The writer was a member of KENKKU during the last term.
Even though the threshold of the university’s main door sometimes feels almost insurmountably high on a Monday morning, your studies are probably not affected by it. In Finland, attempts are slowly being made at acknowledging accessibility and different ways of learning better and better, even though there is still plenty of work to do. In some developing countries, however, accessible classrooms and flexible studies are still in their infancy. The starting point is that the local student disability organisations need to have the opportunity and sufficient resources to promote their cause.
Ethiopia is the second most populated country in Africa. Its economy is growing and there is considerable investment in social development. Because of this, great leaps have been taken in the Ethiopian education sector, and now 90 per cent of both girls and boys start school. Even though the statistics are looking fairly good when considering the entire population, the situation is very different for children with disabilities: only three per cent of them are even able to start school. Their number is even lower when you look at the higher grades or university students.
The number of students with disabilities at university is reduced by not only, for example, financial problems, but also by the fact that many universities do not have the facilities required to teach them. Their choice of major subjects is also often quite limited; at many universities, students with disabilities are actively encouraged to only study subjects relating to special needs. These and many other challenges faced by students with disabilities have also been discussed at the Ethiopian Ministry of Education which has set a goal to increase the number of students with disabilities at all levels of education. Progress is slow, however, and changes – to attitudes or otherwise – do not happen overnight.
The Finnish NGO Kynnys ry (The Threshold Association) has also been supporting this work. Kynnys ry is a varied basic and human rights organisation for people with disabilities in Finland and abroad. In Ethiopia, Kynnys ry has been working with the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD) on a joint project since 2016. The project has been supporting university students with disabilities and it has been funded by the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Much has already been achieved during the project. There have, for example, been different kinds of training events for both students with disabilities and their teachers and other university staff. Other activities have included giving student organisations training in accessibility and inclusivity, buying equipment which supports accessibility for universities, and holding workshops on, for example, job hunting for students with disabilities who are about to graduate.
This successful joint project will end after 2018 as the project cycle draws to a close. SYL and Kynnys ry together with the ECDD are applying for funding from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs so that a similar project could be launched in Ethiopia at the start of 2019. You can also take part in this! Join our crowdfunding campaign to raise our required contribution to the project funding, among other things. It has never been easier to lower the threshold!
KENKKU member of the last term