By Yemi Sodeeq, The Informant 247
From ‘hostile’ lecture rooms to dysfunctional teaching and learning systems, belied the struggle of meeting up with academic standards and aspirations by students living with disabilities at the University of Ilorin. In this report, The Informant247’s Yemi Sodeeq takes a deep dive into the lives of the ‘special students’ and how they’re faring in the face of daunting challenges.
Junaid Ahmed Adebowale is a 200-level visually impaired student at the University of Ilorin in Kwara State. He majors in English Education. Driven by his urge to succeed, Adebowale, in 2020, secured admission into the varsity. This was not without several attempts associated with gaining admission into Nigerian higher institutions.
He had set a four-year target for himself, but never imagined he would have to rumble and struggle with other students, despite being physically challenged. Regardless, Adebowale continually reminds himself of the need to finish with good grades, to secure a great job, and live a decent life.
Meanwhile, his worst nightmare, like many other students living with disabilities in the university has been the lack of an enabling environment for the vulnerable group. Students with special needs are being admitted but the school failed to provide the required physically challenged-friendly infrastructures that would make learning much easier.
He queried how he would rightly compete with other students without teaching and learning aids, even as he described this as one of the greatest challenges people living with disabilities face on campus.
“…I struggled, begged people to do things,” an emotional Adebowale told this reporter. “Access ways to the school infrastructures are not friendly to people living with disabilities.”
“As a student of English who reads a lot of literature books, sometimes, the lecturer will ask that we buy 10 books each for N500, for reading. As a blind person, I still have to translate these textbooks into documents so I can read them – and this means I have to pay an extra sum to computer centers to get it done.”
The fuel price also affected the cost of reproducing some of the reading materials. Some of the computer centers, according to him now insist that scanning a page is N150.
“How much do you think I will have to spend if I have ten books to read and have to print and Some of them have 50 pages?” asked Adebowale, who said the number of blind students is 26.
While he stressed that the visually impaired students do not have a problem with having to buy the textbooks, the institution could help facilitate PDF format from the authors for accessibility.
“We don’t mind paying higher for the PDF version, we told them this, but they would not listen.”
Adebowale was quick to add that there were no enablers in the lecture room as blind people like him are not given any special treatment despite the obvious condition. “We have to struggle to make provision for ourselves in the lecture room, especially, when they don’t reserve a front seat for the blind.
“Sometimes there are no public address systems, so it would be difficult to hear from the lecturers. I can’t even write in a book because we have our own method of writing.”
“Many of the lecturers won’t even bother marking our scripts because they believed that we cannot do anything so they are just supposed to help us with forty marks.”
“I must admit that I don’t have that in my own department. I have been lucky so far but have seen blind students complaining to me with evidence.”
Writing Assessments, Examinations ThroughCABT, An Endless Challenge
Like every other aspect of learning, visually impaired students are faced with a couple of problems such as writing their continuous assessments and examinations, both in written format and computer-based format (CBT).
On both ends, the visually impaired students, according to Adebowale, are denied ample time to provide answers to the questions. The submission process is another challenge.
“They don’t normally give us enough time at the CBT while writing tests or exams.
“Most of the time, the invigilators that ought to read to us the questions are often busy and won’t be able to do it properly.”
For written exams, he said the school needed to design an enabling method for the visually impaired students to submit their answer booklets, especially those who normally use computers to write answers and would have to print it for submission.
“It is always difficult for those who use CBT to answer examination questions.” As for him, he would often rush down immediately after the examination with the help of another student to print his answers and get it submitted.
He noted that those who use typewriters don’t really have any challenge because once somebody is available to read the question for them they will type the answers and attach it to their booklet.
He, however, advocated the need for lecturers to make available their emails for the visually impaired students to send their answers script to or another way the institution deems ideal for such an undertaking.
“In terms of admitting everybody, they have done that but in terms of infrastructure, they have not been able to provide all the necessary equipment for persons with visually impaired for us to function well.
“For example in the Library, they are supposed to provide a place for us where they will have computers that are screen reader enabled but we don’t have them. Such computers could be found at the University of Lagos, University of Jos, and some other federal Universities, so I think Unilorin should not be different.”
A Non-inclusive Center For PLWD
In the course of these findings, it was gathered that the Center for Disability at the Ilorin varsity lacked the required experts and specialists that could effectively deal with visually disabled students.
Adebowale argued the current setup of the center, including its title, is non-inclusive. At the moment, it is defined as the Center for Supporting Services for the Deaf (CSSD).
