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Uzbekistan: How to Ensure Higher Education Accessibility for People with Disabilities?

«In 2018, applicants with I and II disability group exercised their right to receive higher education in consequence of an additional two-percent quota in Uzbekistan. This is a significant first step in promoting access to higher education for people with disabilities. How effective are the measures of positive discrimination and can quota allocation ensure accessibility of higher education for people with disabilities?», – an expert Dilmurad Yusupov provides answers to these questions in his article, specifically written for Cabar.asia.

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Higher education in Uzbekistan remains the privilege of the lucky few that has been able to withstand a severe competition in the entrance exams. This is due to the limited number of universities in the country and a high demand for higher education, given that 60% of the country’s population is young people under 30 years old[1]. Last year was announced an admission of documents to 60 national universities and their 19 branches throughout Uzbekistan. At the same time, the government approved a fixed number of new student places in the amount of 80,965 people[2].

On average, more than eight people applied for one student’s place. In some regions of the country, the competition for one place was even more than 20 people for one place. For example, the Fergana branch of the Tashkent Medical Academy set last year’s record with 23.2 applicants for one place[3].

The Decree of the President of Uzbekistan dated December 1, 2017 “On measures to fundamentally improve the system of state support for persons with disabilities”[4] provided for the provision of preferential rights for persons with disabilities entering higher education institutions. The state waived of the equality principle for all applicants and applied measures of positive discrimination – the provision of special privileges and preferences to individual minorities on the basis of gender, race, disability and other factors.

Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, an additional two-percent quota of admission to universities of the total number of admission of applicants was introduced for people with I and II disability group. The passing score for applicants with disabilities was reduced to 56.7 points (30% of the maximum possible score – 189 points) at the entrance examination, and those who scored the corresponding point entered the budget places on the basis of a state grant.

Despite the provided preferences, only 996 applicants with disabilities were able to enter by an additional quota[5], which is about 1.4% of the total admission quota in 2018. Due to the lack of data on the total number of persons with disabilities admitted for entrance examinations, it can be assumed that the quota places were not completely filled due to the insufficient number of applicants with disabilities.

Most likely there were many who wished, but not all were able to score the required number of points on the entrance examinations, which may be due to their low training level. One of the requirements of the universities’ admission procedure for persons with disabilities is a school leaving certificated (based on 11th grade) or on graduating from an academic lyceum or vocational college. But in practice, the presence of a certificate does not always guarantee a high level of knowledge and the quality of secondary education.

Equal rights for all?

Obviously, a 2% quota for persons with disabilities was introduced in order to overcome inequality and ensure access to higher education in conditions of strong competition among all applicants. Can a disability serve as a basis for a positive discrimination entering universities? A significant understatement of the passing score for applicants with disabilities indirectly implies their insufficient degree of training, which prevents them from competing with others on an equal basis. In other words, such indulgences hint at some kind of negative effect of impaired functions of the human body on the intellect. In fact, physical disability, hearing and vision impairment, or mental disabilities are not a barrier to obtaining quality secondary education and necessary preparation for entering a university.

The whole problem is unequal access to education in the early development stages of children with disabilities. Even in the presence of a mild case of disability, many of them are forced to study in specialized boarding schools and colleges, which are not particularly distinguished by the quality of education.
Due to physical inaccessibility and the lack of reasonable fixtures in secondary schools, children with disabilities often have to confine themselves to homeschooling, which does not meet the general requirements for university applicants. The inclusive education in Uzbekistan, based on ensuring equal access of children with disabilities to the general education system, is still at an early stage of development.

Therefore, in the conditions of underdevelopment of inclusive secondary education, it is difficult to speak about an inclusive higher education due to unequal starting positions of applicants with disabilities. The preference in the form of understated passing score is a superficial half-measure in the absence of an inclusive approach at the primary education levels.
The introduction of special privileges for applicants with disabilities at the entrance exams may also have negative consequences in the form of possible complications in disability certification by expert examination of labor capacity. Obtaining a disability of I or II group may become even more difficult, given that from now on this status gives the right to study at a university on a budgetary basis. Another question is why people with III disability group cannot claim receiving the same rights when they enter universities?

However, there is no denying that quota-based budget places for persons with disabilities on the basis of a state grant are needed. Due to limited financial resources, applicants with disabilities and their parents are not able to pay the contract tuition fee of education in universities. For example, the social allowance for disability from childhood is 396,500 UZS (less than $ 50) per month. Even taking into account the scholarships they receive at the university, the total amount will only be enough for living, not to mention paying the contract tuition fee at the university. In addition, studying at the university involves additional costs for transport, food, school supplies and many other things.

The unavailable university accessibility

According to the order of admission of persons with disabilities to universities dated June 2, 2018[6], the ministries and departments in charge for higher educational institutions, as well as universities directly, in co-operation with the Ministry of Health, had to “take measures on creation necessary conditions in classrooms and buildings where entrance examinations and training for persons with disabilities will be held.”

