By Dev Datta Joshi, IIE Centennial Fellow 2022-2023
Each individual should have an equal opportunity for educational progress. Education is a key issue. On top of that, inclusive education is a pre-requisite for the accomplishment of all other rights, such as the right to vote. Inclusive education is a vital instrument that can ensure that society’s marginalized can lift themselves out of poverty. It plays a vital role in empowering refugees, persons with disabilities, women, safeguarding children from exploitation (either through hazardous labor or sexual exploitation), and promoting human rights and democracy.
Inclusive higher education is about how we develop and design our universities, programs, and activities so that all people can learn and participate together. An inclusive higher education system provides a better-quality education for all people, including refugee persons with disabilities and is instrumental in creating more inclusive and open societies. Higher education institutions provide the context for a refugee person’s first relationship with the world outside their families, enabling the development of social relationships and interactions.
But in Nepal, realization of the right to education still is a pipedream for refugee persons with disabilities, especially Rohingya refugee women with disabilities as they face multiple challenges. These problems are associated with disability-related discrimination. What is worrying is some of the challenges they only have to face because of they are refugees.
Nepal’s government has yet to campaign or provide policy information on disabled refugee people, including their human rights, improving the education system, and regulation of the welfare.
During workshops, project beneficiaries exchanged ideas on “Inclusive Higher Education for Refugees and Internally Displaced Populations with Disabilities in Nepal.”
As an IIE Centennial Fellow, collaborating with a legal researcher, in between January and March 2023, I conducted research titled “Overcoming the Barriers That Refugee and Internally Displaced People with Disabilities Face in Accessing Higher Education in Nepal.” To complete this research:
- We conducted desk-based analysis and field research in Nepal’s two districts: Kathmandu and Dang. The first phase of the research was based largely on an evaluation and analysis of relevant documents to define inclusive higher education for refugee persons with disabilities.
- We interviewed education policymakers, university deans, university teachers, refugees with disabilities, their peers, Organization of Persons with Disabilities (OPDs) representatives, and the University Grant Commission (UGC) staff in Nepal.
This research aims to address the challenges that refugees with disabilities, especially refugee women with disabilities face to ensure their right to higher education. This research’s main findings were that practical barriers to inclusive education are mainly associated with limited financial resources, poor understanding of disability from the higher education system, and low prioritization of inclusive higher education. These barriers include a lack of information about the extension of the right to education to include refugee persons with disabilities and inadequate knowledge about existing possibilities and options available; inaccessible university facilities with poor reasonable accommodation; the existence of segregated and inferior quality of education; ineffective social support; high university fees; and stigma against refugees with disabilities and their families.
The project’s direct beneficiaries and their families participate in project events in Kathmandu, Nepal.
As part of my Fellowship project, Overcoming the Barriers That Refugee and Internally Displaced People with Disabilities Face in Accessing Higher Education in Nepal, I organized policy level interactions and workshops at project sites, This project’s direct beneficiaries — refugee persons with disabilities argued that identifying persons with disabilities is another systematic barrier in addressing the needs of applicants with disabilities, as asylum-seekers with disabilities remain under-reported.
For example, a blind or visually impaired person faces procedural barriers when completing written forms and receiving written communications, which would exacerbate their challenges in participating in the refugee status determination process. To accommodate this, it would be recommended to identify communication preferences, in consultation with the applicant, and provide the individual with information in accordance with these preferences, for example, via braille or screen reader.
For an asylum-seeker with intellectual disability and difficulties understanding questions and instructions, adaptations may include accessing information in easy-to-read and digestible formats. During the interviews and hearings, the case officer may also have to extend the time with regular breaks or do multiple/shorter interviews; this could also benefit applicants with psychosocial disabilities. For individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, adjustments may include the provision of quality and qualified sign language interpreters from the initial interviews, if that is their preference. It should be noted that if deaf asylum-seekers communicate in their national sign language, the allocated sign language interpreter must be able to communicate in the corresponding national sign language.
The Way Forward
The main barriers that prevent refugee persons with disabilities from accessing higher education in Nepal are attitudinal and knowledge barriers, exploring the lack of understanding among decision-makers deciding upon claims of disability. To advocate these challenges, through Equip for Equality Nepal (EEN) — a leading disability rights organization, I have been conducting various activities such as:
- Writing Op-Eds on newspapers such as The Himalayan Times in English, Nepali and other local languages on “Inclusive Higher Education for Refugees with Disabilities: Sill a Big Challenge.”
- Organizing a YouTube Video Pitch competition in each project district among groups with more capacity to influence the policy-makers such as law students, civil society organizations. Social media competitions are popular in Nepal to create awareness. The topic was “Restoring Voice to People: Realizing the Right to Higher Education for Refugee and Displaced Persons with Disabilities.
- Publishing toolkits in an accessible format on inclusive higher education.