The experiences and challenges of adapting to an inclusive education learning environment: a study of students with disabilities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Howard College Campus.
Mthethwa, Lungani Justice.
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Available research suggests that in South Africa, the lived experiences, realities and challenges faced by students living with disabilities are inadequately addressed and prioritised. In addition, most of the studies on the experiences and challenges of students with disabilities are conducted by able-bodied researchers on persons with disabilities. This study bridges this gap in research as it is undertaken by a student with disability and with students with disabilities. This study, therefore, adopts an emancipatory disability research framework and the Social Model of Disability to produce a comprehensive understanding and examination of the lived experiences of students with disabilities. The main aim of this study is to understand the everyday life experiences and challenges faced by students with disabilities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) Howard College Campus. The study adopted a qualitative design using in-depth face-to-face semi-structured interviews to collect data from twenty purposively selected participants. The study explored the challenges faced by male and female students with different types of disabilities. The findings demonstrate that certain infrastructure and services at the University remain disability unfriendly, and thus the notion of an enabling inclusive environment is problematic. These deficits inhibit students with disability from adapting to the inclusive education environment and context. These include, for example, accessing study material in appropriate formats and lack of awareness and knowledge by lectures, support staff and non-disabled students on how to assist or socialise with students living with different types of disabilities. This study found that the quality and type of interaction that students with disabilities have with the Disability Unit (DU) plays a crucial role in their academic life. The study also focused on a brief discussion of students‘ thoughts and experiences of the gaps in both the national and UKZN‘s policy frameworks and how the policies, services and environment can be improved to better address the needs of students with disabilities.