Students with disabilities' perceptions and experiences of the disability unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus.
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Although significant progress has been made to increase the throughput rate of students with disabilities in tertiary education, there is still much to be done as many disabled students face discrimination and difficulty in acquiring and receiving support. Moreover, disability policy often does not lead to practice at tertiary level. Many students with disabilities still need an ally for basic accommodations. The focus of this research study was on the perceptions and experiences of the students with disabilities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal: Howard College Campus regarding the University’s Disability Unit. This is in terms of the facilities and services offered by the Disability Unit as well as how effective it is in its functioning and meeting its students’ needs. This study was designed to explore the Disability Unit from the perspectives of students’, their experiences and responses to it. This research study was conducted with students with disabilities from the University of KwaZulu-Natal: Howard College Campus. The sample population included six participants from the major categories of disability at the University: visual and physical impairments. Of the six participants selected, two were without sight, two were partially sighted, and two were physically disabled. Furthermore, participants comprised both males and females and were studying at different levels at the University (i.e. first year, second year, fourth year and fifth year students). This research study aimed to explore the effectiveness of the Disability Unit at the University of KwaZulu-Natal: Howard College Campus in meeting the academic needs of its students with disabilities, from the perspective of the students with disabilities. Results from the current research study revealed that inadequate staff, resources and funding, poor coordination and communication between significant role players, substandard relationships, and insufficient awareness (around disabled students’ academic and social needs) among the entire University population represent major barriers to success for students with disabilities. Moreover, although student support services play a crucial role in supporting students with disabilities, the entire institution and university population, staff and students alike, is responsible for creating an inclusive environment where students with disabilities can experience a sense of community and attitudes of embracing diversity and accommodating differences. Responsibility, thus, lies with all relevant role players of the University of KwaZulu-Natal: Howard College Campus who must work together to overcome institutional as well as social barriers; accommodate for the students with disabilities, endeavour to meet their academic, emotional and social needs, and help them develop academically. In the future, progress can be made through the increased coordination of disability support services and programmes to educate faculties and peers about support, accommodations and rights of individuals with disabilities.