“We are also clamoring that the supposed center for a person with disability should have a name that factors in all the clusters. But it is still currently being addressed as a center for support services for the deaf (CSSD), and we have blind and physically challenged students.”
Some of the staff at the Centre, according to Adebowale, are not vast in managing affairs of the vulnerable group. He said the visually impaired students would sometimes have to teach them how to handle their issues.
School Hostel: Another Big Challenge For PLWD
Beyond the lack of access to study materials and teaching aids, findings showed the PLWD are facing difficulties living in the school hostel. Access to the right energy to get food cooked has also been a thing of concern.
For instance, it is believed that students should not use LPG gas for cooking. Only the kitchen stove is allowed in the hostels. Still, some of the visually impaired lack the capacity to use the kitchen stove, it was gathered.
El Mumbu Idris, the immediate past President of Deaf students at the University of Ilorin once advocated that the school hostel balloting system should be all-inclusive. As for him, the vulnerable students should be given preference beyond regular students.
“It is always hard and dangerous for students with disabilities to live outside the campus because the school hostels’ balloting system is really difficult for them. The school should consider giving special concern by allowing them to book early before general students.”
Idris, who once served as a Senator for the disabled students said students with hearing impairment are faced with the challenge of inadequate interpreters on campus. Also, the non-professionalism of the existing ones.
“There are inadequate Interpreters and non-professional interpreters. Zoom meetings or online courses are not accessible for deaf students because most of the ones giving the courses are speaking and there is no interpreter attached to the virtual class.”
While he noted that courses that used to hold on Zoom should contain closed captioning to make content accessible to the hearing impaired students, he said accessible learning materials are inadequate and most affected students relied on the little available ones which are not functioning.
“Deaf people are good at sports, unfortunately, many of us don’t have the resources or tools for organizing sporting activities amongst ourselves…We need sports equipment.”
According to him, about 30 hearing-impaired students were in the University in the last session.
Idris decried the lack of financial support to the affected students to organize programs, especially ones that would improve their academic performance.
He called on the school’s student affairs office to focus on providing scholarships to students with disabilities who have good academic results, and also offer free accommodation for them.
What The Law Says
In 2018, the Nigerian government passed the Discrimination of Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act into law.
Enshrined in it are the responsibilities of the government to provide all and inclusive support to people living with disabilities in their quest to get quality education.
Part five of the Act, Section 18, sub-section one says, “A person with disability shall have an unfettered right to education without discrimination or segregation in any form.
In Subsection 2, the Act stated that a person living with a disability would be entitled to free education at the secondary school level, and subsection 3 emphasizes that the commission shall provide educational assistive devices.
The law further states that “Braille, sign language and other skills for communication with persons with disabilities shall form part of the curriculum of primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
However, five years down the line, the reality in the nation’s education system, especially at the University of Ilorin suggests that these acts only exist on paper.
The federal government has failed to provide the necessary materials that would aid the learning and teaching of persons living with disabilities.
Expert advocates PLWD-friendly infrastructure in Varsities
Mrs. Joy Abolarin, the founder of Jibore Impeccable Foundation (JIF), a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) with an interest in people with disability confirmed that the University has not been conducive for people with special needs.
Abolarin, who is also the leader of Kwara Women for Joint National Association of People with Disabilities (JONAPED), said all the segments of the PLWD are grappling with the issue of accessibility to learning and studying.
“One of the biggest ordeals of the blind persons at the University of Ilorin is moving around without any help. Sometimes their property gets stolen and it’s always difficult to access lecture rooms.
“The people using wheelchairs or stretchers also used to find it difficult to access some lectures due to the structures of the classroom.”
She urged the institution to provide an enabling environment for the PLWD, noting that an all-inclusive system is imperative.
We Are Committed To Concerns To PLWD – Varsity Spokesperson
Contrary to reality, the Director of Corporate Affairs, University of Ilorin, Mr. Kunle Akogun, argued the institution’s policy is friendly with all the disabled students.
Though he admitted that the center for disabled students still bears the title of Centre for Supportive Service to Deaf (CSSD), he revealed ongoing plans to change the name to reflect all the segments of the disabled students.
“We have policies that are friendly to all the segments of physically challenged students on campus.
“I don’t know what they mean that there is not enough interpreter on campus. The University of Ilorin is the only institution with that type of privilege of having more interpreters,” he claimed.
“Plan is already at the advanced stage to change the center to a center for supporting disability service. The disabled students are always given special treatment during an examination,” he insisted.
This Investigation was produced with support from Civic Media Lab