STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS / DISABILITY
The Office of the Dean of Students, is fully engaged in the task of helping transform the university environment into one in which gifted and deserving students with disability will have an equal opportunity to acquire an education and as much as possible participate in the various aspects of university life. This includes facilitating access to university buildings, providing services, awareness activities and advocating for accommodating university policies and procedures. The following support services are available;
- Advocacy and /or advice on issues related to disability
- Suitable accommodation for students with disability.
- Provision of disability aids such as hearing aids,
- Repair and maintenance of mobility, visual and auditory aids
- Sign language training and interpreter services for the hearing impaired
- Braille services and printed material in alternative formats for the visually impaired
- Consultative and counselling support for students with disabilities
- Transport within and outside of the University for students with physical disabilities.
Our mission is to provide an enabling environment for students with disabilities so that they can successfully complete their studies and become productive members of the society.
Background of Special Needs Students / Disability
One of the critical aspect of educational landscape is accessibility. The United Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Kenya Persons with Disability Act 2003 requires institutions of higher learning to provide equitable access to educational opportunities for students with disabilities. Major types of disabilities may include but are not limited to physical/mobility, vision, Deafness and difficulty hearing and albinism.
The University of Nairobi has long been in the forefront in providing reasonable accommodation and services to students with disabilities. This has seen an influx of students with disability enrolled in various degree programs in the recent past. The office of the Dean of Students has been providing disability support services “on as-needed basis “.
In an effort to improve disability services, the Office of the Dean of Students held two major awareness workshops for the entire University of Nairobi management in 2002 and 2004. At the time, enrolment of students with disabilities was approximately twenty five (25). One of the major outcome of this sensitization workshop was the provision of a disability van by the then Vice Chancellor Professor Crispus Makau Kiamba. Since then disability services at the university has improved tremendously.
The disability section’s main concern is making the University of Nairobi learning environment conducive for persons with disabilities. To this end, the following activities are currently being implemented;-
Sign language interpretation support services
In an effort to provide equal opportunities for the Deaf, the Office of the Dean of Students first engaged the services of sign language interpreter cum secretary on a temporary basis in 2004. This is after it emerged that there was no post for sign language interpreter and as such, the person engaged had to have shorthand secretarial qualification apart from having sign language skills. However, the interview was canceled owing to the fact that the advertised post was not that of a secretary as expected. Currently the section boasts of having in place five (5) sign language interpreters who provide sign language interpretation for both Deaf students and staff as well as on any occasion such as first year orientation, graduation, meeting, conference, seminar etc
Disabled students Data base
The Office of the Dean of Students has a Data base for students with disabilities. Data collection began in the year 2000. This data is necessary for informed decision making and support. Currently, the number of students with disabilities enrolled in various programs has grown to approximately 80 from 20 in 2000 and continues to rise.
Students with visual disability are provided with learning facilities such as laptops with screen reading software (JAWS) i.e Job Access with Speech.
The issue of accessibility as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities still seems a bit farfetched. From infrastructure to assistive devices, the disability section has been striving to provide students with physical and visual disabilities with transport to and from lecture halls and the surrounding areas as needs arise
Assistive devices such as hearing aids, white canes, wheelchairs, crutches, walking sticks etc, are critical in the daily lives of persons with disabilities. The disability section has been providing mobility aids or facilitated in maintenance of the same in an attempt to ease movement from one place to another within the university and its environs.
Reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities is a right as enshrined in both the Kenya Persons with Disabilities Act of 2003 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The office in collaboration with SWA ensures that some rooms are set aside for students with mobility issues on the ground floor of halls of residence. Male students have rooms reserved for them in Hall 2 and female students in women’s Hall (Box).
Disabled students organization
The University of Nairobi Students with Disability Organization that had long ceased operation was revived and elections held in 2015. It is now active.
All these efforts are however not without challenges. The disability section has had to do with the meagre resources at its disposal. The most challenging issues are outlined below;-
The major challenge facing students with mobility issues is transport. The van that was set aside for this purpose in 2004 is currently grounded, making movement for students with both visual and physical disabilities difficult.
Funding resources and office space
Funding for procurement of assistive devices such as laptops, braille machines, braille papers, hearing aids, wheel chairs, calipers, walking sticks etc has greatly reduced thus causing a huge challenge to the students. The end result of this challenge if missed examinations and delayed academic programs.
The other challenge is limited office space to accommodate sign language interpreters.
Most of the facilities in the university are not accessible to students with disabilities such as lifts, washrooms, some offices and lecture halls. The estates department has put up some ramps in some of the buildings but a lot remains to be done. The library is also inaccessible for students with visual disabilities because it lacks the necessary learning facilities. There are significantly fewer books available commercially in accessible formats for visually impaired students compared to what is published in print for the general university community.
