ASSIUT—New service centers for students with disabilities at five of Egypt’s public universities could make academic life much easier for students like Mustafa Ali, a second-year student at Assiut University’s Faculty of Specific Education.
For Ali, who is deaf, understanding classroom lectures is a struggle. The university does not provide sign language interpreters for all lectures, making his study quite difficult.
“There are only two sign interpreters, who are working hard. But most of the lectures are done without (sign) translation,” he said. “This increases our studying burden.”
Ali and many other students with disabilities hope their academic conditions will improve after the opening of new centers to support people with special needs at Assiut and four other Egyptian public universities: Ain Shams, Alexandria, Cairo, and Mansoura Universities.
Setting up the new service centers comes as a first stage within a project to facilitate equal access to higher education for students with disabilities.
The project includes equipping examination labs for students with disabilities and places for printing books in Braille, as well as lecture halls equipped with computers for the blind.
Realizing a Dream
At Assiut University, the Services Center for Students with Disabilities “realizes the dream of many students to have an integrated educational experience,” said Mohamed Hussein Moussa, a professor of law at Assiut and the center’s director. “It provides supportive devices, in addition to supporting student activities and exploring employment opportunities.”
The service center at Assiut University “realizes the dream of many students to have an integrated educational experience. It provides supportive devices, in addition to supporting student activities and exploring employment opportunities.”Mohamed Hussein Moussa,
A professor of law at Assiut and the center’s director
Students with disabilities in Egypt, like those in several Arab countries, face difficulties in completing their university education. Their problems include inaccessible university facilities, a lack of the necessary educational equipment and services to accommodate their needs, and laws that limit their education and employment opportunities later. (See two related articles, “The Nascent Disabled-Rights Movement Steps Out in Egypt” and “The Blind Side of Arab Education: Disabled Students.”)
Only 5.6 percent of students with disabilities manage to obtain a university degree, according to a study released in 2017 by Capmas, Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics.
The effort to establish centers to support people with disabilities is a joint initiative between Egypt’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the U.S.-Egypt Higher Education Initiative’s Public University Scholarships Program, which is funded by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID. The program is administered by AMIDEAST, a nonprofit organization that supports education and development activities in the Middle East and North Africa, in collaboration with the Helm Foundation for Training and Consulting, a private organization that works to integrate and train people with disabilities.
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The idea began after a study conducted by USAID on the conditions of disabled students at public universities in Egypt and ended with the selection of 15 faculty members from five universities to join a training program on the latest methods for making higher education more inclusive of people with disabilities.
The training program included a study tour to the Universities of Montana and Colorado, in the United States, to learn about their experiences in promoting equal access to higher education for students with disabilities.
“These field visits helped to present an integrated image of the necessary services in terms of designing and equipping buildings and providing educational aids that facilitate the integration of students with disabilities and the development of their skills in academic achievement,” said Moussa.
Study Tools and Housing
The new service center at Assiut University provides educational services like providing students with computers and tablets available to work on and use in the center, in addition to some training courses.
The center provides university housing suitable for people with disabilities in a limited way, along with means of free transportation to transfer students from their university housing to their colleges. The center also provides the devices some students need, such as canes or wheelchairs, free of charge for use inside the university.
Students seem happy with the new services.
“Thanks to the new centers, students with disabilities can enjoy the right to equality with others, and gradually proceed with the process of accessibility,” said Amal Khaled, a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Social Work in Assiut and chair of the Committee for Persons with Disabilities at Assiut University’s Student Union. She explained that students often suffered from marginalization due to the lack of services that support their integration into student life on campus.
Services Not Limited to Students
The new centers offer their services to teachers and administrators as well.
“The work in the center is a message that is not limited to students, but extends to include administrators, faculty members, and the surrounding community,” said Samah Khamis, an assistant professor of child teaching methods at the Faculty of Early Childhood Curriculum and Teaching Methods at Mansoura University.
“The work in the center is a message that is not limited to students, but extends to include administrators, faculty members, and the surrounding community.”Samah Khamis
An assistant professor of child teaching methods at Mansoura University
She noted that about 250 students receive the center’s services at Mansoura University, in addition to dozens of faculty members and a number of families of students with disabilities.
Iman Abul-Fadl, deputy director of the center, explained that the work plan gives priority to educational services and helps convert courses to suit the needs of each student, in addition to working to change the format of examinations into online ones. It also works to increase awareness among students, administrators and faculty members about ways to be more inclusive of students with disabilities.
The Mansoura center includes a number of volunteers to help people with disabilities—something the centers ’management hopes to increase. This is seen as an indicator of increasing awareness of the problems of people with disabilities and their right to receive full services, Khamis says. “A change in the perception of cases leads to more positive change in their favor,” she said.
Hopes the Program Will Expand
While the project started in five public universities, plans to expand it to other universities are still unclear, and the budget has not yet been announced.
“My university does not provide any assistance services, there are no pathways designated for us or aids in the classrooms,” said Sherine Abdul-Gawad, a third-year student in the Department of Documents and Libraries at Minia University’s Faculty of Arts, who has used a wheelchair since childhood. “Our accommodation rooms are allocated on the ground floors only, as there are no elevators,” she added.
Abdul-Gawad expresses her hope to see a support center opening at her university soon. “I heard about the services and I think they are very good,” she said. “I look forward to seeing a similar center opened in my university soon.”