Early Mainstreaming of People with disabilities Document










Poster Presented at the SA Basic Education Conference, Durban ICC, RSA,

 2-4 APRIL 2012




This report attempts to evaluate the efficacy of the Letaba-Helen Franz Bursary Scheme (LHFBS), an organization that is involved in a program of removing learners with physical disabilities from special schools and placing them into mainstream high schools. The sample consists of all learners who benefited from the scheme since its inception in 2001. Qualitative methods of data collection were used. A data base of all the beneficiaries of the organisation was looked into to assess where they are since they were adopted by the organisation. A control group of learners who attended both their primary and high school years at special schools was also looked at to assess the same domains as those who were mainstreamed early. Currently four of the participants completed their tertiary education and are in the labour market, ten are at tertiary institutions studying Social Work, Engineering, Arts and Agriculture. The rest are in different grades at high school level. All participants who were at tertiary institutions adjusted well. It is thus concluded that the integration program is effective.




Mainstreaming (Inclusion) in this text refers to the inclusion of children with physical disabilities in the regular classrooms. It is believed that educating children with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers fosters understanding and tolerance, better preparing disabled students with ability to successfully transit into the job market and for more lasting social relationships with others (Hansen & Boody, 1998; Itkonen, 2007). Studies show that students with disabilities who are mainstreamed have higher academic achievement, higher self-esteem, and better social skills (Tomsho, 2007; Tidmarsh & Volkmar, 2003). Mainstreaming/inclusion does not benefit the disabled only, the non-disabled from inclusive schools reported increased tolerance, self-worth, and a better understanding of other people (Suomi, Collier, & Brown, 2003). They also reported that it helped them deal with disability in their own lives (Block, 1999).


Positive aspects that come with mainstreaming are attributed to the Contact theory, Social model, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The contact theory asserts that frequent, meaningful, and pleasant interactions between people with differences tend to produce changes in attitude (Griffey, 1985).

According to the Social model, disability is a socially created problem, thus the management of disability requires a consumer-driven social action. It is the collective responsibility of the society to make the environmental modifications necessary to promote full participation in all areas of social life (Dutta & Kundu 2011).

Maslow emphasises that the social need and esteem need should be met for one to be self-actualised (Hough, 2000).

According to the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2010, children with disabilities remain one of the main groups being widely excluded from quality education. Children with disabilities were found to have lower educational attainment than other children. The barriers to educating children with disabilities may be physical, social, or financial.



Letaba-Helen Franz Bursary Scheme was founded in 1999 by two professionals with physical disabilities, who are a Qualified Dietician and a Medical Doctor, namely the late Klein George Maluleke and Morokolo Silas Sathekge, respectively. It is a non-governmental organization driven by a vision: empowered self-reliant people with disabilities in an integrated society. One of their programs includes facilitating integration of young learners with physical disabilities at special schools into mainstream high schools. The two founder members of the organization started their elementary education at a school for children with disabilities called Letaba, before proceeding to a mainstream school at secondary level in the then Lebowa Homeland, in the now Limpopo Province. During that time there were no high schools for learners with disabilities in the homeland.


They were compelled by circumstances beyond their control to further their secondary education at a mainstream school. This might have appeared cruel or unfortunate but instead, it was a blessing in disguise because they were exposed to the harshness and realities of social constructions. Instead of being at a special school, where they were assisted with every aspect of their lives, at mainstream high school they had to learn to do things on their own. They realized and accepted that they looked different from other scholars, but were mentally capable to compete with anyone academically and socially. It was a great challenge taking into consideration their experiences in an institutionalized environment. It was their experiences in the mainstream school, in tertiary institutions and in the work place that gave birth to this organization and its programs.


The Letaba-Helen Franz Bursary Scheme encourages learners with physical disabilities, parents and educators to embrace this concept of disability integration and mainstreaming. The organization provides financial support, placement and mentorship to learners from special school such as Letaba, Helen-Franz and Tshilidzini to further their studies at a mainstream high school instead of continuing at the same or moving to another special school. The ultimate aim is to develop positive self-esteem, to do away with mentality of self-pity and reliance and to add value to lives of young people with disabilities.



