The COVID-19 year in Ethiopia – inclusion, support and measures to suppress the pandemic

Students with disabilities are increasingly being admitted to public universities and other institutions of higher education in Ethiopia, yet the institutions are unable to provide necessary support.  For example, documents in Braille or audio format, sign language interpretation, accessible classrooms and other services are often unavailable, despite a commitment to support students with disabilities. The aim of The Empowerment and Mainstreaming of Persons with Disabilities in Higher Education project (EMPOWER project) is to improve the position and study opportunities of disabled university students.

EMPOWER project in Ethiopia has now continued over two years. Due to the pandemic, the planned training for university staff and students — to improve the inclusion of students with disabilities — could not be carried out as part of the project. However, the pandemic has not halted all our operations, although progress is somewhat slower. Project activities that require little human contact, such as improvements to physical accessibility within universities and the procurement of assistive devices, were also implemented in 2020. In addition, project workers were able to react to the pandemic by providing food aid and hygiene items for poor, disabled people as emergency aid.

SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board have summarised the results of 2020 below in five points:

  • A disability centre was inaugurated at Jimma University. The new center serves students with disabilities; it provides students with the assistive devices they need and the opportunity to use or borrow IT equipment, such as voice recorders.
  • Universities are becoming more accessible. Target universities made 13 accessibility modifications at campuses using their own budgets. In order to identify the accessibility challenges of target universities, an accessibility audit was undertaken to identify inaccessible infrastructure and other barriers to students with disabilities. After that, universities conducted modification works – these include ramps and bridges which allow students to enter classrooms and libraries – at campuses using their own budgets. This shows that universities are committed to respond to the needs of students with disabilities.
  • We provided wheelchairs, printers, photocopy machine and other equipment for the university’s disability centres. These purchases increased the universities’ ability to support disabled students in their studies.
  • Best practices shared together with the three universities. Experience sharing visit was conducted with representatives from all the target universities to learn best practices to support students with disabilities at the campuses. The event included a visit to the Dilla University’s disability centre, and presentations from each university.
  • COVID-19  response: Distribution of basic food items, sanitation and hygiene materials. Information on the COVID-19 virus in a format accessible to various groups with disabilities. Project workers were able to react to the pandemic by using funds not spent on training to provide food aid and hygiene items for 335 poor, disabled people as emergency aid. Under the leadership of our partner organization, the Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD), information on the COVID-19 virus was compiled in a format accessible to various groups with disabilities: for example, a short coronavirus bulletin, translated into sign language, was made for television.

SYL’s project is carried out at three new public universities in Ethiopia (Dilla, Debre Berhan and Jimma Universities) in collaboration with the local organisation ECDD and with support from The Threshold Association. The project will run from 2019 to 2022, and it aims to improve the education and position of disabled students so that they can participate in education, gain qualifications and find employment like other students.

Project management team
SYL’s Development Cooperation Advisory Board


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