The image shows the “Make the Right Real in Malaysia” logo of The OKU Rights Matter website and a girl with cerebral palsy responding with delight at the colourful circular foam result of her science experiment.

Tertiary Education

Even trees need a friend. We all need friends. It all happens automatically. We want to use a lot pressure while using no pressure at all.

Tertiary Education for Persons with Disabilities

Internationally, the number of persons with disabilities pursuing tertiary education is gradually growing. In Malaysia, there was an upward trend in enrolment of students with disabilities in tertiary institutions from 2011 to 2017, but showed decreasing percentage of enrolment in 2018 and 2019.

Until today, many persons with disabilities around the world still face discrimination in enrolling into tertiary education programmes. In 2021, the denial of admission into university of a high-achieving Malaysian student with disability highlighted the discrimination faced by persons with disabilities in tertiary education, especially the limited choice of university courses available to students with disabilities in the name of “mesra-OKU” (disabled-friendly).

However, enrolment does not guarantee supportive learning experiences during their tertiary education. Evidence has shown that course-completion rates of students with disabilities are lower than other students.

Hence, it is important that tertiary institutions adopt and implement disability-inclusive policies to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are adequately supported and enable meaningful learning experiences for all students.

In November 2018, the Ministry of Education (MOE) launched the IIUM Disability Inclusion Policy (Garis Panduan Pelaksanaan Dasar Inklusif OKU) in institutions of higher education. The guidelines were developed to increase the enrolment and decrease the dropout rate of students with disabilities in tertiary institutions.

The guidelines aimed to address a number of institutional barriers commonly faced by students with disabilities in higher education institutions by:

  • Creating disabled-friendly infrastructures and environment for learning and living.
  • Universal Design for Learning and reasonable accommodation to support the academic learning and assessment of students with disabilities.
  • Supporting the needs of each student with disability through the Disability Services Unit.
  • Disability awareness programmes to promote understanding of persons with disabilities and eliminate discrimination.

The support that students with disabilities receive (or not) while studying in tertiary institutions is pivotal to their ability to cope with their studies, their enjoyment of studying and motivation to succeed, as well as employment prospects after graduation. Both institutional (universal) disability-inclusive support and individualised (targeted) disability support approaches are needed to effectively support students with disabilities to succeed in their higher education pursuits.

Institutional disability-inclusive supports in universities and colleges include:

  • Accessible and integrated student accommodation, not clustered accommodation that is segregated from other non-disabled students.
  • Accessible public transportation.
  • Barrier-free campus, including even-surfaced pavements, and clean and accessible toilets.
  • Disability-inclusive on-campus health care and mental health services.
  • Disability perspective in curriculum, not just as a separate disability-specific course.
  • Institution-wide understanding of disability, including teaching and administrative staff, leaders and students.

Individualised disability supports vary from person-to-person, and should be planned together with the individual student with disability. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Adapted learning materials, such as braille textbooks, braille transcripts of lecture notes.
  • Malaysian Sign language interpretation (BIM), especially during group oral discussion.
  • Peer support for in-class participation or note-taking.
  • Assistive technology and adaptive equipment, such as screen reader, audio recorder, adjustable seating, headphones.
  • Flexible assessments, including extending due dates and alternative forms of assessments.
  • Alternative exam conditions, such as taking exam in a quiet room, using computer to type instead of writing by hand, using a scribe, provision of extended time and allowing food and beverage.

While it is ideal for tertiary education institutions to implement inclusive practices from the outset, it is however not always true and students with disabilities will likely have to advocate for the support that they need.