Need for esteem, safety drives disabled to HE – Study

University students with disabilities in Ghana desire to acquire qualifications that would enable them to not only find employment, but also earn their right to be respected and recognised in their communities, according to a study published in the journal Higher Education Research and Development.

This study adds to the literature on factors that enhance or promote the retention of students with disabilities in universities in the context of a developing country where there are deficiencies in service provision.

The study, titled ‘Factors motivating students with disabilities to access and participate in university education in Ghana’ and published on 17 March 2022, explored the factors that influence students with disabilities to access and participate in higher education in Ghana.

Their desire to be included is partly fuelled by their aspiration to change the negative perceptions about them that have eroded their self-esteem, respect and dignity, according to the researchers.

Financial benefits a common motivation

University education is an important element in changing some of the ill-conceived societal perceptions about people with disabilities. This is in line with the position of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that equitable access to quality inclusive education for persons with disabilities will improve their human potential and sense of dignity and change negative societal attitudes.

Eleven participants with disabilities from one of the largest higher education institutions in Ghana were recruited for the study. Ten were undergraduate students and one was a lecturer. Most were motivated by safety, esteem and transcendence needs in their desire to access and participate in higher education.

Nine of the 11 participants reported that their motivation to access higher education emanated from their desire to obtain financial benefits. They believed that higher education qualifications would offer them several employment opportunities, which would enable them to obtain their desired employment and corresponding remuneration levels.

The participants not only viewed higher education as a key factor in obtaining economic independence in their lives but also as an opportunity to help their families.

Some participants associated higher educational qualifications with the ability to find a job that matched their physical strength. They indicated that pre-tertiary educational qualifications in Ghana were associated with menial jobs that require a high level of physical effort.

The study indicates that students with disabilities are willing to become role models and create awareness among students with disabilities in pre-tertiary institutions about the relevance of a university education and their capacity to participate in higher education courses and programmes.

Poor disabled students at greater disadvantage

Although research has shown that higher education is no panacea for unemployment among people with disabilities, the prevailing social environment does not promote the employment of persons with disabilities. It is apparent from the study that the participants perceived university education as a sure way of avoiding unemployment and, by extension, economic dependence.

Under ‘belongingness and love needs’, acceptance and being part of the family significantly motivated some of the participants to access and participate in university education.

The findings also suggest that where a person with a disability comes from could determine their chances of accessing education. In Ghana and similar contexts in sub-Saharan Africa, most persons with disabilities come from poor backgrounds, which could have repercussions on their educational experiences.

Furthermore, without resourceful parents, it is likely that some individuals with disabilities may not reach university. This calls for a comprehensive policy targeting persons with disabilities from poor backgrounds and helping them to access higher education.

Some participants were also motivated by other persons with disabilities who had successfully obtained higher education qualifications. Thus, self-esteem needs were instrumental sources of inspiration, stimulating them to access higher education. They considered a university education qualification an opportunity to raise their social status amid socio-cultural ideologies that undermined their respect and dignity.

As part of efforts towards achieving an equitable society, self-esteem is paramount.

Need to help others expressed

Some participants indicated that they were motivated by transcendence needs to provide services and help others with disabilities achieve self-worth. For instance, they were motivated by the desire to provide services to others by creating awareness about higher education and course offerings among students with disabilities at pre-tertiary institutions.

This is contrary to the dominant perception in Ghanaian society that persons with disabilities are objects of charity and helpless, pitiable beggars who only want to satisfy their basic physiological, safety and security needs.

The study found that the social responsibility of some of the participants towards family members and society acted as a motivation for them to access higher education. In a similar manner, some participants indicated that good employment would satisfy their higher-level self-esteem needs, such as the desire for respect, dignity, achievement, independence and competence.

It is clear that the participants were intrinsically motivated, which is refreshing and a starting point for future affirmative policies. Thus, the government could provide media platforms for students with disabilities to share their experiences and journeys with the disability community.

This would inspire confidence and determination among persons with disabilities to enter higher education, thereby strengthening the ongoing government policy of creating public awareness of disability issues to foster attitudinal change, the researchers concluded.

This is a summary of the article published in Higher Education Research and Development.