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Talakwanji (*not real name) is a twenty five years old female with a disability, which she acquired at the age of four. She started using a wheelchair in the year 2007 when she was fourteen years old. In 2012 while she was in grade eleven, she lost her mother (who really fought hard for her to acquire some education). Growing up, Talakwanji always dreamt of becoming a medical doctor.

Believing that the best way to become a successful person in life was by working extra hard at school, she put in extra effort at secondary school level. This resulted in her getting very good results during her grade twelve final General School Examinations (GCE).

In 2014, she applied to go to the university, but was not able to enroll into school due to lack of funds and sponsorship. She reapplied at the same university a year later, and was selected to study in the school of Natural Sciences. She was also very fortunate to be among the few students who were offered one hundred percent sponsorship by the government.

Upon reporting to school, Talakwanji was faced with a lot of challenges. She was allocated a bed space at the big flats (a building with many rooms and in each room are more than four beds). This disadvantaged her a lot as she had no privacy that she deserved due to her condition, she could not access bathrooms or toilets and the doors steps. The building also had a lot of stone outside that made her mobility burdensome.

After making in an official complaint to the Dean of Students, Talakwanji was moved to a hostel in a room with only two bed spaces, where she could enjoy her privacy. However, the problems of mobility, accessibility of the bathroom and toilets were still a challenge. Talakwanji only stayed at this new hostel for a week before she was moved to another hostel. The hostel she was moved to seem to be a better one as it was user-friendly and accessible. The issue of moving from one hostel to the other was a challenge on it’s on as it put pressure on her of moving her properties.

In addition to the problem of inaccessible accommodation that Talakwanji was faced with, accessibility to the lecture theatres, laboratory rooms and lecturers’ offices were another challenge. The school of Natural Sciences has buildings with stairs ubiquitously without an elevator. Talakwanji seldom attended classes because she could not move around the stairs unaided. Only a few friends helped her, but this dependency also came with its own challenges i.e. if the friends were late she was also going to be late, if they did not go for class then she would not attend classes as well. Lecturers from this school were not easily accessible as they were found on the third, fourth or fifth floors of the buildings. All is working hard to avoid bankruptcy

The laboratories were also another challenge as the lab tables were too high for her height. In the first three weeks at that school, she never attended any laboratory practicals. She tried to approach the Dean and the Assistant Dean from the school for solutions on these challenges. She requested for assistance in terms of a mobile lab, supplementary classes or lecture notes among others. The response to her request to the Dean was not favorable. On one particular day as she was going down from the Assistance Dean’s office, the person who was pushing her on the wheelchair lost control as the stairs were too slippery. She fell so badly resulting in a damaged wheelchair and back pains. All this prevented her from pursuing her childhood dream of becoming a doctor because she would not persist being in this inaccessible environment.

Having undergone all these challenges, Talakwanji had no option but to change schools. She thought of studying Law or Economics from the School of Humanities but the buildings of that school were just as inaccessible. Her last option was to go and study from the School of Education, although she did not have any idea of a specific program she was going to study. This was because the environment at the School of Education was user-friendly i.e. it has a lift, ramps, friendly lecturers, most of lecture rooms are on the ground floor and lecturers from this school are approachable. She settled for a program, Administration and Management with Civic Education as her teaching subject. Because of her hard work and accessible learning environment, Talakwanji is now in her third year.

Basically, these challenges can be overcome if right measures are put in place and strictly followed. For example, when awarding government sponsorship, there should be a guarantee that persons with disabilities are a priority on government sponsorship as most of them come from poor families. This will increase the number of persons with disabilities accessing higher education without financial challenges. Additionally, there should be strict adherence to the policy on universally accessible buildings. All lecturers and teachers to be mandated to study courses in special education.

Written by

Soneni Zulu