Ville-valides#9: If not all the children go to school, then it can’t be called a sustainable city
A sustainable city is surely about producing the least CO2 possible, paying attention to circular economy, etc. But it’s also when all the children go to school: the disabled ones, the Roms, the foreigners, the others.
Interview with Mr. Armel de la Bourdonnaye, chair of ParisTech Collegiate university, chair of Conference of Directors of French Engineering Schools, dean of Ecole des Ponts in 2012–2017 (I graduated from the university in 2015), Paris, France
Kasia Lechka: Would you say the higher education system in France is an inclusive environment for students with disabilities?
Armel de la Bourdonnaye: The question is too broad for me to be able to answer it in a simple way. There are many kinds of disabilities and higher education institutions can be inclusive to some types and not for others. I think that we can manage most mobility impairments. That said, it gets more complicated for those who have perception or cognitive disabilities like blind or deaf students that require special assistance services. What has been done in this matter as of today, is that engineer schools’ admission sessions have special arrangements for some disabilities.
What is also sure is that disabled students often don’t make it until college. For example, since I have been at Ecole des Ponts, it’s been 5 years now, I have seen two students with impairments: one deaf and one with mobility impairment.
Kasia Lechka: What is the reason for that? Is assistance at high-school level missing?
Armel de la Bourdonnaye: I’m not sure. For disabled students, it’s probably their parents who prefer having them close by; and not in a big city, in a student dormitory or in a shared apartment. Because what is certain is that student housing is not adapted, you can tell yourself if and how student dormitories of Ecole des Ponts are disability-friendly.
Then, your professors are not necessarily trained to cater for students with impairments. One can argue this it’s not so useful, because there are not that many of them and after all, we can teach students with mobility impairments like we teach the others once they get to the classroom.
Kasia Lechka: You mentioned an assistance during the admission sessions. Are there other inclusion or assistance programs for students with impairments that can support them in their studies?
Armel de la Bourdonnaye: I think that the starting point is to help the parents and the teachers in high school to imagine that a disabled student can have ambitions, that she can go to college and will receive the support she needs. I think that parents must be afraid to let their children go far and not to be able to take care of them, teachers must think the same way, and this is why these young people, even talented, are advised to choose more basic educational options that are nearby.
Kasia Lechka: Does the problem concern only students or the professors are affected as well? Are there any disabled professors?
Armel de la Bourdonnaye: In Ecole des Ponts, I don’t remember but I don’t think so. There can be some administrative and technical staff. We have a legal obligation to have about 6% of personnel that is disabled. But we don’t reach this percentage, there are not enough disabled candidates that meet the requirements for the positions we offer.
Kasia Lechka: I had a two-day-long disability orientation at Ecole des Ponts. Do you think it’s enough? Do future engineers know how to respond to disability challenges in their profession?
Armel de la Bourdonnaye: Well, what do YOU think?
Kasia Lechka: In my opinion it was rather broad. It was the first time that I had to use a wheelchair, but it helped me to live this experience as a human, and not as professional.
Armel de la Bourdonnaye: Disability orientation is mandatory for higher education institutions, but a special adaptation was prepared for Ecole des Ponts.
We thought that if we would be presenting the legal and technical aspects related to disability for two days, it would be unpleasant and all of it would be forgotten soon. Making it a tangible experience would make the knowledge stick for longer and would incentivize students to learn more to do their profession.
Kasia Lechka: Is a sustainable city inclusive for people with difficulties? Can it ever be?
Armel de la Bourdonnaye: It must be. Disability is clearly a problem, but for me it’s a broader topic of social inclusion that is disregarded in a sustainable city. The first eco-districts that I visited were bohemian. In Stockholm, the area was occupied by port warehouses, where the poor population squatted. Then the warehouses were destroyed, the poor were evicted, and the newly constructed site was very well done from a technical point of view. But where are the poor? Where did they go? They most probably went to other slums, badly isolated, where they use non-sustainable sources of energy and throw their waste wherever they can. They stayed poor.
So, inclusion is also an issue in a sustainable city. You see, for example, Roms regularly squat in the woods nearby Ecole des Ponts. They live in huts and they are evicted every three months or so. Their children don’t go to school, live on the street and stay on the edge of the society.
A sustainable city is surely about producing the least CO2 possible, paying attention to circular economy, etc. But it’s also when all the children go to school: the disabled ones, the Roms, the foreigners, the others. If not all the children go to school, then it can’t be called a sustainable city.