Disabled university students need to be included. It’s been years since South Africa signed and passed the convention on the Rights of Persons with disabilities but nothing has really progressed from it.
Around 2.9-million South Africans – live with a disability, indicating about 7.5 percent of the population. Those with disabled students make up less than 1% of total student population. This percentage are the group that are ostericized and treated unfairly in Universities.
As part of a study – an interview was done with 14 students from 2 universities. The interviewer asked how they were been treated and to share their experiences – whether they are included in making decisions regarding their future or not.
It is assumed that people with disabilities in public projects who are excluded is bad. This however doesn’t address the question of inclusion.
Proper inclusion means a multidimensional support that is financial, social and academic, and most be supported by policies. It’s simply not enough to say physical access and accommodations, and presence of students is enough.
Research done by Oliver Mutanga from Oslo University shows that very few disabled students feel included.
Mutanga says that the problem with this notion of inclusion in higher education facilities is that the disabled students are grouped together as a homogeneous entity.
Authorities use the one size fits all way – forgetting that there is a vast difference between say a wheelchair bound person and visually impaired person. Disabilities are broad and not the same.
South African Universities are reluctant to change their systems or structures. The approach of university authorities appears to be that of disabled students as having to fit in existing structures instead of the facility changing to fit in with them.
Education authority seem to think financial support is enough – a good example is that of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s bursary for disabled students.
Money isn’t enough to guarantee inclusion. The students said that universities’ day-to-day operations and systems perpetuated structural and ideological barriers. At one facility, only one postgraduates residences could accommodate students with wheelchairs – according to Mutanga.
Of course then the wheelchair students felt excluded and isolated. They said they felt undervalued and impaired.
Universities have to progress from only measuring inclusion on numbers of disabled students enrolled and work towards creating an equitable and fair education for students. Institutions need to do a thorough investigation of what these students are facing.