The views of blind and deaf university students, Namibia
In addition to enrolling physically disabled students, the University of Namibia has enrolled three male students with severe sensory disabilities since 2003 – two are blind and one is deaf. Here, Cynthy presents these students’ views during an action research project in 2005. What was it like being the first students with severe sensory disabilities at the university? What were the challenges and successes? How could things be improved?
“We do not cater for blind people” was what one student heard when he telephoned the university to ask about registration. He was told there was no space for him.
“I felt so rejected. I felt that I had reached the end of the road. What was left for me was to remain at home and start weaving baskets”.
He persisted and turned up anyway.
“Staff members asked a lot of questions about me, and talked about and not to me. Finally, a member of the Department of Educational Psychology accompanied me, and it ended up as a very pleasant process.”
Accessibility and orientation
The blind students said they found it difficult to locate and enter some lecture rooms and the library. There are many stairs and only one lift. The campus lacks touchable signposts that could help them find their way. All three students said that orientation information was inadequate and only available in print, and student-assistants lacked awareness of their needs.
“They wore t-shirts indicating they are there to assist, but if you can’t see, how can you know that they are the ones to assist you?”
The students applauded most lecturers for creating a non-discriminatory environment and ensuring that they benefited from the lectures. They highlighted the following areas for improvement:
- Blind students who rely on tape-recording lectures need time to set up their equipment.
- Lecturers who write on transparencies or chalkboards need to read aloud what they write, so that everyone can follow the lectures.
- Blind students need oral information describing things that other students are able to see.
- Blind students need textbooks in Braille or audio format.
- Lecturers need to stand where deaf students can see them, if they rely on lip-reading, and not turn their backs as they talk.
- Lecturers need to provide notes to deaf students; they cannot lip-read and write at the same time.
All three students felt they faced challenges to their learning:
- limited study materials.
- a lack of suitable computer programmes.
- few staff who respond to their needs promptly.
- being dependent on other students who are also studying.
Lecturers often set observation, writing or reading assignments without taking the students’ needs into account.
The students had mostly positive experiences of making friends and socialising. Other students often visited their rooms to talk, shared food, took them into town, etc. Many students said they found them inspirational. However, the students with disabilities had some negative experiences, such as being robbed and facing awkward questions from other students about how they learn and what their abilities are.
- run a disability sensitisation campaign in the university.
- re-design the application form to be sensitive to those with disabilities.
- review the student loan provided by the government – it does not meet the financial needs of students with severe disabilities.
- get stronger commitments from the university and government.
- appoint university personnel to aid those with severe special needs.
- place tactile signposts around the campus to facilitate mobility.
I was appointed as a ‘guardian lecturer’ for the blind students and my colleague, Pamela February, was a ‘guardian’ to the deaf student. We arranged for learning materials and assistive devices and briefed their lecturers. We lobbied the university for a Disability Unit and co-ordinator, and were successful in 2007. All three students graduated in 2007 and 2008.
Cynthy Haihambo is a lecturer in the Department of Educational Psychology and Inclusive Education, University of Namibia.
PO Box 20795
Republic of Namibia