A qualitative study exploring the experiences of students living with disabilities in the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Howard College): application of the PERMA Framework.
Zuma, Thobeka Nolwazi.
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Background: In South Africa, approximately 80 per cent of people living with disabilities are restricted to access education and employment. In addition, those who are admitted to higher institutions are facing barriers and limitations in terms of accessing quality education when compared to students without disabilities. Previous studies acknowledge the prevalence of depression and psychological stress among students living with disabilities. No single study known to the researcher looked at what makes these individuals happy. The aim of this study is to explore the experiences of students living with disabilities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal through the application of the Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments (PERMA) model. Method: Data were collected using qualitative interviews. One-on-one interviews were conducted with students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Howard College campus. They were all living with disabilities. Eight participants voluntarily participated in this study. The study purposively selected students living with disabilities in order to generate rich and thick data about their experiences. Findings: The study found that positivity helps students living with disability to take control of their lives and accept responsibility. It also revealed that by engaging themselves in social activities, student living with disability enhance their well-being, create a source of enjoyment and promote a sense of belonging to their local communities. The findings further indicated that students with disabilities engage in intimate relationships, however, they sometimes experience difficulties with sustaining these relationships. Therefore, students decide not to stress themselves about intimate relationships and focus on empowering themselves by participating in the university programmes that contribute on inspiring greatness. Conclusion: The adopted core elements of the PERMA model encourage students living with disabilities to continuously seek for what makes them happy regardless of their condition. They also promote well-being, a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in life that can lead to finding the true meaning of life.