapted to you personally.

HELP AND GUIDANCE

Lane for wheelchair users © DAAD/Florian Schubert
Lane for wheelchair users . © DAAD/Florian Schubert

If you want to study in Germany, you should ask for advice as early as possible.

Deutsches Studentenwerk (German National Association for Student Affairs)

The Deutsches Studentenwerk established its “Studying with Disabilities – Information and Advice Centre (IBS)” in 1982. This centre can provide general advice on studying with a disability or chronic illness in Germany. You can obtain information here or ask questions on issues that are important to you.

To the Studying with Disabilities – Information and Advice Centre

Representatives for the interests of students with disabilities at higher education institutions

Every higher education institution in Germany has a representative for the interests of students with disabilities or a service centre for students with disabilities or chronic illnesses. They will help you plan everything you need and you can contact them at any time with problems or questions. These representatives are sometimes part of student services at higher education institutions.

Find out about this guidance from your higher education institution as early as possible and make use of it.

To contact details of representatives at higher education institutions

International Office

The International Office is the first point of contact for all international students who want to study at a particular higher education institution. They can also put you in contact with the representative for the interests of students with disabilities and help you with any general questions you may have as an international student.

To the International Offices

FINANCING AND SCHOLARSHIPS FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

If you come to Germany on a scholarship, you can often receive additional services, e.g. for special accommodation facilities etc. However, this depends on the particular individual scholarship, e.g. with Erasmus, you can apply for additional money for your stay.

There are also scholarships especially for students with disabilities or chronic illnesses. It is best to ask your higher education institution directly about these.

If you need specific medication, you should find out in advance whether this medication will continue to be paid for during your stay in Germany when you take out health insurance.

ACCOMMODATION FOR STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES

Colourful Student Accomodation Houses © DAAD/contentküche
Student Accomodation . © DAAD/contentküche

You can apply for a place in student housing and many higher education institutions will prioritise your application. In most cases, this means you have a very good chance of getting a room in a student residence. However, you should bear in mind whether you need special facilities or features. You should clarify these in advance or tell student services no later than the point at which you apply for a place in a student residence.

TECHNICAL TERMS YOU SHOULD KNOW

Accessibility ("Barrierefreiheit")

Accessible means, for example, that you can access places or public transport despite your disability. It means you can participate in all classes and that e-learning courses and websites are usable for you.

Compensation for disadvantages ("Nachteilsausgleich")

Compensation for disadvantages means that you must be given the same opportunities as other students. For example, if you cannot evidence certain requirements or your disability or chronic illness prevents you from participating in examination tasks, these should be offered in a different but comparable way.

MEDICAL CERTIFICATES

Name sign of a doctor © DAAD
Name sign of a doctor . © DAAD

Medical certificates (Atteste) are issued by doctors to confirm a person’s state of health. They are very important for substantiating your disability and describing the effects it has. You are required to have these medical certificates translated into German by an officially certified translator. Your doctor should use the ICD and ICF classifications provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for the report. The WHO website provides more information about the WHO classifications.

You need to have these medical certificates so you can apply to the higher education institution and also for additional services.

CHECKLIST

It is important to start planning as early as possible. To ensure you are able to organise everything properly, you should start finding out information and preparing everything about two years before you go abroad. Obviously, it is also possible to do everything in a shorter period of time, depending on your disability or chronic illness.

Here is a summary of the most important points and contacts.

Visa and residence status

Living expenses and finances

  • Services you need to have due to your disability (aids, assistants or carers)
  • Costs (student services and disabled students’ representative at the higher education institution)
  • Which services will be taken over by the health insurance provider in Germany? (Student services)
  • Is there a suitable student residence at the higher education institution? (Student services)
  • Is the higher education institution accessible? (Disabled students’ representative)

Medical certificates

  • Is the disability recognised in Germany? (Disabled students’ representative)
  • Medical certificates in your native language
  • Medical certificates translated into German by an officially certified translator
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