In 2011, the UNDP, jointly with the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection of Population of Uzbekistan[7], prepared a handbook on the accessibility of buildings and structures of Tashkent[8]. The handbook contains indicators of physical accessibility of more than 300 buildings and structures in the city, including higher education institutions. The handbook took into account the presence of nonthreshold access, stairs, ramps, elevators, special booths in a public toilet for people with disabilities, as well as the width of the doors and other indicators of physical accessibility.

Out of 21 universities listed in the handbook, only three branches of foreign universities, two national medical academies and the Tashkent Islamic University were indicated as fully accessible. The paradox of the situation lies in the fact that even if foreign university branches are more or less distinguished by the accessible environment in their educational buildings, applicants with disabilities cannot these universities using additional 2% quota. Foreign universities’ branches in Uzbekistan hold their own competition.

Most likely, the situation with the physical accessibility of universities has not changed much for the better within eight years. However, the Law “On Social Protection of Disabled Persons in the Republic of Uzbekistan”[9] obliges all public institutions and organizations to ensure unobstructed access for people with disabilities to social infrastructure, use of transport, communication and information. The law provides for administrative responsibility for non-compliance with these requirements.

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Due to the inaccessibility of buildings and structures of many universities, students with physical disabilities, who received an additional quota last year, face numerous barriers that prevent them from fully integrating into the educational process on an equal basis with others. Elevators are not installed or they are out of order in many educational buildings, while students often move from floor to floor following the approved class schedule. Due to the high staircase and lack of ramps, the main entrances of universities remain inaccessible for students using a wheelchair.

For the above reasons, university management offers to create separate groups of students with disabilities and adapt rooms on the first floors of dormitories for their studies. As a result, students with physical disabilities have to live and study in the same dormitory building, without joining the main stream of students. There are also students with a milder case of physical disability (for example, using crutches or with cerebral palsy) who did not agree with the management’s proposal and have defended their right to study with all. But students with a more severe case of physical disability could not disagree with the management given the risks to their health due to the unsuitability of the university buildings to their needs. It should be noted that the management of universities in many cases refuses or finds excuses not to repair elevators, install ramps or lifts.

The universities provide additional quotas and preferences for people with disabilities, but after they enter, they are discriminated on the basis of disability, without providing unobstructed access to the main academic buildings. This is not an inclusive education because segregation is again carried out by dividing students on the basis of disability. Existing barriers inside universities cause discrimination for students with various disabilities, but this should not be so. All efforts should be directed, first of all, at creating unobstructed access to the main buildings and structures, and not at creating special conditions for certain groups of students with disabilities.

Lack of reasonable fixtures

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the refusal to provide reasonable fixtures for people with disabilities is a form of discrimination based on disability. The need for reasonable fixtures is particularly important in the process of teaching students with disabilities at a university.

Braille textbooks for tactile perception of the material are reasonable fixtures for students with visual impairments that take into account their individual needs. For example, blind students can poorly perceive the mathematical formulas, drawings or graphs drawn on the blackboard – they are difficult to explain in words. There are special textbooks for this in six-point Braille. Unfortunately, such specialized manuals are very difficult to find in the universities’ libraries, which is due to insufficient state support of the only printing house for blind in Uzbekistan.

A sign-interpretation during seminars and lectures is a reasonable fixture for a student with complete hearing impairment. In the absence of a sign-interpretation, deaf and hearing impaired students will experience difficulties in understanding the material, as well as in communication with hearing students and teaching staff. Thus, as the curriculum becomes more complex, students with sensory impairments will lag behind their fellow students, which will adversely affect their academic performance and mental health.

It should be noted that there is a big difference between the everyday sign language and the professional sign language that is used in the educational process at the university. For example, to interpret a lecture on linear algebra, the sign language interpreter should not only have the appropriate knowledge base, but should also know in advance how to convey professional terms or definitions in sign language. Another problem is the acute shortage of qualified sign language interpreters and teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing and their decent salaries. It is unclear who should bear the costs for sign language interpretation at universities; the students with hearing impairments, universities or the state?

An international sign indicating that the room is equipped with an induction/hearing loop and the “T” mode on the hearing aid can be used.
In addition, it is necessary to equip the audience of universities with an induction/hearing loop for hearing impaired students who use hearing aids and cochlear implants. It is an antenna for transmitting sound to a hearing aid operating in an induction coil mode. In simple phrase, this device converts sound signals and transmits them without noise interference to the hearing aid, which includes the “telecoil” mode or, briefly, “T” setting, which is present in almost all hearing aids. However, due to the absence of an induction/hearing loop in many public institutions, the hearing impaired people are in many cases poorly aware of this useful function of hearing aids.

