Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Inclusion of Disability Issues in Teaching and Research in Higher Education

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Inclusion of Disability Issues in Teaching and Research in Higher Education

Article excerpt


The definition of 'disability' is a contested one, often framed in terms of the dichotomy between the medical model (focusing on individual impairment), on the one hand, and the social model (focusing on socially constructed barriers and human rights), on the other. For the purposes of this article, we adopt the definition of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), where disability is viewed in a dynamic way, as "an evolving concept, and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others" (UN, 2006: 4).

Higher education institutions (HEIs) have a role to play in the mainstreaming of disability issues, as they are uniquely positioned "to stimulate progress and transform societies" (Blumenthal & Boelen, 2001: 10). Thomas (2002: 39) notes that the "inability of people with impairments to undertake social activities is a consequence of the erection of barriers by a non-disabled majority".

The lack of disability inclusion in the curricula of HEIs can be viewed as one such restriction that serves to perpetuate stigmatisation of, and discrimination against disabled people. There is a need to create awareness regarding disability issues in curricula so that university graduates can challenge the barriers that exclude disabled people from mainstream activities.

Disability and curriculum

Traditionally, disability has been regarded as the domain of medical and charitable interventions. However, the task of developing and institutionalising equal opportunities for disabled people is an ongoing task that requires a two-pronged approach: first, addressing the individual's needs related to the impairment and, secondly, removing societal and environmental barriers to participation (Lorenzo, 2009). It is this second aspect that is best addressed through curriculum content that includes disability as an issue of diversity and as a human rights issue, in similar fashion to the way that gender and race issues have developed as critical components of the curriculum - both as objects of study in themselves, and as markers of inequality.

In this study, we explore the extent to which disability issues are currently included in the curriculum. Currently, post-school institutions address disability in a variable and ad hoc manner. However, recently, HEIs have begun to recognise their obligation to provide equitable access to tertiary education for a diverse range of students. The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) (2012) proposes commissioning a disability prevalence study in order to address the issue in a cohesive way, leading to the development of a national disability policy for post-school education. The Green Paper does not mention disability as a curriculum issue, except as an issue of diversity in the post-school context.

The literature on the integration of disability into the curriculum is scant. However, some HEIs are beginning to engage with it (Peel & Posas, 2009; Duncan, Alperstein, Maters, Lockers & Gibbs, 2006; Treby, Hewitt & Shah, 2006). Indications are that training should be across disciplines, and focus on training independent and critical thinkers capable of policy-making, taking into account the different ways in which these policies impact on the lives of people with disabilities (Bryen & Shapiro, 1996). In this context, UCT's six strategic goals prioritise interventions for future development over the next five to 10 years. This study focuses on two strategic goals particularly relevant to disabled people, namely Enhancing the quality and profile of UCT's graduates, and Expanding and enhancing UCT's contribution to South Africa's development challenges (UCT, 2009).

Research aim

This study aims to investigate the extent and nature of disability inclusion in teaching and research in the Faculties of Health Sciences (HS), Engineering and the Built Environment (EBE), and Humanities (HUM) at UCT, so as to provide a baseline and directions for furthering the disability inclusion. …

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