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April 4, 2005

Schools Lack Facilities for Disabled

From:, Africa - Apr 4, 2005

The Monitor (Kampala)
April 4, 2005

By Muhwezi Bonge

Banana trees, jackfruit trees and unfinished classroom blocks characterise Kitemu Integrated Primary School. Located in the remote areas of Mpigi, Kitemu Primary School is no ordinary school. It caters for children with several learning disabilities. Mr Steven Serwanga, the headmaster of the school says: "we have tried to address disability by teaching the disabled together with other students so that they can feel accepted in society."

In the Primary Seven class, we are ushered in with a standing ovation from the rest of the students. Godfrey Wamala struggles to get on his feet, the metal callipers on his legs, for rehabilitation, seem too heavy. He finally gets up with a smile, which leaves you wondering if disability is really a hindrance.

In the Nursery Section, Jennifer Nanfuka strikes you as a sweet little three-year-old child. To our surprise she is eight years old. However, the height, the look and how she responds to questions, clearly shows that she is in the age bracket of toddlers. "She is both mentally retarded and physically disabled." Serwanga says.

In primary five, Asudu Serumaga, struggles to answer questions put to him by Education Forum. "He has a speech impairment", reveals his teacher Ms Janet Namyala. Though he can utter out some words, he often confuses them, which, leaves you trying to figure out what he has said.

The disabled are integrated with non-disabled students. Serwanga defends this as a measure to ensure that non-disabled students help out those with disabilities in various school and social activities.

Teachers at Kitemu Primary School are trained to handle all cases of disability in a normal class setting. Signs are part of the teaching techniques to cater for deaf students. "Most of the students go through an orientation programme in sign language," Serwanga enlightens.

At Uganda School for the Deaf, Ntinda, sign language is the norm. During breaks, students gather in groups, with no sound rising from the setting, essentially the hands do the talking. Students conspicuously move fingers in a fascinating way that leaves one amazed at how speech can easily be substituted with finger action. The students on the receiving end constantly nod in agreement.

Staff members with normal speech have become embroiled in the whole system. Their speech is occasionally punctuated with sign language to put across a clear message.

According to the recently released census results one out of twenty five Ugandans are disabled. Disability causes many personal challenges ranging from economic inequality, illiteracy to cultural isolation, and social discrimination.

Serwanga says: "the existence of special schools exclusively accommodating students with disabilities blocks contact between the disabled and the non-disabled." This is what Kitemu has tried to address. It is equally echoed by Fabian Opira the Administrative Officer at National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU). He says: "These schools must change into integrated ones to enable disabled students to be part of the customary setting."

Opira adds that many people with disabilities have experienced negative societal perceptions and stereotypes that contribute to a lack of self-confidence. "Lack of self-confidence may limit a person's willingness to try new activities and challenges," He says.

Opira stresses that parents tend to be over protective. In doing so, they deny the disabled child a chance to explore his own environment, set up his own standards and learn to live with his limitations in an independent manner. Help, charity, sympathy and pity limit the independence of the disabled.

Opira points out that under the Universal Primary Education (UPE) policy, children with disabilities are given a priority. However this does not address what happens after a child has been admitted at the school. For instance there are no facilities to cater for blind and deaf students in rural UPE schools. scarcity of facilities like brailling board, architectural barriers are another challenge. Most offices have many stairs with no provision for lifts. In our cities it is risky for persons who have a disability to move because there are no special paths for wheelchairs, yet pedestrian crossings are few.

Traffic lights that exist are unreliable and careless driving is common. generally, most drivers are not cautious of pedestrians' needs. "Most public restrooms lack proper latrines for disabled persons. The latrines in rural areas do not cater for the disabled," Opira points out.

Abdul Busuulwa, Project Officer, Capacity Building at NUDIPU says, one of the greatest challenges for people with disabilities is finding a job that provides enough hours of work at a salary high enough to achieve economic independence. For those who find a job, education is the most important determinant of earnings. Most disabled persons acquire basic education that tends to limit their employment opportunities.

"Staff with the expertise, experience and understanding are ignored because they have some form of disability. Those with mental or psychiatric disabilities are most likely to be unemployed," Busulwa says.

Transportation is a huge challenge. Public transport system does not take into consideration the needs of people with disabilities. Most of the transport facilities do not have provisions to aid people with disabilities to use them, which hinder their free movement. Some wheelchairs provided by donor agencies are not well adapted to rough roads, since they are not made locally.

Busulwa adds that until 1998, the Traffic and Road Safety Act clearly prohibited the deaf from driving; a form of discrimination.

Serwanga says he has noticed that poor parents are often willing to give up the disabled children to centres where they can easily be taken care of. This denies them parental love and makes them feel inadequate.

Most parents are highly superstitious. They feel that giving birth to a disabled child is a curse. Some go an extra mile to kill the victim. So many myths surround disabled people.

Often, disabled females are targeted for sexual abuse at school or in a home setting. They are considered helpless and can easily be taken advantage of. Many disabled women are single mothers as a consequence. They need to be educated to over come this.

The teachings and actions of society require that disabled persons repress their sexual desires. Therefore, these persons are consequently excluded from the basic human need of feeling loved.

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