Having proper education is very important in this modern, revolutionised 21st century. Attaining education will bring great wonders in life by escalating the status of the person, securing financial security, creating opportunities, providing a prosperous and joyous life by giving back to the country through knowledge contribution and expertise in boosting the growth of national income. Being educated also will earn you respect in society as you not only sell your skill but also share your knowledge and impart it to the community after graduation. Former South Africa President Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The right to education for all is justified and unarguable.
The Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2035 and Higher Education Blueprint 2015-2025 also cater to the needs and wants of the differently abled. Indeed, both proposals strictly enforce the aspiration for the country’s education system to be accessible, inclusive and holistic for the normal and differently abled in campus. Year by year, the enrolment of differently abled students is increasing at public universities. Therefore, the differently abled should not be alienated but celebrated to improve their personal development.
Malaysia offers educational opportunities to normal and differently abled people of all walks of life regardless of age, gender, race, status and religion. People with disabilities also have the right to secure a proper tertiary education. The provision of disability-friendly accessibility or equipment is a vital element that has to be emphasised in every institution that offers tertiary education for the better development of differently abled students. Moreover, this is also in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 of acquiring good health and well-being, SDG 4 of getting quality education and SDG 10 of reducing inequalities in society.
The provision of facilities either in public or private universities should be taken into account seriously as it provides the right for differently abled people to equally attain proper education in Malaysia. Besides, it upholds the concept of Malaysia MADANI that prioritises empathy, (ihsan) peace or serenity, (sejahtera) and sustainability (kemampanan) for goodwill, benefit and usage by the whole of society including the differently abled people. This also promotes the fulfilling of the right of persons with disabilities to attain quality education in universities. Their social welfare has to be properly taken care off by ensuring that once they enrol at any of the Malaysian universities, they will be happy and satisfied with the facilities. Consequently, this will minimise their mental, emotional burden, social grievances, and complaints on lack of accessibility or quality support systems that they encounter in campus.
Provide Quality Amenities for Differently Abled Students
Quality facilities or accessibility for differently abled students are crucial because these not only foster a sense of belonging but also instil self-fulfilment, positive personalities, determination in the universities for these special students. They also motivate them to persevere in their studies. In fact, the top management of the universities should prioritise this issue vigilantly by ensuring that the facilities are well equipped for the stakeholders, not only for normal people but also the differently abled. There are allocation provided by the government to help and support differently abled students, thus ensuring that their rights and needs are heard and well taken care of.
There should be enormous provision of assistive technology or equipment, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes and crutches, for the students to be able to overcome their physical lackness. This is an effort in helping with their mobility and easing their life so that they will be motivated in their studies.
One assistive technology is a draft builder, which is a writing tool that integrates note-taking, outlining, and draft-writing functions to break down the writing process. Having the choice of lecture room or hall that can be accessed by wheelchair-bound students is also a paramount section. The facility and equipment will be functional as support systems and help the differently abled students to be active, lively and enjoy their learning session. Indeed, the assistive technology and equipment will reduce absenteeism, difficulties or challenges that affect their academic achievement and happiness in campus life.
People with disabilities are like normal people as they have feelings and have dreams to achieve in life. Thus, having quality amenities will provide a beautiful, conducive environment for them and enable them to move freely and independently with confidence. This not only enlivens their social and emotional nature by realising their full potential but also contributes to a greater peaceful environment for them to study and always be grateful in terms of their physical aspect.
Solutions in Strengthening Proper Quality Education Service that Caters for All
It is imperative to apply the bottom-up concept where the voice of persons with disabilities is heard by the management to enhance their presence and well-being in universities. Policies that provide for imposing a proper and quality education service should be upheld in supporting the right to education and the needs of differently abled students at all times as they should not be left behind. As a point of fact, they are also our priceless future generations that will not only lead in but also contribute to the political, social and economic sectors of the country. Surveys should be conducted or feedback obtained vigorously and annually for all public and private higher institutions in acquiring information to ensure that facilities, equipment and services in the future are top-notch and really cater to the needs of the differently abled students.
Sufficient experienced sports instructors should be provided for the differently abled to enable them to remain physically fit. This will provide a better self-life experience for the group to study and achieve the best tertiary education both in the academic field and also in extra- curricular activities. In addition, funds should be spent wisely to upgrade the eco-system and infrastructure by providing quality amenities and equipment for differently abled students such as transportation access, grab bar in toilets, braille systems, braille sidewalk paths, curb ramps, slopes, elevators, sufficient parking spaces and others. This should take place both in the universities and residential colleges. The differently abled students should have easy access or privilege in receiving information and be able to communicate with the lecturers and students in spite of their physical disability. They should not be misjudged or scrutinised as they stand for their right to education as students not asking for sympathy. As for the staff, they should always be polite, helpful and well-versed in sign language. This is an additional point.
Standard operating procedures for learning and teaching, increasing the number of lecturers who are skilful in teaching the differently abled, such as being able to use sign language efficiently and coming up with creative lesson plans for the differently abled, are important so that output targets are met. Proper systematic procedures for the differently abled students sitting for examinations, quality counselling services and scholarships for their financial assistance are fundamental requirements or necessities in sustaining the quality and comfort of lifelong learning.
Differently abled students should not be isolated, ignored or mistreated as second-class citizens in this developing nation. They should be respected and helped by the other students and staff at all costs so that they will not have low self-esteem and will be happy, be able to enjoy themselves and be appreciated in campus. Always be sensitive and kind to their needs as this will bridge the gaps and reduce social barriers.
Well, it is also adhering to the concept of Malaysia MADANI – respect, trust and compassion. Raising a culture of a caring campus community is foremost in cultivating awareness into transforming good education inclusively and safety for everyone. Being able to learn to live with honour as true sensible Malaysians is built with good vibes, a civilised and compassionate attitude as well as humility.
“Don’t be disabled in spirit, as well as physically.” – Stephen Hawking.
Norazlinda Hj Mohammad is Senior Lecturer of Journalism, Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, UiTM Melaka Alor Gajah campus.