CoHE Examines Access of Disabled Students to Education During Coronavirus Pandemic

December 3, 2020

The Council of Higher Education aims to make all Turkish higher education institutions accessible to all students with the works it has been carrying out under the title “Barrier-free Access and Barrier-free Education”. In this context, the Barrier-free University Awards, which were given for the first time in 2018, encouraged the universities to become accessible in physical areas, education and socio-cultural activities and most of the universities gave impetus to their efforts by establishing committees on the topic. The number of applications, which was 318 from 41 universities in 2018, has risen to 841 from 116 universities in 2020 .

According to YOKSIS, there are currently 51,647 students with disabilities . Among these students, 27,782 of them receive education at associate degree level, 23,581 at undergraduate level, 236 at Master’s degree level and 48 at doctoral level. 89% of these students are enrolled in open education programs.

If formal education is made accessible, it will be possible to receive education at all degrees and especially at graduate level. Making a program accessible to a visually impaired individual differs from making a program accessible to an individual with autism spectrum disorder. Hence, different measures should be taken for different disability groups.

Physically challenged students and students with visual impairments have relatively higher access to higher education than other groups. The Council aims to integrate students from different disability groups such as the hearing impaired or students with autism spectrum disorder into higher education with its recent decisions. Even though the studies on accessibility in education have gained momentum, access to education has yet to reach the desired level. Again, in terms of the awards for the access to socio-cultural activities, the activities organized by the disabled students are taken into consideration rather than activities for the disabled. It is important to integrate them into campus life.

It is estimated that the number of disabled students is higher than the number of those registered in YOKSIS. Unless students report their disability to their universities, the real figures are not reflected in the YOKSIS data. In this context, Turkish higher education institutions are expected to carry out awareness-raising activities to reach all disabled students.

Measures Taken for Students with Disabilities in Higher Education during Global Pandemic

As education continues to be offered online during the global pandemic, students with chronic diseases and students with disabilities face different challenges. In this context, Turkish higher education institutions were reminded that they should take into account these students in every decision they would make on the COVID-19 pandemic and that they should take the necessary measures to sustain educational processes. It was underlined that making little changes in presentations, course preparations and lectures would mean a lot for these students.

In this regard, the following statements were included in the “ New Normalization Process in the Global Pandemic Guide” and the “ Guide for Development of Healthy and Clean Environments in Higher Education Institutions in terms of the Global Pandemic ” to have universities take the necessary measures within the bounds of possibility to make distance education accessible for students with chronic diseases and students with disabilities.

  • Universities should check the related programs to see if there are enrolled students with disabilities and inform the academic staff that gives the lecture of the necessary measures to be taken according to the disability type.
  • Universities should take measures to eliminate the problems experienced online by talking with the disabled students about these problems.
  • Universities should inform these students in writing of the distance education systems.
  • Universities should also consider the measures such as providing the course contents as texts, giving lectures in subtitles, if possible, and sending the course content to students in advance for hearing-impaired students. They should also consider being attentive to use rich text formats that could be used by reading systems in course texts, using large fonts and contrast colors in presentations, describing visual contents, graphics and tables during lectures, and describing graphics especially in exams for visually-impaired students. They should also give extra time according to the type of disability in exams.
  • Universities should also ensure that a few number of students that have intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorders do not lose contact with higher education. These students and their families should be contacted at regular intervals, and academics in psychology or other fields should provide support to these students, if necessary.
  • In case students with chronic diseases report their conditions to their university, their needs should be evaluated according to the needs of their conditions.

Results of the Survey on the Measures Taken in Higher Education Institutions for the Access of Students with Disabilities to Education during Global Pandemic

During the pandemic, the educational processes in higher education institutions have been carried out mostly through distance and online applications. The academics in CoHE’s Working Group for Students with Disabilities prepared a survey to assess the measures taken for students with disabilities and the current situation, and this survey was sent to Turkish higher education institutions.

195 higher education institutions participated in the survey. The measures taken during distance education and the psychosocial help offered to students and their families were inquired.

Click here for the results of the survey.