Dilemmas, reactivity and paper support : the support conceptualisations and experiences of students with disabilities in Ghanaian higher education

  • Sarah Tara SAM

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


Support is considered crucial for all higher education (HE) students including students with disabilities (SWDs). Disability support in higher educational institutions (HEIs) bridges resulting gaps from disabling barriers between the achievement of SWDs and their peers, while benefiting all students. Hence, the call for mainstreaming support for SWDs in HE. The drive towards widening access and participation in the Ghanaian educational system is evidenced in current educational policies including the Inclusive Education (IE) policy. However, scant literature exists on SWDs’ conceptualisations and experiences of support stemming from inclusive HE and its related policy in Ghana.

This study aimed at hearing the “voices” of key actors in inclusive HE, namely SWDs and support staff in relation to perspectives and experiences of inclusive support practices and provisions. This was to highlight benefits and challenges to enhance related policy and practice by stakeholders, institutional and national policy makers. The study researched three Ghanaian public university’s institutional policy and practice of inclusion as perceived and experienced by thirty SWDs in relation to support in HE. A ualitative and longitudinal approach was used in researching with participants, due to the limitation of quantifying their ‘lived’ experiences in relation to support and their perspectives of it. Methods employed in the study included semi-structured interviews, semi-participant observations and document analysis of institutional policies. The Capabilities approach (CA) was used as the theoretical framework.

Data collected was thematically analysed. Key themes that emerged included the variability and multiplicity of SWDs’ conceptualisations of support in Ghanaian higher education. Support perspectives of SWDs varied within and across institutions, disability category, time and place. Support was found to be a complex, evolving and contextualized concept. Participants’ support conceptualisations which focused on financial, logistical and socioemotional support, also highlighted how such perspectives were shaped by individual, institutional and structural factors in line with the CA. However, participants’ predominant emphasis on financial support, challenges and delays in its access and resultant limitations, highlighted the need to bring back the financial capital perspective into the CA.

Inter and intra-personal variances were found in SWDs’ support experiences based on individual, institutional, inter-personal and disability category factors. Participants experienced varied but inconsistent and uncertain support in the three universities, often depended on staff and other’s discretion, rather than policy provisions and procedures. Nonexistent financial support and delays in accessing available ones as well as institutional differences in accessible financial, mobility and logistical support were among the predominant participant experiences. A cyclical relationship was identified between participants’ support conceptualisations and their experiences, whereby both were found to influence each other while also being influenced by individual and structural factors. The study highlighted the need to consult students in policy and support formulation, implementation, and organisation prior to and upon HE entry. Disability policies must be streamlined and standardized, individualized, and contextualized, while mainstreaming some support.
Date of Award15 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorStefan KÜHNER (Supervisor) & Tuen Yi Jenny CHIU (Co-supervisor)

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