Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Funding is universities' biggest challenge

Universities need funding to make the campuses and courses more accessible, experts say.

DUBAI // A lack of funding is preventing the country's three federal universities from implementing the UAE's 2006 disability law and accommodating students with special needs who want to continue to study, educators say.

Fatma Ahmad al Qassami, an Emirati who has used a wheelchair since contracting polio as a child, was hired to set up the office of accessibility for 18 special needs students at Zayed University Dubai in January last year.

Ms al Qassami, who earned her high school education in the UK, said it was only recently that serious consideration had been given to those with special needs and disabilities in the UAE. However, that attention was not yet reflected at the university level. Without funding, parents were left to shoulder the costs associated with sending their students to university, she said.

"The law says that schools or universities have to accept children with disabilities but there's no budget," she said. "The whole burden of extra teachers and care will cost the parents around Dh4,000 a month extra so they just won't pay, instead keeping the children at home. The budget problems mean we can't go as fast as we want with this."

Even now, Zayed University is still battling small changes to make the campus more accessible, from changing the height of sinks to widening doorways. The school had only one person on each campus who could assess people for learning disabilities, said John Cryan, interim dean at the college of education at Zayed University in Dubai.

"We also have only one faculty member who is trained to teach people with special needs, but without the budget, we can't provide the staff, the materials and resources and the training," he said.

At UAE University in Al Ain, it has been 18 months since Dr Tamer Said Oraby established the Disability Support Centre to fulfil the institution's legal obligations. There are 35 students with special needs, 80 per cent have impaired vision.

"It's slowly making progress," he said. "Six years ago it wasn't like it is now. In terms of mainstream education, accepting students with disabilities or special needs was hard but now in general education, every school is obliged to accept and accommodate them."

The biggest challenge, he said, was funding and the most common problem was impaired vision. The equipment needed to help sight-impaired students costs about Dh17,500 per student per year.

The new female campus was built to be more accessible. It also has a Dh500,000 laboratory equipped with an array of technology including screen reader software and electronic magnifiers. Yet it was far from enough to accommodate students, who often had not been properly dealt with at the lower education levels, said Dr Oraby.

"We still need staff to diagnose the many students, who have either not been diagnosed or have been misdiagnosed with learning difficulties," he said. "We need training for the university staff to identify these problems and most of all, we need to raise public awareness ... so these things can be implemented."

Assistive technology learning resource centres have opened at the Abu Dhabi Women's College's two campuses, Al Ain Men's College, Abu Dhabi Men's College and Dubai Men's College, with the plan to open more on other campuses. The labs help those with hearing and sight impairment and conditions such as dyslexia.

While all the colleges had taken accessibility measures, such as ramps, the provost Dr Mark Drummond believed additional staff members were also required.

"We need an educational psychologist to diagnose problems in students," he said. "There is not a large reservoir of experts in this area though, so we are pioneering this."

mswan@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Ali Benflis, opposition leader and main rival to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika speaks to the press after casting his vote in the presidential elections at a polling station in Algiers on. Former prime minister Benflis ran against Bouteflika in 2004 but lost heavily, charging the vote was rigged 10 years ago and has said fraud will be his ‘main adversary’ during the election. Patrick Baz / AFP Photo

Best photography from around the world, April 17

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

Video: Local reactions to a national fishing ban

A federal fishing ban has been imposed by the UAE federal government, but local authorities are taking diiferent approaches to implementing the ban. Two fishermen tell two very different sides of the story. Produced by Paul O'Driscoll

 Southampton owner Katharina Liebherr is pictured before the Premier League match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, southern England, on March 1, 2014. Glyn Kirk / AFP

New Southampton owner leading club’s resurgence from the shadows

Katharina Liebherr keeping with family tradition and letting others dominate the spotlight

 The new Bentley GT Speed convertible on display at a press event of the New York International Auto Show. Jason Szenes / EPA

In pictures: Hot cars at New York International Auto Show

With more than 1 million visitors annually, the New York International Auto Show is one of the most important shows for the US car industry. Here are some of the vehicles to be shown in this year’s edition.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National