Inclusion for individuals with special needs has and continues to be an issue in various industries and organisations, and the University of Ghana School of Law (UGSoL), a renowned law school in Ghana providing excellent legal education for individuals, is no exception.
Currently, we live in a society which sometimes denies the realities associated with individuals with special needs and find ways to avoid talking about them.
As an educational institution choosing to fully embrace the conversation surrounding creating safe and inclusive spaces for individuals with special needs to thrive and develop their skills and capabilities, UGSoL leverages inclusive communication and teaching tactics that help bridge the gap created by their disability.
Ms. Maame Yaa A. Mensa-Bonsu and Ms. Rachel Haizel, who are both lecturers at UGSoL, shared practical steps that would create a safe and inclusive space for students with disabilities during a faculty retreat organised at the Alisa Hotel, Tema on 7th May 2023.
Language is a known crucial factor in creating conducive spaces for persons living with various disabilities, because when used inappropriately, it may damage the confidence level of students. To successfully communicate with students with special needs in the field of higher education, it is required that tutors desist from using demeaning words like handicapped or retarded in their classrooms, as these words tend to demoralise students and are equally frowned upon by their community.
Another crucial action required in creating a conducive teaching and learning environment for students living with disabilities, requires tutors to consciously engage students by relying on every part of the human senses used in teaching and learning – sight and sound.
Tutors while executing their task of teaching, must ensure they connect with students visually by facing them when they speak for the benefit of hearing-impaired students, and read out written texts for the benefit of visually impaired students, thereby making their teaching process an inclusive one for all students.
Tutors can go a step further in making their interaction with special needs students inclusive and accommodating by clearly outlining the goals of the class and what the class is generally about, to allow students to have a clear understanding of the expected outcome of the class.
Summarising key points and making reading lists easily accessible by students before the class would aid special needs students catch-up with their colleagues in class and help with the rendering of reading materials into appropriate formats for visually and hearing-impaired students, which should be adopted by the library.
Creating an all-inclusive classroom experience requires tutors to fully embrace the mental capabilities of students with disabilities and their ability to deliver on tasks assigned to them. Tutors must consciously make it a point to incorporate them in discussions, to check their understanding of the lesson.
Understanding the needs of students with special needs is a key component to addressing their needs and assisting them navigate their educational journey. Institutions and tutors can efficiently achieve this through special orientation sessions where faculty standards, expectations, and services available in the schools are communicated to them, and where they can equally be open about their needs.
As an institution of higher education, it is important that we continuously make an effort in creating an all-inclusive environment for students with special needs in our classrooms and our institution, where bias and misconceptions are left outside the classroom.