Universities in Indonesia still exclude people with disabilities, despite the existence of a Disability Law that aims to empower persons with disabilities and a ministry regulation that requires universities to provide assistance and learning facilities for them.
Scholars have observed the majority of university administrators have yet adopted laws that protect the rights of students with disabilities.
The lack of access to higher education resulted in only a little over 5% of the 10.8 million people with disabilities entering the workforce that have experienced college education.
The latest data from the Indonesian Association of Visually Impaired People (Pertuni) also indicate that in 2017 there were only around 400 visually impaired university students in the country.
The number of students with more severe forms of disabilities is believed to be even lower.
Only around five universities - such as Universitas Brawijaya in East Java and State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga (UIN) in Yogyakarta - out of nearly 4500 higher education institutions in Indonesia provide special needs units, Antoni Tsaputra, a researcher at the Development Planning Board in Padang, West Sumatra said.
According to disability scholars, these universities have representation of people with disabilities and inclusivity-minded people within the university leadership.
A lack of initiatives
Dina Afrianty, a researcher of disability rights at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia, says that the main reason many universities have failed to follow through is the mindset of campus administrators that hesitate to initiate disability services.
“Universities often say that they don’t have the resources considering the number of disabled students is small. They say that it’s a waste of resources for just one or two students,” she says.
Antoni said the university’s excuse to forgo support for students with disability due to the small number of disabled students was wrong.
“Don’t blame the fact that not many disabled students apply. That’s a bad excuse. How can students enrol if there are no supporting infrastructure or services?” he said.
Antoni says the reason that pioneering campuses like Universitas Brawijaya and UIN have established a disability-inclusive learning environment is the presence of inclusivity-minded figures inside each university.
A lecturer named Slamet Thohari, who was diagnosed with polio which made it difficult for him to walk, initiated Brawijaya’s Centre for Disability Services and Research.
“Brawijaya is the most progressive. Their disability centre even researches disability inclusion. It’s no wonder disabled students from all over Indonesia choose to study there,” Antoni said.
Universitas Brawijaya currently has around 150 students with difficulties ranging from hearing impairments, autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, to Down Syndrome. A special unit called the Centre for Disability Services and Research (PSLD) assists them in their studies.
“The presence of these figures from inside have accelerated the progress of an inclusive learning environment. We need for there to be more inclusivity-minded people in every university in Indonesia,” Antoni said.
Dina concurs with Antoni. She cites UIN as another fine example of disability-inclusive leadership.
“To me the most important factor will always be the policymakers in every university. UIN in Yogyakarta didn’t have excessive funds too, but the university president at the time [Amin Abdullah] took the necessary first steps to facilitate disabled students,” she recounted.
Learning from Australia
Antoni, who has been diagnosed with a form of muscular dystrophy which put him in a wheelchair since he was young, recently completed his PhD at the University of New South Wales, Australia.
It is possible because UNSW is one of the universities in Australia that provides services and facilities for students with disabilities.
Australia’s Disability Standards for Education - a national level regulation derived from the country’s 1992 Disability Discrimination Act - enforces standards that must be met by education institutions in providing special needs services.
Dina said her university, La Trobe, also operates an ‘equity and diversity unit, an office providing comprehensive assistance that is common among Australian universities.
“For instance, after coordinating with professors, the equity unit can then provide all book chapters and study materials required for a class, in braille,” she said.
Antoni told us how these services had helped him during his studies in Australia.
“During my master and doctoral studies, I enjoyed the inclusive education climate there,” he said.
“When I started, the university’s disability advisers contacted me to ask what my needs were. They had everything ready since the beginning.”
His university’s disability and equity office supplied everything ranging from digital assistive technology so that those with cerebral palsy can operate Microsoft Office software, campus orientation for students with visual impairments, to even providing special needs students with extra time during exams.
“The staff and also the professors understand how all students have to be treated as inclusive as possible, and provide the required support to even the most complex needs,” he said.
The presence of these disability-inclusive services has been considered to contribute significantly to the rising number of university enrolment of disabled students in Australia.
In the last five years, disability enrolments rose 53.6% compared to the 17.7% increase in general national enrolments.
Both Antoni and Dina suggest Indonesia follow Australia’s example in providing inclusive education for people with disabilities.
“We have the 1945 Constitution, the 1999 Human Rights Law, we’ve ratified the Convention of Rights for Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), we also now have a Disability Law, and even a Ministry Regulation. What more do we need?” Dina added.
“The problem is now how we, including university administrators, as part of society, help change the mindset of people towards disabilities. It’s also our responsibility as able-bodied persons.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The number of Indonesian universities with special needs units has been revised from “very few” to a more specific number, “only around five”.