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By Shanika AbdulLatib
(This article is released in conjunction with International Day for People with Disabilities which falls on Dec 3.)
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- While local universities are striving to create a more inclusive environment for disabled students by providing them with the necessary facilities, they seem to be neglecting the emotional needs of these undergraduates, as testified by two of them studying at a local university.
When Muhamad Nur Aqmal Khatiman enrolled in the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) in Gombak, Selangor, more than two years ago, he had no idea of the trials and tribulations that awaited him.
The 21-year-old third-year computer science student, who appears to look normal but has impaired movements due to poor coordination caused by cerebral palsy -- a condition he was born with -- faces a tough time during examinations as he cannot complete his papers in the same time frame as the other students.
However, he is not given any leeway by the lecturers who would collect his papers whether or not he has completed answering them.
And to think that there have been times when he was booted out of an overloaded lift by able-bodied persons when the lift in question was meant for people with disabilities (PWD).
"I'm not being given the treatment meant for PWD and I feel sad about this. It's also not fair as I informed the lecturers (of my disability) at the beginning of the semester. Maybe they forgot.
"Due to their lack of concern, my academic performance has suffered. Not only that, but I'm also feeling stressed because I know I can answer the papers well during exams if I am given enough time," he said.
According to Muhammad Nur Aqmal, universities now have good facilities for disabled students but the reality is that their emotional needs are overlooked, causing them to suffer emotional distress in silence.
"Not many out there know that people are afraid to befriend us... maybe they think we will be a burden to them as we may keep asking for their help. The truth is, we too want to have friends who are able-bodied," he said.
Another IIUM student Muhammad Salim Harmanain, 29, who is pursuing a master's degree in educational psychology, admitted that he faced serious emotional stress during his first year in university as he had difficulty adapting to the new environment.
He has cerebral palsy and only his left hand is fully functional. According to this wheelchair-user, the "complications" he and fellow disabled students faced were mainly due to the community's lack of concern for the needs of the disabled.
"I was lucky I have the support of my parents and close friends and my emotional state improved over time. It also helped that our university improved its facilities for PWD," he said.
However, he added, the authorities preferred to give priority to developing facilities rather than look into the emotional stress faced by disabled students.
Head of IIUM Disability Services Unit Prof Dr Ruzita Mohd Amin, meanwhile, admitted that disabled students faced emotional issues and that it is time the matter is looked into and rectified.
"They (disabled students) may look okay but many of them suffer in silence because they are too shy to confide in others. There was a student who went into a depression... fortunately, we intervened and with our support and help, he recovered and did well in his studies," she said.
Speaking to Bernama after the launch of IIUM Disability Grand Awareness 2019 campaign recently, she admitted that while the authorities were providing amenities to PWD, often they overlooked the need to take care of their emotional state as well.
"The disabled students tend to feel inferior and are too shy to seek help from their course mates. Over time, they will become depressed which will affect their studies," she said.
According to Ruzita, only with the awareness and support of lecturers and course mates can disabled students feel motivated enough to complete their studies.
She said students with problems like vision or hearing impairments that are not visible to others should be given more time to submit their assignments or complete their papers during examinations.
She also hoped that campaigns like Disability Grand Awareness 2019 would help to increase awareness of the plight of PWD among the university community.
"We need to have more empathy and wholeheartedly accept the disabled community who have different needs," she added.
Translated by Rema Nambiar