Attaining higher education increases opportunities in the job market, creativity and innovation and it improves the overall quality of life. Education bridges the gap of poverty for the youth and more so, persons with disabilities. But then, how accessible is this higher education to persons with disabilities?
Tangaza University College through the Disability Inclusion office and on July 19th, 2019 organized the workshop.
The office of Disability Inclusion invited universities and different disability inclusion practitioners. Present to the workshop were: Kenyatta University, Umma University, USIU-Africa, University of Nairobi; Pan Africa Christian University, Strathmore University, Catholic University, Catholic University of East Africa, CEMASTEA, Maseno University, Tangaza University College, Marist University College, St. Paul University, Cooperative University. Other organizations were: Cheshire Disability Services Kenya, SPARK Innovation, Network of Transformed Thinkers, Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, Joint Efforts Kenya, a representative from Kenya Defense Forces (Major Gen. George Owinow) and Radio Africa
The trainers were from different universities and organizations. The first to speak was the disability inclusion officer of Tangaza University College. She used the illustration on what is hindering disability inclusion in the institutions of higher learning. She said universities are not focusing on improving the learning environment for persons with disabilities because of the cost involved, ignorance, fear of the unknown and the status quo. The future for students with disabilities will only be realized if we break this barrier, which she demonstrated by using crocodiles blocking a bridge and no one can cross over to the future we want. The presentation generated an interesting discussion from all present. They all agreed that universities focus less on disability inclusion and this contributes to the exclusion of students with disabilities in higher education. The universities and organizations present promised to influence this change once they go back to their places.
The Director of Spark Innovation Kenya presented on Digital accessibility. Digital accessibility is beneficial but to what extent have universities and other professional training institutions have embraced this technology? He said this is the technology designed with the needs of persons with disabilities in mind. He insisted that persons with disabilities are not the same as others. They experience many challenges in accessing education because of the unfavourable environment. Some of the challenges he pointed out were mobility, inaccessible information and the unfriendly learning environment. He advised the universities to improve information accessibility in the libraries to include persons with disabilities; the university website students portals; open learning resources should be accessible by persons with visual impairments; the assistive technology devices to accelerate learning for the students with disabilities should be provided in all universities.
The rest of the presenters from other universities insisted on accommodation during the study period, accessibility of classes and other places in the universities, students’ interaction with students with disabilities and policy development and inclusion in higher education institutions. The workshop was an eye-opener that prompted those present to have a linking and learning moment. It was discovered that 90% of the universities in Kenya do not have a disability inclusion office and so focusing on disability matters is almost impossible.
Disability inclusion network workshop accelerated disability inclusion dialogue and this has sustained linking and learning process. A lot of consultation is going on between universities and different practitioners on best inclusive practices. The cooperative university is drafting the disability inclusion policy and Umma University (Muslim University) has opened its door for more interaction on the same topic. All this was because of the workshop since members present discovered it is possible for students with disabilities to access higher education and excel.
The same workshop prompted the University of Nairobi, Umma University, Cooperative University, and USIU-Africa to start the process of having a disability inclusion office. Last week the USIU-Africa advertised for that position. This is a very positive move.