A question of access

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Posted: Mon, 12/02/2013 - 18:50


By Umesh Moramudali
 Differently-abled undergraduates following various courses of study leading to a degree in Sri Lankan universities, are said to be undergoing many hardships due to the lack of facilities in universities.
 ccording to sources, many buildings in universities do not have easy access to lecture halls and other classrooms for the differently-abled students while the situation is further compounded by the lack of easy access to washrooms.
Media Spokesman for Federation of University Teachers' Associations (FUTA), Dr. Mahim Mendis, commenting on the issue, said the universities do lack the facilities that the differently-abled students need like ramps for wheelchairs, and convenient access to washrooms.
 He said it is the government's responsibility to provide facilities in educational institutions for differently-abled students and steps must be taken to make the necessary provision.
Funds need to be allocated
"Funds need to be allocated to the universities so that the management can create a conducive environment for all the students, especially the differently-abled students who have the same rights as the other students to university education," he said.

 Dr. Mendis went on to say that there is no proper policy formulated by the government to ensure that the ideal facilities are provided for the differently-abled students, adding that the government needs to give priority for such needs to State institutions.
However, the Chairperson of the University Grants Commission (UGC),
Prof. Kshanika Hiriburegama, said there are ramps and elevators in the universities which the differently-abled students can have access to, adding that the UGC tries to conduct classes on the ground floor lecture rooms to accommodate these students.

 "We are also in the process of developing the infrastructure in universities and some projects are underway to construct toilets which such students can easily access," she said.
Lack of access
According to statistics available, at present there are 45 differently-abled students in the University of Colombo, 15 in the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, 29 in the University of Kelaniya, 11 in the University of Peradeniya and 29 in the University of Jaffna.

 However, Ceylon Today investigations have revealed there are no elevators or easy access for the mobility impaired students to many buildings in most universities and most lectures are conducted in the upper floors.
The Inter University Students' Federation (IUSF), accused the relevant and responsible authorities of not paying attention to differently-abled students in universities.
 IUSF Convener, Sanjeewa Bandara, pointed out that differently-abled students are dependent on their friends and colleagues to assist them to attend lectures as well as the washrooms, as easy access is not provided for them.
However, the Department of Examinations provides special facilities to the differently-abled students during examinations. Commissioner General of Examinations, M.J.M.N. Pushpakumara, said differently-abled students can request for special arrangements before they sit their exams and the necessary facilities would be provided.
"Students have to present their medical certificates to the Department of Examinations, which will be checked by the officials, and steps will be taken to provide the facilities they need at the examination centre," he said.

 Public not aware
He further said many people around the country are not aware about the need to ensure special facilities for the differently-abled.
"Differently-abled students are also a part of society. Their injuries or lack of ability to do work as a normal person should not hamper their education. As such, the Department of Examinations provides special facilities to them when they sit for examinations," he explained.
He went on to say that many differently-abled students had passed the GCE A/L Examination last year, and that the Department of Examinations is happy to assist them in the best possible way so as to support them in their endeavour to become professionals and stand on their own.

 However, an activist who works with the differently-abled, Dr. Samitha Samanmali, stressed that in order for the differently-abled members of society to become independent, they must have access to education, which right is restricted in Sri Lanka. She pointed out that their right to education must be ensured and to do that, higher education in universities must be made easily available to them through proper infrastructure facilities.
Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo, Premakeerti Silva, said at present there are some differently-abled students who are attending lectures at the university.
He said special facilities are being provided to them to engage in their studies without any hassle, and also said proper facilities are provided when they sit exams.

 On being questioned whether the UoC has easy access to the many buildings in the complex, he said a pilot project is in progress at present to provide access for the disabled to buildings and washrooms, and added that the project is being supported by the Embassy of the United States of America (USA).
Ceylon Today spoke to a few differently-abled university students to ascertain their difficulties and the drawbacks they face due to lack of facilities.
 No elevators or ramps
A student of the UoC who does not wish to be named said he has an injury in his leg and he is compelled to climb the staircase to attend lectures.
"It's difficult to go up the stairway as there is no elevator in the building. I somehow manage as I am a semi-disabled student but if a student had to attend lectures in the same building in a wheelchair, she or he will not be able to attend lectures," he said.

 A visually handicapped student, Ishan Jail, who is following a degree course in International Relations at the UoC, said the government must pay attention towards the difficulties the differently-abled students undergo.
"Personally, in my capacity, I know how difficult it is for a differently-abled student to engage in studies. As for me, as there are no books in Braille, I search online to study. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that differently-abled students are able to exercise their right to education," he said.
 He added that as a result of not having elevators in universities, differently-abled students are finding it very difficult to continue with their studies.
"I know there were some differently-abled students who were carried by their friends to attend lectures. But when their friends do carry them, they feel they are troubling other people. What will happen to the dignity of such students then?" he queried.