The results of this study will assist families and children with disabilities to make informed decisions on matters of institutionalisation. The LHFBS will also be advised on the effectiveness of their programs, whether the support they are giving to their beneficiaries is enough or not. Funders and potential funders will also be advised on whether it is worth continuing with the funding or not. The documentation of the results will also assist in attracting more international funders for financial sustainability of the organisation. It will also advise policy makers to consider issues of disability in their policy development and implementation. The results will further assist in improving the perceptions the society has towards people with disabilities. The documentation of this research will further assist the LHFBS in achieving its mission of being a knowledge based organization. It will also be able to identify areas of expansion and further research.



Prolonged institutionalisation leads to people with disabilities to struggle to adjust and integrate to the mainstream society thus presenting with stress related problems, not performing maximally, having poor school performance, poor coping skills, poor self-esteem, and not being self-reliant (Itkonen, 2007; EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2010).



The aim of this study was to evaluate whether the LHFBS’s programs have been effective in empowering people with disabilities, resulting in self-confident and self-reliant individuals.



The study wanted to find out if:

  1.  The beneficiaries of LHFBS are able to progress in Secondary Education, in Institutions of Higher Learning and in the Labour Market beyond their counterparts (individuals with physical disabilities who attended special schools with them but remained at special schools when the beneficiaries were transferred to mainstream schools).
  2. Both the beneficiaries of LHFBS and their counterparts experience different kind of physical (infrastructure), academic, labour or social challenges at tertiary institutions / in the labour market
  3. Different opportunities provided by LHFBS through mainstreaming enabled beneficiaries to deal with the challenges experienced at tertiary or labour market than their counterparts.
  4. The beneficiaries have acquired different social skills to deal with the challenges experience



The following questions were answered by the study:

  1. Are the beneficiaries of LHFBS able to progress in Secondary Education, Institutions of Higher learning, and Labour market beyond their counterparts?
  2. What kind of physical, academic, labour, and social challenges do the beneficiaries and their counterparts experience at tertiary institutions / in the labour market?
  3. In what way did their experience at mainstream / special schools contribute towards their coping with the challenges experienced?
  4. How do the beneficiaries and their counterparts deal with the challenges experienced?



The Post-test only Control Group Design was used. The beneficiaries of the LHFBS (experimental group) and their counterparts from the three special schools (control group) were included in the research. Similar questions were asked for both groups. This method is assumed to be efficient in this research since the efficiency of the program was assessed (Bless & Higson-Smith, 1995).



Target population for this research is beneficiaries of the LHFBS and learners from the three special schools with whom they attended special school prior mainstreaming. The total number of beneficiaries was 35. Four of them completed their tertiary education and are in the labour market, 10 are at tertiary institutions studying Social Work, Engineering, Arts and Agriculture. 21 of the beneficiaries are at different High Schools in the Province. For the purpose of this research, a sample of three (one male and two females) was drawn from the fourteen individuals (those who are at tertiary institutions and in the labour market). The three from the experimental group assisted in identifying three control group members with whom they attended special school prior to mainstreaming. They were also supposed to be traceable i.e. have contact numbers.

The number from which the control group was drawn was not established since the three schools could not provide us with their data base. In total, the sample consisted of six participants.



A Purposive Sampling Procedure was used wherein the researcher chose participants that were judged to be typical of the population under investigation. It is frequently preferred to random sampling but its main problem is that an error in judgement on the part of the researcher in selecting sample may influence the results (Bless & Hingson-Smith 1995, McBurney, 1994).

The personnel of LHFBS assisted in identifying the experimental group who were approached telephonically by the researcher for appointment and consent. They, after the purpose, significance of research and the ethical principles were explained to them, consented to participate and to be identified in the paper. The control group participants were also contacted telephonically for appointment and consent. They also consented to participate in the study after the purpose of study and ethical considerations were explained to them, the principle of anonymity was emphasised.



