Original Research

Exploration of the academic lives of students with disabilities at South African universities: Lecturers’ perspectives

Oliver Mutanga, Melanie Walker
African Journal of Disability | Vol 6 | a316 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v6i0.316 | © 2017 Oliver Mutanga, Melanie Walker | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 September 2016 | Published: 30 March 2017

About the author(s)

Oliver Mutanga, Institute of Health and Society, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Norway
Melanie Walker, Centre for Research on Higher Education and Development, University of the Free State, South Africa


Background: A decade has passed since South Africa signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a human rights treaty that protects the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. However, not much have changed for students with disabilities.
Objectives: The aim of this study was to explore lecturers’ experiences with, and perspectives on, disability as well as with students with disabilities. It was hoped that this would contribute to the ongoing policy debates about diversity, inclusion and support for students with disabilities at universities.
Methods: In an effort to understand the lives of students with disabilities better, a study which included students with disabilities, lecturers and disability supporting staff was conducted at two South African universities – University of the Free State and University of Venda. The paper takes a snapshot view of four lecturers and their perceptions of the lives of students with disabilities at their respective universities.
Results and Conclusion: Although most disability literature report students with disabilities blaming lecturers for their failure to advance their needs, this paper highlights that the education system needs to be supportive to lecturers for the inclusive agenda to be realised. An argument is made for a more comprehensive approach towards a national disability policy in higher education involving many stakeholders. Without a broader understanding of disability, it will be difficult to engage with the complex ways in which inequalities emerge and are sustained.


Students with disabilities; Lecturers; South Africa; Universities; Disability Units; Inclusion


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