Blind student’s battle to study physics at university

Although universities in theory are obliged to facilitate disabled people to pursue their studies, in practice very few are equipped to do so. Moreover, although the Greek constitution provides for equal treatment and in certain cases the state has even established favourable conditions, in reality it is not always easy for disabled students to follow their chosen field of study without difficulties.

Last February Argyris Koumtzis, who is totally blind, made an application to Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to study physics.

But he was told in a letter that because 30% of the course involved laboratory exercises, it did not accept students who were totally blind or were unable to use both their upper arms.

The case of Argyris, who finished school with top marks and has won competitions set up by the Greek Mathematical Society and the Society of Greek Physicists, has been made public by the Blind People’s Union who appealed to the president of the republic for help.

Education Secretary Andreas Loverdos, who was told about Argyris’ case, suggested that he be accompanied to laboratory sessions by a member of staff or his father if he was available, and asked the rector of the university to attend to the problem.

After meeting Argyris and his father, the rector of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki Giannis Mylopoulos made two suggestions.

The first was for the blind student to follow a maths course where there are no restrictions and subsequently to do postgraduate studies in theoretical physics. But Argyris rejected the idea.

The second suggestion was to form a committee of university lecturers, which would also include Argyris’ school teacher, to examine needs in terms of infrastructure, materials, academic know-how, special staff etc in order to give Argyris the best possible opportunity to study and complete the course successfully.

After the meeting Mylopoulos undertook to get in touch with the education ministry regarding the additional funds required for the project – but already the mayor of a nearby local authority had stated that the council would be happy to contribute towards the expenses.

“Our basic aim,” Mylopoulos said, “is that nobody should be excluded from knowledge, study, education or the university. Argyris will study at Aristotle University and we will all help him to complete his studies and realise his dream with the support of the state.”

If everything goes well, Argyris will attend lectures at the university from the start of the new semester in October. And if the early promise he showed continues, he is likely to become a top class scientist and a great credit to himself and the country.