In-depth telephonic interviews and a biographical questionnaire designed by the researcher were used to collect data. The biographical questionnaire asked about the age, sex, type of disability, educational history, and family background, name of institution, highest grade, qualification, and work history.

In-depth questions explored on what influenced their career choice, challenges they were faced with after Secondary School, how they dealt with them, and how mainstreaming or institutionalization influenced the way they deal with the challenges.


The interviews lasted for about 45-80 minutes and were recorded on paper. The transcripts were read several times after the interviews and “cleaned up”. Relevant data was grouped to form themes that showed the participants’ challenges, independence, and integration (Nieuwens, 2007; Patton, 1990). Biographical data was analysed using descriptive statistics.



Permission to conduct the research was granted by the LHBS. The research proposal was presented to the program personnel for them to have an understanding of what the research entails, the ethical considerations that were put in place, the manner in which it would benefit them, and to mobilise their support. The support that the researcher found from the personnel included communicating with the three special schools to get the data-base of their learners, providing the researcher with the data-base of their beneficiaries, and financial support where necessary. The steps were followed to avoid resistance from program evaluation (McBurney, 1994).

The ethical principles as set out by the Health Professionals Council of South Africa (2006) were adhered to.




The participants’ (both experimental and control groups’) ages ranged from 24 to 27 years old. They were four females and two males. They all reported that they were from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Four of the participants were wheelchair bound following post-polio infections and muscle dystrophy. Two participants were using crutches. The experimental group participants attended their tertiary education at University of Pretoria (UP) (Elias), University of Johannesburg (Virginia) and skills training at Correctional Service (Lethabo). Their field of study were Chemical Engineering, Social Work, and Social Work Assistant respectively.

The control group participants attended their tertiary education at TUT (Control 1), University of Limpopo (Control 2), and FET College (Control 3). Their field of study were Human Resource, BA Social Sciences, and Marketing respectively.




All the participants reported physical (infrastructure) challenges. This related to the distance: “The lecture halls were too far from the hostels. The bus was always full. I always walked and didn’t want people to feel sorry for me” (Elias); the rooms and other resources were also not user friendly “the kitchen was upstairs and there were no lifts” (Virginia), “there were no ramps at the college” (Control 3). The participant seemed frustrated and angry. This was shown by the tone of the voice and the pressured speech in which this was related: “The toilet is not users friendly, the one that I could use is for men, when you knock they do not respond and when you open the door you find them. I don’t want to see that. I spoke to them several times but they do not seem interested to help” (Control 1).




Negative attitudes related to academic issues were reported by the participant from UP who registered for Chemical Engineering. He was discouraged by friends not to do the course and got some negative attitude from lectures. “During practical sessions in the lab, I could not stand for a long time due to my disability. The lecturer told me that he will not give me a chair to sit because I knew what the course entailed when I registered for it. It was difficult for me to concentrate after he has said these words” (Elias).

Students who registered other courses reported no academic challenges except one who registered for Social Work. She, however, didn’t report negative attitudes but the workload that she perceives as normal for a tertiary student: “I think regardless of whether you are coming from mainstream or a special school, adjusting to varsity life in terms of academic or in general on its own is a challenge).I have realised a need for Social Work in my village and wants to make a change” (Virginia).

I registered for this degree because it was the only one I qualified for” Control 3)


Work related challenges were reported by all participants who are employed. They reported that the staffs at work undermine their capabilities. "I hate it also when someone undermines my capabilities, because I am disabled at work they think there are some activities that I cannot engage in even if my scope of practice allows me to. This hinders my development as a person.” (Lethabo).one could see the anger that comes with this statement, that they don’t want people to pity them. It was however reported differently by the control: “initially they didn’t know how to treat me and cut on other responsibilities”.



Some participants reported societal negative attitudes “My great challenge to date is a means of transport. If our staff transport is not available, the taxis just pass because it’s rush hour and don’t want me to delay them since I am going to need their assistance. This makes me to be late for work as they only pick me up late when there are no more other people.” (Lethabo). ,They were also rejected by members of the opposite sex due to their disabilities “during my first entry at university, we (boys) were supposed to go to the girls hostels and get dates for fresher’s event, on two occasions girls ran away when I approached them. I stopped going there and withdrew from participating in the event” (Elias).

