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Experiences of academic success of students with disabilities at Universities of Technology in South Africa.

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As a minority group, people with disabilities experience discrimination and stigmatisation in our communities. According to some disability models, the general public often perpetuates the negative treatment of people with disabilities, and this is exemplified particularly in the medical and the social models. In South Africa, the issue of disability has rightly received concerted attention, which is evident in the number of legislations the country has promulgated since the advent of a democratic government. South Africa is one of the signatories of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities and it ratified it and the Optional Protocol on 30 November 2007. Transformation and the democratisation of the education sector have resulted in a steep incline in the number of students with disabilities in higher education. These students are not often included in statistics but there is evidence that many have gained confidence in the system and have proved themselves to be competent students in the academic sphere. Moreover, many are succeeding despite the under-preparedness of some higher education institutions to accommodate these students both physically and academically. The following questions guided the study: 1. Which experiences of academically successful students with disabilities contribute to their academic success in universities of technology? 2. How do the experiences of academically successful students with disabilities contribute to their academic success in universities of technology? 3. Why do the experiences of academically successful students with disabilities contribute to their academic success in the way they do? The purpose of the study was to explore and thus understand the experiences of academic success of students with disabilities in two universities of technology in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, namely the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT). Disabilities are mostly associated with limitations and dependency, but this study took a positive approach by placing the investigation under the lenses of the resilience and self-efficacy theories. The study was underpinned by the interpretivist paradigm which allowed the researcher to view the academic environment through the perceptions and experiences of the participants. The theoretical framework that I employed comprised a combination of phenomenology, resilience and self-efficacy and I used these theories as a springboard to understand the phenomenon of academic success achieved by students with disabilities. Thirteen participants were involved in this qualitative research. I used both purposive and snowball sampling to obtain saturated data. A qualitative research design was employed in this inquiry. Semi-structured interviews and photo-voice images were used as the primary data collection methods. The data that were obtained through these methods were augmented by observation notes and document analysis. The study found that, irrespective of the different backgrounds of the two institutions, the participants shared common academic experiences. The findings could be divided into three distinct categories, namely: main focus, stressors, and enablers. In the category of main focus it was found that students with disabilities desired independence, leeway to build their own future, and they wanted to be developed and empowered so that they could emancipate themselves from the bondage of discrimination. The second category revealed conflicting forces that I refer to as stressors. These stressors were engendered by a lack of inclusivity and were driven by a number of issues including an ‘unfriendly’ infrastructure, limited curricula, inappropriate teaching and learning methodologies, residential issues, and limited funding. The third category enlightened the enablers, which were support, self-efficacy, self-regulated learning, spirituality, and resilience. Although a combination of the three theories that were employed was a novel approach in this field of study, it should be noted that the findings were not unique and did not digress from those of earlier studies. In order to enhance the academic success of students with disabilities, I strongly recommend that universities prioritise inclusivity and encourage disability awareness among all staff members.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.