Students with disabilities in Ethiopia – concerns about livelihood, passion for advocacy work

As a part of the Ethiopia project, we have learned a lot about the everyday life of Ethiopian university students. Very often universities are unable to support students with disabilities. Many don’t recognize disability issues as human rights, but rather as some kind of charity. During the project, Ethiopian disability experts have trained universities and students to make sure that these rights are properly recognized.

Many Ethiopian university student unions have quotas for students with disabilities. However, when the student representatives are paid by the university, it is challenging to ensure the sovereignty of the advocacy work. High differences in hierarchy in the culture can also raise the mental barriers when it comes to criticizing the authorities. As a part of the project, ECDD has organized meetings to encourage students and university personnel together to find ways to make universities more inclusive.

Functional everyday life is important in uncertain conditions 

The students are provided with free accommodation in the campus during their studies. However, for those who live on campus, it is not possible to get the student allowance. In addition, up to 17 students might be accommodated in a single room. Especially students with disabilities are afraid to take out student loan, because it can be very hard to find jobs.

Secured livelihood would be crucial, so that the students could have enough time and energy left for studies and the extra-curricular activities. When basic needs are covered, aiming for improving personal and common interests gets easier. Functional everyday life is valued even more in uncertain conditions that Ethiopians have faced especially due to the pandemic and political instabilities. As a part of the project, universities have been encouraged to support especially students with disabilities.

Many positive accessibility changes have taken place in the campuses, yet there is still need for improvements. Elevators are too expensive.  Many student bathrooms, for example,  are still inaccessible. There is still a lot of work with changing attitudes as even the parents of some students lack belief in their education and doubt what students with disabilities can or should aim to achieve in their lives. 

The world is full of complex problems that are difficult to solve. Yet some of the issues are easier to solve than others. Still, also the problems that seem to have easier solutions, demand persistence, commitment and resources. The university disability centers, provided by this project that took place in 2019-2022, continue their important work to guarantee the disability rights. Now the work continues in new universities.

People with higher education have better opportunities to affect their societies on the governmental and decision making levels. Because of this, it is important to emphasize the support for university students. 

Saara Pirhonen
SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board


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