Zambia is a country located in Southern Africa with a population of over 18 million people. Where 10.9% of Zambian adults aged 18 years and above have a disability, most of them live in cities, and the majority are women (The Zambia National Disability Survey 2015). Despite laws and policies promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, it remains a largely neglected issue in the country. This causes people with disabilities to often face numerous challenges in their daily lives and studies.
One of the main challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Zambia is access to education. Especially in higher education, students struggle to enroll in universities. First, the entrance exams do not consider students’ special needs, and secondly, the facilities such as libraries and classrooms are often inaccessible due to a lack of infrastructure. Assistive devices are available on a limited basis and students with disabilities may be dependent on the assistance of fellow students. These issues deny persons with disabilities the opportunity to acquire knowledge and skills that are essential for their future and contribute to the development of their country.
Zambian government has developed a National Disability Policy that seeks to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in all aspects of national development. The government has also signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which provides a framework for promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
Furthermore, disability organizations and student activists are also stepping in to improve students with disabilities’ lives. SYL is working alongside Vilole Image Productions, a Zambian organization advocating for the rights of disabled people, and the Finnish Abilis Foundation. Together, we developed the Zambia Inclusive Higher Education Project, which supports the goals of inclusive education by encouraging universities to establish disability centers, raising awareness and organizing training for both students and university employees. When higher education becomes more inclusive, students with disabilities have a better chance to not only earn their own income, but also break prejudices in society.
Laura De Castillo
Member, SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board 2022–2023