The National, Papua New Guinea Sunday, October 21, 2007 People with disabilities succeed at the University of Goroka By GUY LE FANU and JAMES AIWA Universities should be should be open to everyone with academic ability, irrespective of age, sex, socio-economic background or any other factor. This is certainly the view held by teachers at the University of Goroka.(UOG) One way the University is putting this into practice is by creating a more welcoming environment for people with disabilities. In this article, we will discuss the experiences of two disabled students and a disabled teacher at the institution. Martin Kawage is the only blind person at present attending a university in Papua New Guinea. Born in Simbu, he lost his sight as a result of a childhood accident. He then studied at Mt Sion Centre for the Disabled, Faniufa primary school, and Goroka Grammar School, before being accepted by the University of Goroka to study for a Diploma in Special Education. Martin, accompanied by his assistant Dominic Umba, attends the same classes as the other students. He participates fully in class activities. When the teacher asks a question, his hand shoots up, and the other students nod in agreement as he answers the question thoughtfully. While other students are busy taking notes, Martin is recording the lecture on a handheld tape-recorder. When he has to write an essay, he uses his laptop computer. The computer has a special programme installed in it which allows him to listen to what he has written. Test papers are brailled out for him by the Braille Production Unit at Mount Sion Centre for the Disabled. Braille is the reading and writing system for blind people. It consists of a series of raised dots on a piece of paper. The dots represent various groups of letters. Blind people run their fingers along these raised dots and convert the dots to words. Martin is grateful for all the support he has received. For instance, Bob Howarth, former managing director of the Post Courier, covers the costs of his studies, and The Royal Society for the Blind in South Australia has given him a talking watch. But the university is also grateful to Martin. One of his tutors noted, 'I've learned such a lot about teaching blind people since I've had Martin in my class.' And one of his classmates observed, 'I used to think disabled people were different. I now realize they're just the same as you and me.' Another person with disabilities is Francis Kompaon, a first year Humanities student. He comes from East New Britain where he studied at St Mary's Catholic High School, one of the top sporting schools in the country. Although he was born with one arm, this never stopped him doing what he wanted to do - whether it was climbing coconut trees or playing touch rugby with his friends! Francis is one of the top ten athletes in his class in the world. His fastest time for the 100 metres is 11.38 seconds. For the 200 metres it is 23.22 seconds. He has been selected to represent Papua New Guinea at the Para-Olympics in Bejing, where he hopes to win a gold medal. In order to achieve this, he follows a demanding training regime. This involves getting up at crack of dawn to run round the track at the National Sports Institute and then training for a further two hours in the afternoon. At the moment he is focusing on building up his 'speed endurance' - the ability to accelerate past competitors in the closing stages of a race. Francis enjoys studying in the Highlands, although he misses 'the fresh sea from the sea, pulled out from the sea to the pot.' He strongly believes that disabled people can achieve anything: 'Ol i ken mekim ol yet.' Joel Silas is a Mathematics tutor at the University of Goroka. In high school, he achieved a Distinction in the Australian Mathematics Competition and full marks in his Grade 10 Mathematics examination, putting him among the top half dozen students in the country. He has a Bachelors degree from the University of Papua New Guinea and hopes to study for a Masters degree in Australia or New Zealand. He also happens to have a hearing difficulty. Seeing him teach, you realise that Mathematics comes to him as naturally as breathing. He effortlessly covers the whiteboard with signs and symbols while his students observe and take notes. When he finishes, he asks them if they have any questions. When they speak, Joel is able to understand what they are saying because he wears a high powered hearing aid and is a skilful lip reader. Joel then clearly explains the mathematics concepts that are causing them difficulty, expertly using the whiteboard to demonstrate what he means. Despite these successes, the University of Goroka is not complacent. We know we could be doing more. Over the next few years, we will be providing better support for people with disabilities at the university. We also want to increase the enrolment of these people, particularly women with disabilities. But, in the words of Chairman Mao, 'Even the longest journey starts with the first step.' The University of Goroka has taken the first step and is steadily advancing towards its goal of becoming an institution that is open to everybody. *Guy Le Fanu and James Aiwa are lecturers in Special and Inclusive Education at the University of Goroka. Guy Le Fanu is employed by CBM, an NGO which works with people with disabilities throughout the world. http://www.thenational.com.pg/102207/WEEKENDER_7.htm BlindNews Mailing List Subscribe: BlindNews-Request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with "subscribe" as subject Unsubscribe: BlindNews-Request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with "unsubscribe" as subject Moderator: BlindNews-Moderators@xxxxxxxxxxxxx Archive: http://GeoffAndWen.com/blind RSS: http://GeoffAndWen.com/BlindNewsRSS.asp More information about RSS feeds will be published shortly.