(MENAFN - Arab News) "My daughter has special needs, but she is also very ambitious," said Nae'ema, mother of 17-year-old Noura.
Noura was born partially deaf, but that did not hold her back from scoring high marks at school and pursuing her dream to become a lawyer.
Yet, when Nae'ema came to Riyadh from another province to apply for the King Abdullah Scholarship Program for her daughter, she was faced with a dilemma. Noura, as a person with special needs, could only study "teaching special needs" or art.
"I went to the women's department at the Ministry of Higher Education, but unfortunately they asked me to apply through the electronic gate of the program since Noura has special needs and that should be stated in her application. But the application leaves no room for this," said Nae'ema. Although Noura wears a hearing aid that helps her, Nae'ema added, she still requires special treatment.
The lack of specialties Noura can choose from is another obstacle, according to Nae'ema, as she knows her daughter's abilities and ambition. "Some international universities do not deprive students with special needs from choosing the areas they wish to study and provide them with technological tools and sign language experts," said Nae'ema.
Ali Al-Hazzani, board director of the Saudi Society for Hearing Disability, agrees with Nae'ema, stating that as school education for hearing impaired students is not sufficient and it is not acceptable to expect them to be mainstreamed in the regular education system. "Saudi universities were directed by King Abdullah in 2002 to provide chances for the deaf, hearing impaired and other special needs students.
Yet, apart from the Open University, last year only King Saud University started applying the directives by accepting 17 men and 25 women students. Disappointingly, they were only accepted in special needs education, arts education and physical education."
He added that on top of that, the students are also required to complete two years of Arabic language, as their level is considered weak.
"We have teachers and specialists who are taught sign language; why aren't they employed to teach these students?"
Al-Hazzazi stressed that the Kingdom had signed a UN declaration on the rights of disabled persons, which provides them with the right to education and to measures designed to enable them to become as self-reliant as possible. "Assessment and evaluation measures required to join universities in the Kingdom are not suitable for deaf and hearing impaired students, as their school education is special, which makes Arabic not their first language," said Al-Hazzani.
Meanwhile, Ministry of Higher Education spokesman Mohammed Al- Hizan said that applying for the scholarship program does not depreciate the students and conditions apply on all.
"The assessment and evaluation measures, nevertheless, are requirements, and all students should equally take them and score high to be accepted. The nature of the assessment and evaluation tests do not require hearing abilities; therefore, students with special needs take the same," said the spokesperson.
On the other hand, Yousuf Al-Turki, member of the committee assigned to supervise the king's directives in regards to mainstreaming deaf and hearing impaired students in the higher education system, sees that the requirements are unjust, as they equal deaf and hearing impaired students with healthy students.
"The former group has a culture and language of their own. Therefore, they should be exempted from some of the unnecessary requirements and provided with an opportunity to prove themselves," said Al-Turki, pointing out that many of them have great abilities and talents that surpass their peers with no special needs. He pointed out that students with special needs have the right to seek higher education abroad at universities that provide them with opportunities and services.
"There are universities in Western countries with programs and services specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students, such as Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which was established in 1864," said Al-Turki, adding that deaf students should be able to choose the study they want.
Al-Hizan, on the other hand, confirmed that specialties are not limited, and hard of hearing students can apply to universities abroad. If accepted, they can then apply to the scholarship program. "I advise Nae'ema's daughter to apply first to ensure acceptance in the program, and the specialty comes next," said the Ministry of Higher Education spokesperson.