World Action Fund distributed 290 wheel chairs and tricycles worth US$63,372 to the disable communities in Arua, Moyo (Hope Health Action) and Maracha districts, with support from Walkabout Foundation UK
Uganda has embraced inclusive education and evidently committed itself to bringing about disability inclusion at every level of education. Both legal and non-legal frameworks have been adopted and arguably are in line with the intent of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on education. The CRPD, in Article 24, requires states to attain a right to education for persons with disabilities without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities at all levels of education.
Despite Uganda’s robust disability legal and policy framework on education, there is evidence of exclusion and discrimination of students with disabilities in the higher education institutions. The main objective of this article is to explore the status of disability inclusion in higher education and strategies for its realisation.
Uganda has embraced inclusive education and evidently committed itself to bringing about disability inclusion at every level of education. The commitment is demonstrated by the legal and non-legal frameworks on education and the establishment of educational infrastructure aimed at mainstreaming disability. The infrastructures include a department of special needs education at the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports, a special needs education section at the Uganda National Examinations Board, a department at the National Curriculum Development Centre, a section at the Education Standards Agency, representation of persons with disabilities at the National Council for Higher Education Board, Public Universities Councils and training of teachers for special needs education. The bulk of these infrastructures are visible in promoting inclusive education at primary and secondary levels of education.
The impact of the above developments is the increasing enrolment of students with disabilities in higher education being experienced recently. However similar infrastructures are not evident in higher education. There is however, affirmative action on admission of students with disabilities and other marginalized groups to public universities. Although this affirmative action is seen to be widening opportunities for students with disabilities to higher education, the law providing for it appears not to compel private universities2 to comply.
The right to education for students with disabilities in Uganda is still suffering from discrimination. Disability rights are often honoured in the breach (Lang, et al 2011), which leads to failure to achieve equal opportunities particularly in higher education.
This article examines the status of disability inclusion in higher education and strategies for its realisation in Uganda. Specifically, it explores experiences about disability inclusion in higher education, pointing out how discrimination and exclusion is demonstrated in admission, support services provided, access to libraries and halls of residence, lecture rooms, mode of delivery and mode of assessment.
The right to education
The UN human rights law framework recognises education as a universal right and as enabling right to the attainment of other rights3. Denying an individual a right to education is arguably condemning such an individual to a denial or limitation in the enjoyment of fundamental rights. In general terms, the UN human rights law framework outlaws discrimination in education at all levels4 and comprehensively requires States to make educational services available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable,5 including to set minimum standards and to improve quality.6 These standards apply to people with disabilities as well by the principle of equality and non-discrimination, the cornerstone of the human rights law,7 based on the philosophy of inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings (Lauren, 2003).8 In examining the status and strategies for disability inclusion in higher education in Uganda, this article uses the foundation principles of inclusive education of equality, access and equal participation for all in every level of education (source). The critical question is what does each of these principles mean in regards to disability inclusion in education. This article provides an exploration of that using the social model of disability, the notion of non-discrimination and the intent of article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) as benchmarks informing inclusive education in regards to disability.
A social model of disability is a theoretical understanding of the concept of disablement from a socio-political perspective (Oliver 2009:57). The argument is that disability is something imposed on people with disabilities on top of their impairment by an oppressive and discriminating social and institutional structure (UPIAS 1976:3–4). The social model of disability mostly explains the relationship between people with impairments and their participation in society (Oliver 1990:22). The model is premised on the principles that impairment and disability are distinctively different (UPIAS 1976 and Oliver 1996:4–5). The argument is that disability is a social oppression, not impairment, and that disability is a social construction, and to a large extent is culturally produced and culturally structured (Oliver 1996:22). For equal participation for people with disabilities, the model demands for the removal of the society’s economic, environmental, cultural and other barriers against people with disabilities (Barnes and Mercer 2010:30). The understanding of the social model of disability, in this article, brings about the operationalisation of the right to education for persons with disabilities without discrimination and on the basis of equal opportunities as enshrined in Article 24 of the CRPD.