Physical inaccessibility of buildings and structures of universities, as well as the lack of reasonable fixtures, adversely affects the performance and mental health of students with disabilities. Specialized equipment, sign interpretation and other devices is an essential condition for the inclusion of students with sensory impairments in the educational process. Holding seminars and lectures without such devices makes students’ knowledge and skills superficial, which will also negatively affect the possibilities of their subsequent employment.

Limited financial support

Studying in a higher educational institution is accompanied by additional costs for students with disabilities. For example, due to the inaccessibility of public transport, wheelchair users often have to spend big amounts on a taxi or hiring personal assistants to escort through the inaccessible streets of Tashkent. Blind or visually impaired students need to purchase expensive specialized equipment, such as Braille displays and related software, which make it possible to use computers.

The Braille display is an output device for displaying text information in the form of six-point Braille characters. Source: https://bit.ly/2EE1gV3
If the area and buildings of the university are not equipped with signs in Braille, visually impaired students also require personal support. Hearing impaired students need to hire specialized sign language interpreters themselves, if the university or the state as a whole does not provide such a social service.

For example, a special disability student allowance or DSA is issued in UK universities to cover additional costs that may arise in a higher education institution. In addition to students with disabilities, students with long-term physical and mental health problems, learning difficulties such as autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia (movement disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and other conditions that cause learning difficulties may receive this allowance. The amount of this allowance depends on the individual needs of the student, and not on the income of his / her family. This allowance can be used to purchase specialized equipment, hire personal assistants, for transportation costs and etc.

When choosing universities, students with disabilities in the UK are primarily guided by the official websites, which provide detailed information on physical accessibility, the possibility of holding entrance exams taking into account individual needs, as well as receiving social assistance within the walls of the university (reasonable fixtures, financial and psychological support). But analysis of the websites of many Tashkent universities showed that even if the sites have special features in the form of a version for the visually impaired, there is no information about the accessibility of the university for students with disabilities.

How to make universities accessible for persons with disabilities?

The introduction of a 2% quota for persons with disability by the state is a big first step towards ensuring access to higher education for this category of people. With all this, a positive discrimination of applicants with disability in the form of “indulgences” at entrance examinations may be an ineffective half-measure due to the lack of their knowledge. This is indicated by a limited number of students with disabilities who were able to use the quota and score the lowest passing score. In this regard, it is advisable to improve the level of knowledge and preparedness of applicants with disabilities at primary and secondary levels of education, providing the necessary conditions for inclusive education at secondary schools, colleges and lyceums.

The 2% quota and preferences for people with disabilities are insufficient to ensure access to higher education. Much more needs to be done to fully include students with disabilities in the educational process in universities. Studying at a university is not only gaining knowledge, but also acquiring life and socialization skills. The universities should ensure the full and equal participation of students with disabilities along with other students. It is necessary to create support services for them, design and adapt main educational buildings and dormitories, taking into account accessibility and universal design. At the same time, the financial resources necessary for the creation of such conditions should not be considered as disproportionate or unjustified burdens for the university budget.

It is expected that from the new school year even a greater number of students with disabilities will enter universities on an additional quota. In the conditions of physical inaccessibility of university territories and buildings, as well as the lack of reasonable fixtures, it is very difficult to understand how the learning process will be further organized for students with physical and sensory impairments, including students with autism, dyslexia and other invisible disabilities. If, due to the inaccessibility of the main academic buildings, only some premises will be adapted for them in order to create separate groups of students with disabilities, then it will not be an inclusive approach to higher education.

It should always be borne in mind that the “disability” occurs only when students with hearing impairments have to sit at seminars without understanding what the teacher and his fellow students are talking about, when a wheelchair user cannot enter the main academic building, when a blind student cannot identify what formulas the lecturer is writing on a blackboard. The emphasis should be placed on the elimination of these barriers, and not assuming that the “problem” is caused by the individual state of the student. The discriminatory attitudes and segregation are one of the main obstacles for students with disabilities to access higher education.

 

[1] http://uza.uz/ru/programs/26-years/den-molodezhi-budet-vdokhnovlyat-ee-na-pokorenie-novykh-vyso-30-08-2017/?m=y&SECTION_CODE=26-years&ELEMENT_CODE=den-molodezhi-budet-vdokhnovlyat-ee-na-pokorenie-novykh-vyso-30-08-2017

[2] State Testing Center under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan: http://www.dtm.uz

[3] According to the state testing center: http://www.dtm.uz/post/view/oliy-ta-lim-muassasalarida-hujjat-qabul-qilish-ishlari-yakunlandi

[4] http://lex.uz/docs/3436196

[5] According to the Uzbek Persons with Disabilities Association, referring to the data of the State Testing Center under the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

[6] http://lex.uz/docs/3765162

[7] Currently it is the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

[8] http://www.uz.undp.org/content/uzbekistan/ru/home/library/democratic_governance/accessibility-tashkent/

[9] http://www.lex.uz/docs/1372498#1372569


This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.

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