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Title: Delivering inclusive higher education policy in Brazil
Author: Souza da Silva, J S and Brazão Ferreira, WB
Publisher: EENET
Date: 2015

Delivering inclusive higher education policy in Brazil

Jackeline Susann Souza da Silva and Windyz Brazão Ferreira

In this article, Jackeline and Windyz share the experience of the Federal University of Paraiba (UFPB), Brazil, in developing a Policy and a Committee on Inclusion and Accessibility for Students with Disabilities.1

Universities encouraged to become inclusive
In 2005 Brazil’s Ministry of Education launched the ‘National Program INCLUIR (Include): Accessibility in Higher Education’, providing universities with funding to develop and implement accessibility policies.2 In 2012 the programme expanded to all 52 federal universities.

Brazil’s law (5296/2004) de nes four types of accessibility:

  1. physical barriers that must be removed from any environment,
  2. attitudinal barriers that must be changed in any context,
  3. communication and information barriers that hinder participation and, therefore, must be made accessible and
  4. curricular barriers that must be removed by changing pedagogy in any level of education.

At universities, these accessibility changes can be achieved by:

  • holding academic events to disseminate knowledge about barriers and ways to overcome them
  • developing awareness-raising processes that focus on the rights of people with disabilities
  • mapping students enrolled in graduate and post-graduate courses
  • purchasing resources such as braille printers
  • funding new staff posts (e.g. sign language interpreters)
  • adapting entrance exams for degree courses (e.g. increasing the time allowed, providing tests in braille).

UFPB’s participation in INCLUIR
UFPB joined INCLUIR in 2006. Its first coordinator, a blind senior lecturer, organised seminars to discuss the rights of people with disabilities in higher education, and improved services for blind students at the university library by purchasing braille printers. Each year, a new coordinator was invited and had an annual budget to deliver a plan for improving accessibility. These early coordinators were allowed to decide (with their peers) what issues to tackle.

From 2013 the INCLUIR programme was institutionalised. This meant there was no need to submit a proposal for government funds, as every federal university got funding for the same purpose. As a consequence, the UFPB coordinator’s decision-making autonomy in how to use the funding ceased, and INCLUIR work became centralised under the Vice-Chancellor’s office.

There was a process of creating and institutionalising a university-wide accessibility policy. A series of meetings was held with representatives invited by the Vice-Chancellor from different sectors of UFPB, including professors, senior lectures and researchers in the field of disability, managerial staff, graduate and post-graduate degree coordinators, departments that provide services for students with disabilities (braille, physiotherapy, speech therapy, etc.), and students themselves. The authors of this article were invited to write the preliminary policy document for this group to review. Each representative provided information and suggestions for improving accessibility, based on their field of knowledge (e.g. architectural studies, language studies, etc).

In 2013 the resulting UFPB Institutional Policy was launched and a Committee of Inclusion and Accessibility was set up. The policy aims to:

  • ensure that students with disabilities who apply to the university can access the selection process (particularly exams)
  • provide guidance for graduate and post-graduate course coordinators to identify, follow and develop actions for students with disabilities
  • implement measures to reduce attitudinal, pedagogy, communication and physical barriers
  • improve specialised support for students with disabilities
  • create a communication channel to identify individual needs
  • build an agenda of priorities and targets to implement these actions.

Research to support the new policy
For the first time there was an institutional survey to map students with disabilities enrolled in different degrees. By the end of 2014, UFPB identified 70 students with disabilities at its João Pessoa campus: 31 with physical disabilities, 17 with visual impairments, 12 deaf students and one with “psycho-pedagogy” needs. Around 27% of the Paraiba state population have a disability, suggesting that still only a very small proportion of potential students with disabilities are enrolled in UFPB.

Between 2013 and 2014 we also conducted research into accessibility issues at UFPB, using case studies.3 We looked at different graduate courses (Pedagogy, Physics, Languages, Information Technology and Physical Education) and found that, despite the new policy, students with disabilities still face significant barriers to their inclusion:

  • Attitudinal barriers were the most significant problem, as these influence other aspects of accessibility. Combatting attitudinal barriers needs to be a priority policy goal.
  • Institutional accessibility barriers extend beyond university walls and affect people with disabilities before and after they are students. It is crucial to discuss the role of higher education institutions in supporting the removal of these barriers. Students with disabilities need support before they apply to university, so that they can get information and assistance in completing their school education and accessing university selection.
  • Students with disabilities had limited awareness of their rights or the inclusion policy. This meant they rarely use legal systems to fight for justice when their rights are violated. Only one student who had been explicitly discriminated against by a lecturer has initiated a lawsuit.

As a result of INCLUIR, the number of students with disabilities in higher education has increased. According to the 2013 School Census4, enrolment increased by 933.6%, from around 2,000 in 2000 to over 20,000 in 2010. Institutional policies and studies on inclusion have increased across the country. However, the example of UFPB suggests that despite visible changes in university policy, many day-to-day barriers faced by students with disabilities remain unchanged.

While national government has an important role to play in pushing higher education institutions towards inclusive policy and practice, there needs to be more monitoring and evaluation. Follow-up is needed on measures taken in each university, to make the reality of culture and practice match policy rhetoric. One way to keep this reality in focus would be for universities to encourage more dissertations and theses from students about issues of inclusion in higher education.

Jackeline Susann Souza da Silva
Windyz Brazão Ferreira Universidade Federal da Paraíba-Brazil Research Group Voices, Empowerment, Inclusion and Human Rights of People with Disability


1 See:
2 See:
3 J.S. Souza da. Silva (2013) Acessibilidade, barreiras e superação: Estudo de caso de experiências de estudantes com de ciência na educação superior. Dissertation submitted to the Post-Graduate Program in Education. UFPB. See:
4 See: