In an endeavor to improve the learning skills of students with disabilities, the Palestinian researcher Dana Qandeel developed a training programme based on a set of games.
Qandeel’s research, for which she recently obtained a master’s degree in special education from Birzeit University, aimed at developing the cognitive skills of a sample of young female students with mild mental disabilities at schools in Ramallah.
Discovering the world of special-needs education was a key factor that influenced her to delve into the situation of vulnerable and marginalised groups in society, said Qandeel, who holds a bachelor’s degree in geography, also from Birzeit. People with disabilities need real support, she told Al-Fanar Media in a telephone interview.
Neglect of One Group’s Needs
Although many programmes support the acquisition of cognitive skills for people with motor, hearing, and visual disabilities, and even those who suffer from learning disorders and autism, people with other mental disabilities who can learn have not been the subject of much interest in the relevant programmes, said Qandeel.
People with mental disabilities who can learn deserve more attention in programmes that focus on developing the cognitive skills of students in special-needs groups, says Dana Qandeel, who recently completed a master’s degree in special education at Birzeit University.
The programmes that do exist for them tend to focus on their social and behavioural development and ignore developing their cognitive skills, she said.
During her master’s thesis, Qandeel worked with seven female pupils with mild mental disabilities, ranging in age from 8 to 12, in Ramallah schools. The students participated in her training program of 20 sessions that aimed to develop their skills in arithmetic, language, concentration, differentiation, and remembering.
Qandeel based the training sessions on games that employ the senses to help participants remember information for a longer period of time. Her design drew on an educational booklet called “One Hundred Selected Games” to support the learning process for different study topics.
Challenges of Palestine’s Disabled Students
Palestinians with disabilities face many difficulties in their studies because of a lack of services and equipment at most schools and universities, said Laith Hammad, a second-year business administration student at Birzeit University who has disabilities. He pointed to a lack of basic equipment, like computers, as well as special accommodation devices, like text amplifiers.
“Most Palestinian universities are not that well-equipped for the education of students with disabilities,” said Hammad, who with others is seeking to form a committee to advocate for the rights of students with disabilities at Palestinian universities and to facilitate their mobility there.
“They lack the services to meet their needs such as textbooks, transportation, and electronic devices,” he told Al-Fanar Media. “Moreover, the buildings are not adapted to their needs. They also lack interest in adopting ways to integrate students with special needs into the university community through various activities.”
Hammad said that most Palestinian university students with disabilities belong to the middle class and cannot afford the cost of private transportation to reach their universities. He called on educational institutions to make e-learning exceptionally available for this group, instead of forcing them to attend classrooms daily.
However, Hammad considers himself “lucky”, pointing out that Birzeit University provides many means to support people with special needs. It provides Braille books and wheelchairs, as well as volunteer students to help students with disabilities move around and write down their answers in exams and lectures, he said.
Assisting Those with Special Needs
In 2008, Birzeit University established the Committee for Persons with Special Needs, composed of several professors and staff members. The group supports special needs students in all aspects of their university experience, including helping them with test-taking, research tasks, campus mobility, and getting involved in field trips.
“Most Palestinian universities are not that well-equipped for the education of students with disabilities. They lack the services to meet their needs such as textbooks, transportation, and electronic devices.”Laith Hammad, A student at Birzeit University.
In a phone call, Fadi Al-Kashef, a member of the committee, told Al-Fanar Media that the group works to create a university environment that enables students with special needs to develop their capabilities, and that stimulates excellence, creativity, and innovation among them.
It takes into account educational, social and psychological aspects of their experience, he said, in order to enhance the teaching and learning process, and push students towards academic excellence.
Currently, Birzeit University has 46 students with hearing, visual, and physical disabilities. “The involvement of students with special needs in various student activities, events, and trips is an essential part of our strategy to support this group,” said Al-Kashef. “The committee coordinates with external parties concerned with people with special needs, in order to direct internal efforts to bring in whatever is new that serves students.”
The university is also working to provide a “coordinating friend” for each student with special needs, said Al-Kashef, to assist him or her in academic and daily matters at the university.
Focus on Female Students’ Needs
In this regard, Qandeel suggests training teachers to follow programmes designed for students with special needs, support different groups, and use programmes based on educational games.
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She also calls on researchers to provide more programmes that support developing the cognitive skills of people with disabilities and to measure their effectiveness before applying them in schools, besides educating the entire community about the effectiveness of the inclusion of teachable persons with learning and training disabilities.
In the end, Qandeel stresses the need to particularly support the education of females with disabilities, given their parents’ fears regarding integrating their daughters into society and public education.
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To read more about disability issues in education, see an archive of Al-Fanar Media articles on this topic.