The aim of Article 24 of the CRPD is to bring about an inclusive education system at all levels of education, with emphasis on understating the relationship between the learning environment and the impairment needs of a person with disability and the notion of non-discrimination. Based on Article 2 paragraph 3 of the CRPD the meaning of discrimination is wide enough to prohibit both intentional (direct) and non-intentional (indirect) discrimination or exclusion experienced by people with disabilities in society, including in education. Direct discrimination is discrimination which is intentional or overtly directed to particular individuals or groups. Direct discrimination is grounded on prejudices or stereotypes labeled on those group(s) of individuals. Indirect discrimination concerns non-intentional discrimination arising from practices which are neutral in nature but discriminatory in effect. Usually, these practices are embedded in institutional policies, norms and standards. In some jurisdictions, the concept indirect discrimination has since been developed to provide a broad scope of protection based on provision, criterion or practice (Monaghan, 2007:338). Arguably, the concepts ‘provisions, criterion or practice’ provide wide interpretation in relation to how higher education provides all arrangements for the students with disabilities. Indirect discrimination acknowledges the fact that problems of inequality are both systemic and simply individual in nature and therefore provides a picture of how groups are affected. The development of protection under indirect discrimination is arguably the major milestone towards achieving substantive equality (Meenan, 2007). In the perspective of disability, providing reasonable accommodation is one of the fundamental requirements for achieving substantive equality and is now a legal requirement of the CRPD. Reasonable accommodation means an essential practice to alleviate the disadvantage that arises for people with disabilities in the application of conventional requirements or systems (Schiek and Bell, 2007). The aim of reasonable accommodation is to bring about adaptation and change of the environment in order to remedy the detriment associated with the interaction between environment and impairment. In this article, the potential impact of reasonable accommodation is for institutions to adopt a proactive approach of avoiding discrimination against students with disabilities. Arguably, reasonable accommodation requires dismantling of systemic barriers in educational institutions arising from accessibility related challenges, ignorance of staff about specific disability needs, provisions and practices which are historically embedded in educational exclusion. It requires matching the needs to the appropriate support that brings about equal participation of students with disabilities in learning, participation and development.
The Ugandan legal frameworks9 are largely in line with the requirements of attaining the right to education provided by the United Nations Human Rights framework and fundamental principles of inclusive education. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (1995), Art 30 guarantees that all persons have a right to education. The intent of the constitution on higher education is reflected in the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act (2001) (as amended) and the Persons with Disability Act (2006).
The Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act (2001) establishes the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) of Uganda and details its mandates. The Act confers upon NCHE the responsibilities / functions of monitoring, evaluating, regulating and guiding the establishment of institutions of higher learning.10 The function of guiding obligates NCHE with the responsibility to ensure disability inclusion in institutions of higher learning. It also requires that NCHE certify that an institution of higher education has adequate and accessible physical structures.11 This function mandates NCHE to ascertain the extent to which physical accessibility of the institution’s facilities is ensured, in regards to disability12. Indeed, the Act empowers the NCHE to revoke a provisional license to an institution if it finds it not meeting the minimum requirements pertaining to physical infrastructure13. Unfortunately, in the Act, section 110- Revocation of a Charter, there is no mention about universal design and accessible facilities among the set grounds for such revocation. Failure by an institution to provide universal design, accessible facilities, reasonable accommodation, appropriate instruction or teaching methods and qualified staff for special needs students is a path to the exclusion of students with disabilities in the institution’s programmes.
On the composition of National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), the Act in section 7(1) (i) provides for representation on the Council by, among others, a person with disability appointed by, the Minister. Similarly, on composition of a university council of a public university, the Act provides that such a Council must be comprised of, among others, 2 representatives of persons with disabilities, one elected by members of staff and another by National Organisations of persons with disabilities.14 Definitely, such representation is aimed at creating awareness about disability inclusion to NCHE so that, in its regulatory role, NCHE ensures disability mainstream. On admission to public universities, section 28 of the Act provides for affirmative action for marginalized groups, including persons with disabilities. This is evidence that the Act gives the opportunity of acquiring higher education to all people wishing to do so, including persons with disabilities.15 In addition, the Act requires institutions to provide accessible physical facilities to the users of the public university.16 These are very noble objectives that expressly recognise persons with disabilities as among those who may wish to acquire higher education. However, the language in the Act is specific to public universities. This implies that the Act does not confer these obligations on private universities and other categories of institutions of higher learning. It is important to note, though, that some private universities admit students with disabilities based on their personal good will.
The Persons with Disability Act (2006), Part II guarantees a right to quality education to all learners with disabilities and special needs. It does this by conferring an obligation on government to promote educational development of persons with disabilities17 and prohibits their discrimination by all categories of educational institutions18. The Act imposes duties on bodies including institutions of higher learning to eliminate barriers to accessibility19 and prohibits discrimination in the provisions of goods, services and facilities of which higher education is a provider.20 The Act aims to develop an educational infrastructure that would guarantee an inclusive educational environment for all categories of people with disabilities21 through, among others, training of special needs teachers or personnel, formulation of and designing educational policies and programmes on inclusive education, providing structural and other adaptations in all educational institutions appropriate for the needs of persons with disabilities, committing not less than 10% of all educational expenditure to the educational needs of persons with disabilities, providing assistive devices suitable for students with special needs during examinations, including giving extra time. The Act explains discrimination against persons with disabilities in education as refusal or failure to accept an application for admission in an educational institution by a qualified person because of that person’s disability; or setting terms or conditions that exclude persons with disabilities; or by denying or limiting access to any benefits or service provided by the educational institution to a student with a disability; or expelling a student because of his or her disability; or by subjecting a student with disability to any other unfair treatment relating to his or her disability. The meaning of discrimination provided for by the Act prohibits either intentional or non-intentional discrimination as earlier discussed. However, the Act’s meaning of discrimination is short of requiring institutions to provide reasonable accommodation.
