By Eriah Lule
As it is commonly said, disabled students are not defined by their limitations but by their determination to overcome them.
Janis Onyango is an international student at Uganda Christian University (UCU) pursuing his Bachelor’s degree in Divinity. He aspires to become an evangelist, spreading the word of God in his home country of Kenya. He is among a few disabled students at UCU.
Surprisingly, he does not bemoan himself for doing anything in his private and academic journey, given the kind of support that the university fraternity provides to him in any way necessary.
For an institution like UCU with a slightly lower number of disabled students, it is still committed to its theme statement, ‘A complete education for a complete person’.
Vincent Kisenyi, the Dean of the School of Business, affirms the institution’s efforts to support students with disabilities from their academics to their wellbeing on campus.
He notes that they notify lecturers of the students’ situation as long as they are in orientation and that special attention is given to them. “Although we do what we can, we still have many gaps, which proves how we can’t handle all forms of disability,”, he said.
“As an institution, we still have a lot to carry out in terms of capacity building of our staff, so as they teach all people with disabilities”.
To accommodate disabled students, the university built ramps along the lecture room. However, Onyango notes that academics and his school informed him that if he had a lecture on the top flows of the storage buildings, his class schedule would be changed to accommodate ground-floor rooms for his benefit.
Olupot Calvin, the UCU custodian of Nsibambi Hall, notes that the ground-floor rooms in the halls of residence are reserved for disabled students and are easily accessible, which greatly benefits these students.
“We try to make our students as comfortable as possible so they feel at home; this helps them pursue their academic journeys without inconveniences,” he said.
The University Dining is as well designed to facilitate them; Bumpewte Lawrence, the Dining Supervisor, notes that they have a special table for disabled students where they are served. This helps to control traffic and provide better services to these students.
“We do this to better serve them, and the goal is not to isolate them; it’s to stop them from traveling long distances. Other students can come and join them as well if they want”, he said.
Mayira Kizito is an assistant librarian working in the book reserve, but he is also disabled. According to Kizito, handling all students with care is crucial for his job, but adding a little attention to the disabled students is a virtue he holds dear.
“On my job, I receive a lot of students, so if you are not attentive, you might not serve the disabled well”. He said “The fact that I am in the same situation they are in, totally understands how they feel”.
He further confirmed that the library carries out capacity building for its staff on how to handle such people; the ground floor is reserved for them since it’s as convenient for their access. The library has two alternative doors for the disabled who would like to access the top floors of the library.
The university has embraced digital platforms, as part of Vice Chancellor Associate Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi’s vision of becoming a paperless university. The university introduced blended learning of both online and physical classes, a concept that many disabled students embraced.
Students receive their results through their e-learning platform, and since the process of clearing accounts is now online, it saves time and inconveniences for everyone.
Sam Lukaire, the sports administrator, asserts that although the university has a small number of disabled students, even the few that it does have don’t engage in any sports activities that would be good for their therapies and health.
“We have a lot of exciting sports activities, but disabled students don’t come to be part of them,”, he said. “We have an inclusive program that houses people of all kinds, but special needs students don’t show up”. He said.
Disability is not in ability; many of the disabled students have engaged in guild politics, so it’s no surprise that the guild president of UCU Mbale University College, His Excellency Kunya Dan, is a special needs student ruling the east.
“The propaganda during my campaigns was heartbreaking; people used to tell my voters not to vote for a disabled person”, he said “I outgrew all my fears and won with 51% of the votes”.
Timothy Ddumba, the UCU Guild President, affirms that the electoral commission is going to hold a by-election for the Member of Parliament for the Disabled, and through their leader, they could have a dialogue on how they could champion their needs.