Support services and assistive devices
Although the department has made major steps in providing support services such as sign language interpretation, there still remains a big gap in ensuring that students’ academic programs are not interrupted. Current sign language interpretation services are inadequate and inaccessible in the long run given that the services are offered as need arise and on short term basis, thus delaying academic programs for Deaf students. Students with visual disability lack assistants to guide and assist in note taking and braille transcription for both reading materials and examinations, resulting to missed examinations and/or delayed academic programs
Module II /self-sponsored students
Students with disabilities in self-sponsored programs have long been sidelined in service provision, except for those requiring sign language interpretation. This is because of the perception that self-sponsored students are capable of meeting the cost of all their needs, thus leading to drop outs and delayed academic programs.
As the population of students with disability increases it allows the university to experience the diversity of their needs, and our services are evolving to meet these needs. This suggests that increase in student numbers will generate a momentum of their own, irrespective of other factors that should lead both to greater awareness and to improvements in provision of services.
Given the myriad of challenges facing the disability section, the following are recommendations necessary to ensure proper service delivery to students with disabilities in the University of Nairobi.
Disability Resource Centre
One of the recommendations that arose from the two disability symposiums held in 2002 and 2004, was the establishment of a resource center. The objectives of this centre are first to provide advice and guidance for prospective and current disabled students to enable them to access a wide range of services, and secondly to identify and remove barriers to equitable learning opportunities. Third objective is to develop and implement support programmes for disabled students to ensure equal opportunity, access, and attainment allowing disabled students to achieve to the best of their abilities and fourth, to provide advice, guidance, and training to University staff in meeting the institution's duties to disabled students within the context of disability equality legislation and finally to develop and communicate policy, processes and guidance in relation to disabled students accessibility, inclusive teaching and learning and universal design for learning.
The centre to also be equipped with Disability equipment for ease of access by students as needs arise. The University may consider sponsoring Sign Language Interpreters for training in interpretation of technical courses like engineering, statistics, medicine etc and also engaging them on better terms of service to motivate them and avoid disrupted academic programs for Deaf students. There is also need to have assistants/guides for blind students to guide them, assist in braille transcription, note taking etc.
UON Disability Day
There is need to set aside a disability day to sensitize the University community on how to handle students with disabilities to eliminate the perception that persons with disabilities are different from other abled persons, and to disseminate information to students on available opportunities within and without the university.
Transport for Students with Special Needs
There is need to have a vehicle that is accessible to wheelchair users to ease movement by students with physical and visual disabilities. The vehicle may be modified to lift students on wheelchairs without necessarily embarrassing the user.
Visually impaired people have the same information needs as sighted people. Just as sighted people might read a newspaper, listen to a CD or download electronic information from the Internet; visually impaired people also want access to relevant information in their chosen accessible format. Developing an efficient library service for print-disabled people is extremely important, because there are significantly fewer books available commercially in accessible formats compared to what is published in print for the general public. Libraries have a moral obligation to make information available to all categories of users regardless of their gender, age, race, political affiliation or disability.
The University to also consider having user friendly facilities in every college/campus. These may include but not limited to ramps, easily accessible lecture rooms and appropriate rooms in the halls of residence as well as appropriately designed washrooms for their use, and ensure that there are lifts and that the existing ones are serviced and in working condition all the time.
All these services to be availed to all students with disabilities regardless of the programmes they are enrolled in, whether government of self-sponsored.
The numbers of students with disabilities in higher education remain extremely low compared to those without disabilities. Unless we subscribes to the extremely implausible view that most of those with disabilities likely to benefit from higher education are already receiving it, this represents a significant challenge not only to universities but also to schools, support systems and of course the young people themselves and their families. Universities need to scrutinize the barriers, and not just the physical ones, that keep students with disabilities at bay and take the necessary steps to removing them. Eliminating barriers is merely a first step, however. Universities need to become the sort of teaching and learning institutions where students with disabilities feel at home and have a sense of belonging to an intellectual and social community as of right.
Secondly, the elimination of physical barriers and the provision of material support rightly loom large in universities’ concerns. If students cannot move around the campus or gain access to a laboratory or library, they are effectively denied higher education. Likewise, they need access to adaptive technology as a matter of routine. Once again, however, these are merely first steps. The physical or material environment merely provides a context for teaching and learning, and the most potent barriers are those which inhibit the teaching/learning process. Physical access may be important but personal assistance is what makes the difference between success and failure at learning. Finally, there is an unresolved tension with regard to how support is provided. Some support for students with disabilities is provided on a separate basis, whereas in other cases the effort is to provide support within the framework of support for all students.