Accessibility issues and challenges facing students living with disabilities in institutions of higher education and training : the case of the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus.
Nene, Nompilo Nonzuzo.
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Institutions of higher education formally provide platforms for individuals to develop their talents and skills. However, for this to be achieved, individuals require access to relevant resources. This is not the case for students with disabilities as they face challenges of accessibility. With the case study of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus, this research interrogates the challenges faced by students with disabilities. Assuming that the participation and representation of students with disabilities is important for these challenges to be resolved, this study explores governance arrangement that will create a conducive environment for students with disabilities. This is a qualitative research study that relies on both secondary and primary sources. Secondary sources consisted of academic journal articles, books and online material that address the themes of this study. Primary sources consisted of in-depth interviews and questionnaires, government documents, and documents from South African Universities, including the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The researcher interviewed a total of fifteen participants from the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus. The study used the following theoretical and conceptual tools: The study conceptualizes people living with disabilities as a minority group. As a remedy to political marginalization, this study argues for a consociational democratic student governance. This study utilized the accessibility model to probe different factors affecting accessibility. The accessibility model is composed of four factors: physical accessibility, perceptual accessibility, financial accessibility and social accessibility. The major conclusion of this study is that the majority of participants interviewed do face challenges of accessibility at University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Pietermaritzburg campus. The challenges faced by students with disabilities are: physical, social, financial and perceptual. The major accessibility challenge is the physical environment of the institution as well as the lack of support for students with disabilities from some of the academic staff. The study also discovered that there are students with disabilities who enrol in courses as a result of their disability and not their passion. The Disability Support Unit also appeared as one of the facilities which partially hinder access to information. The lack of engagements from the Student Representative Council with students with disabilities was also seen as a reason for the continuous experience of challenges by students with disabilities. The study recommends awareness campaigns to deal with social and perceptual challenges. Furthermore, the study recommends a consociational governance structure that will ensure that issues facing students with disabilities are fairly represented in all University governance structures.