The state of disability in higher education
Ugandan higher education has undergone reforms accruing from the structural adjustments economic policies experienced around the mid-1980s. The reforms saw the liberalization and privatization of the economy, including education, in the 1990s. The detailed discussions about these reforms and their effects on education are outside the scope of this article. However, suffice to state here that these reforms were aimed at fulfilling the critical need to meet the growing demand for higher education. The number of applicants at that time was estimated to be three times more than the available places (Kasozi, 2003) and there was need to reform the higher education sector to be relevant to the development needs of Uganda (Kasozi, 2005). These reforms have brought significant changes to higher education (Mamdani, 2007, Musisi & Muwanga, 2003, Kasozi, 2003). Quantitatively, there has been a rapid expansion of institutions of higher learning within two decades from less than 34 institutions22 to 164 institutions (32 universities and 132 tertiary institutions of education) by 2012 (UBOS, 2012) and increased number of students joining higher education (Bloom, Canning and Chan, 2006), including students with disabilities.
At the time of the reform, government had insufficient resources to provide for both basic and higher education, yet higher education in Uganda was largely financed and managed by the state. The government of Uganda then prioritised providing basic education and reduced its funding to higher education as a response to the global call for every State to ensure that every child’s right to basic education is met (UN, 1993). This largely contributed towards achieving an inclusive education at primary and secondary levels of education. The training of teachers in special needs education at Kyambogo University, a special educational needs unit at the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB), National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) and the inclusion of Special Needs Education component in the Primary Teachers’ College (PTC) curriculum were infrastructures put in place to ensure inclusive education. In higher education, similar infrastructures are lacking. Moreover, as a result of improved education environment for learners with disabilities at primary and secondary levels of education, over 1000 students with disabilities are joining higher education annually23.
Although higher education opened its doors for students with disabilities, little was done to incorporate the aspect of disability inclusion and reasonable accommodation at the initial stages of the reforms. Other than admitting students with disabilities through affirmative action by public universities, there is limited evidence of applying equal opportunities measures in other institutions of higher learning. These actions contravene the CRPD requirement which obliges states to ensure that institutions of higher learning adopt reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities in all matters and arrangements an institution makes. For students with disabilities, reasonable accommodation implies arrangements necessary for their admissions, teaching, learning and assessment, library, accommodation, disability support provision, participation in sports and recreation. According to Emong (2014) it appears that the overall higher education environment is not changing in response to access requirements for admitted students with disabilities. He argues that institutions of higher learning lack disability policies, provide limited opportunities for admissions of candidates with disabilities, lack support services for students with disabilities and the libraries, accommodation, lectures, mode of delivery and mode of assessment are not easily accessible.
The Uganda National Council of Higher Education and the Ministry of Education, Science, Technology and Sports are mandated to come up with guidelines on support services that institutions of higher education should provide to students with disabilities and other special educational needs. These guidelines should arise from the national and institutional policy provisions on disability inclusion in higher education. Institutions of higher learning, as a matter of quality assurance, should be required to develop a Institutional Disability Policy and strategic plans to implement it. Government should include in her funding provisions a vote on disability inclusion. Disability awareness should be a strategy that is created across all units, including among students, staff and visitors to the institutions.
Effecting disability inclusion will require that higher education institutions are compelled to collect data on students with disability and other special educational needs, and document their experiences to facilitate planning. Collaboration with DPOs and the Equal Opportunities Commission on matters of data collection and creating disability awareness in institutions of higher learning is a necessity. The involvement of DPOs is in line with the slogan ‘Nothing for us without us’ and the stronger principle of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals -‘leave no one behind’, the expertise and experience they have and the requirements of the CRPD. The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is mandated to bring about equal opportunities in all institutions and organisations.
As a sustainable strategy for disability inclusion in higher education, universities and other institutions of higher learning should establish a Disability Support Centre. A Disability Support Centre is a critical and an important infrastructure of the institutions in bringing about disability equality in the institution. The Disability Support Centre will be a disability think tank for the institutions regarding disability inclusion and advising on disability mainstreaming. The support center also becomes a focal point for collaboration with stakeholders; a place for assessment of disability and providing advice to respective units within the University accordingly. The center should therefore be managed by staff with the requisite professional background, knowledge, skills and attitude.
UNICEF’s report on Children With Disabilities
86total visits,2visits today