Campus disability activism and advocacy for students with disabilities at South African universities
Desire Chiwandire (Nelson Mandela University)

The advent of democracy in South Africa saw the newly elected government immediately responding to the historical exclusion of students with disabilities (SWDs) by enacting various inclusive education policies aimed at providing equal opportunities to access higher education institutions (HEIs). The lack of practical implementation of these policies has however resulted in most SWDs being confronted with unique, unsurmountable barriers that hinder their opportunities to equally participate, with success, in HEIs. Despite recent research showing the potential positive impact of disability activism and advocacy by SWDs in creating an enabling higher education (HE) environment, there is a dearth of literature on this topic. The purpose of this study is to explore whether SWDs at South African universities are involved in campus disability activism and advocacy, and the potential impact this might have on their full inclusion at these institutions. I conducted a synthesis of literature from peer reviewed journals and online newspapers on issues of disability inclusion at South African universities and disability critical race theory (DisCrit) was used as theoretical lens. The study found that challenges to disability activism and self-advocacy for SWDs were associated with; oppressive institutional bureaucratic structures, SWDs’ lack of awareness of their national and institutional disability rights to inclusive education and their overreliance on Disability Unit Staff Members to advocate on their behalf. In contrast, few SWDs involved in Societies of SWDs as well those in the Student Representative Council (SRC) were found to be more actively involved in disability activism. The study adds new knowledge to the field by highlighting the importance of active involvement in disability activism and advocacy by SWDs themselves as a way of achieving meaningful inclusive education. I conclude by recommending the need for HEIs’ relevant stakeholders to deepen democratic values if they are to create conducive campus environments for SWDs to thrive academically and socially. This could take the form of limiting institutional disabling barriers which prevent SWDs from engaging fully in disability activism and advocacy initiatives and creating inclusive platforms of engagement aimed at educating SWDs about their rights as well as also giving them a voice necessary to be involved in important decision-making processes on issues affecting their campus daily lives.