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Inclusive policy empowers disabled students

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 10 (Bernama) -- The shortage of facilities for people with disabilities (OKU) is one of the main reasons why many public and private institutions of higher learning are reluctant to accept disabled students.

International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) economics lecturer Prof Dr Ruzita Mohd Amin, who is also head of the university's Disability Services Unit, said the reluctance stemmed from concerns over their ability to meet the needs of OKU students.

"Their fear has unwittingly denied disabled students of the right to pursue tertiary education and it does seem as if universities are not giving equal opportunities to OKU students," she told Bernama.

She was commenting on the Education Ministry's guidelines for its OKU Inclusion Policy, announced by minister Dr Maszlee Malik on Sept 5.

Under the guidelines, all 20 public universities in the country are required to be OKU-friendly by 2025 so that students with disabilities are accorded equal education rights as others.

The new guidelines also require each university to establish an OKU services unit, beginning with the 2019/2020 student intake session.

Maszlee said the OKU Inclusion Policy was aimed at doing away with the segregation of OKU students from other students, as well as ensuring proper facilities and a continuous education support system for them.

Among the public and private universities that already have their own OKU inclusive policies are IIUM, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Sains Malaysia and University of Nottingham Malaysia.

Ruzita, who is herself a wheelchair user and joined IIUM as a lecturer in 1987, said the university's Disability Service Unit was set up in 2012 to provide support services to its OKU students, as well as disabled staff and visitors. Recently, the services were extended to the disabled children of the university's academic and non-academic staff.

To overcome physical and communications constraints and to create an inclusive atmosphere in the campus, IIUM provides motorized wheelchairs, hearing aids, iPads (for students with visual challenges) and prosthetics such as artificial limbs to needy OKU students.

Ruzita said the facilities for OKU students did not only encompass physical infrastructures such as OKU-friendly buildings and classrooms but also the support system for the teaching and learning process.

"Included in this support system is the flexibility offered to OKU students. They are given additional time to complete their papers during examinations and they also sit for their exams in a separate place due to their special needs. The maximum time for them to complete their studies is also flexible," she explained.

And, depending on their level of disability, some of them are allowed some leeway if they are not able to take on the same workload as the other students, she added.

Empowering OKU

Ruzita also hoped that Budget 2020 would make special allocations to fulfill the rights and needs of OKU students in schools and universities.

In order for the nation to meet its objective of providing world-class education, no one should be marginalized by the education system, she said.

"For our universities to be world-class, we have to be ready to provide equal access to OKU students who should not have to face any obstacle or difficulty due to their disabilities.

"Apart from that, the university community comprising the administrative staff, lecturers and others should have OKU awareness and skills related to inclusive education which include understanding the needs of the disabled students," she said.

Up to September this year, 92 students with different categories of disabilities have studied at IIUM. It also has 10 academic and non-academic OKU staff.

According to Ruzita, the university also provided living quarters for its disabled staff and teaching aids for its disabled lecturers.

Zero reject policy

Mohd Sabrinordin Mohd Yusoff, a lecturer at the Institute of Teacher Education's Special Education campus here, said the OKU Inclusive Policy reaffirmed the Education Ministry's Zero Reject Policy involving special needs children that was launched this year.

The Zero Reject Policy ensures that special needs students have access to education either at mainstream schools or at special education schools.

"Under the OKU Inclusive Policy, the support system (in universities) will be improved to enable OKU students to gain a better quality of education.

"However, are the university staff themselves ready to accept disabled students," he asked.

He said some of them have the perception that all disabled people have physical disabilities when in actual fact their disabilities come in different forms.

"What if they have to deal with students with learning problems that involve their emotional and behavioral aspects and those with low cognitive skills?" he said, adding that the lecturers have to be exposed to the necessary training to enable them to understand the needs of the OKU community.

Mohd Sabrinordin also said that the Institute of Teacher Education accepted disabled students, including those with hearing and visual challenges.

"This year, there was a higher intake (of OKU students) and they were given opportunities to pursue their studies in various options, such as early education for children, Teaching of English as a Second Language and Bahasa Malaysia. Previously, they only had one option which was special education," he added.

Be more competitive

Visually-challenged student Muhammad Faiz Zainuddin, 23, who is currently in the third year of his degree program in Malay Sociocultural Policy at Universiti Malaya (UM), welcomed the OKU Inclusive Policy, saying that it would provide better educational opportunities to disabled students.

Muhammad Faiz, who has B2 category visual impairment (severe low vision), said UM provides various facilities for its OKU students who have different categories of disabilities and have distinct needs.

"The university has lifts, ramps and lecture rooms that allow us to move around easily. I also have permission to record the lectures delivered by the lecturers and use soft copies of study materials. I am also given extra time during exams," he said, adding that the disabled students were also given opportunities to improve their soft skills.

He hoped that other universities would also provide similar support systems as it would motivate OKU students to become more competitive.

"Financial aid to OKU students from B40 families should be stepped up. A special fund should also be set up to produce more academic materials suited to the needs of students with different categories of disabilities," he added.

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