The control group reported no societal attitudes which they attributed to the support that was given at the university “I didn’t experience challenges at university because when we arrived at the university we were allocated mentors who helped us with registrations and everything that we needed. We also had our special residence where all of us were disabled and the facilities were user friendly.” (Control 3).




Different coping skills emerged in the used to deal with the challenges. These were reported mainly by the beneficiaries at tertiary institutions because they experienced more challenges than their counterparts. They used social support, self-empowerment and self advocacy, and assertiveness in dealing with their challenges:“I enrolled for workshops that help students with time management courses and effective reading skills; I asked fellow students for assistance in terms of the kitchen being upstairs and left the hostel an hour earlier for me not to be late for the lecture.”(Virginia) “I told the school authority about the ramps, and within 3 months they were fixed” (Control 3)


Academic performance and religion also played a role in addressing some of the challenges the more the able bodied students interact with the disabled one, the better the attitudes.“After two months the girls who were scared of me started to invite me to their social gatherings and to visit me at my res because they realised that I was smart in class. I read the bible a lot and had a group with which we do some bible study” (Elias)



The opportunity that the scheme gave the experimental group through mainstreaming was reported to have been empowering. They reported that the environment was “harsh”, but they were able to learn the realities of life and adjusted to them “You should have asked me about my first day at mainstream; being left there at boarding school where you are the only disabled leaner amongst the wolves was a terrible experience. Some learners were accompanied by their mothers who made the bed for them, but I didn’t know how to make a bed until one parent assisted me. I took the whole week without bathing because learners will all come and watch you as you take a bath. Dr Sathekge (the founder and chairperson of LHFBS) was not always there and when there were things needed at school, he will always ask us for solutions and tell us to approach some teachers for assistance. It was during those years that I learnt many things e.g. using a taxi alone to go home, organizing transport for students, and having friends. Prior to going to a mainstream school, I only related with family members and my schoolmates. I now have many friends and can walk freely in front of many people without being scared that they are staring at me.” (Elias)


They further reported that the opportunity given to them also assisted them realise and feel confident about their potential, which led to their positive self esteem and the career choices they made: “I think had I stayed at a special school where I was only used to being around people like me chances are mentally about how I view myself and how people view me wouldn’t have changed. I was able to realise that I am able to do a lot of things by myself which I never thought I could do e.g. I would have never been able to cook or do laundry for myself. I grew as a person and I was able to see myself beyond my disability hence most of my dreams are almost coming true.” (Virginia).

The scheme gave me an opportunity to do things on my own. I was able to realise my potential e.g., organising certain events” (Lethabo).


The control group participants reported that the special school was a safe environment that was supportive for them to realise their potential. “I was able to compete with my peers both academically and physically. There are activities that you wouldn’t do at mainstream school e.g. playing hand soccer etc. which we did at special school”. (Control 3).

Both the experimental and control group reported the need for support “We had a workshop at school to prepare us to deal with challenges at tertiary institution” (control 3). “The members of the organisation should talk more with the beneficiaries to identify their needs. They should continue to support them at tertiary and also work environment because we meet lots of challenges” (Lethabo).



The discussions will be in line with the themes that emerged in the results section.

The results in this study showed that although both groups were able to progress beyond secondary school, the beneficiaries ventured into careers that are perceived “not suitable” for people with disabilities. This could have been influenced by mainstreaming in the sense that they saw themselves as being capable of doing anything that an able bodied person could do and at times even better than them. Their control group instead chose careers that are perceived “suitable” for people with disabilities. The results are similar to those of Tomsho (2007) and Tidmarsh & Volkmar (2003), who found that students with disabilities who are mainstreamed have higher academic achievement, higher self-esteem, and better social skills than those who were not mainstreamed.

Maslow also postulates that the need to belong and to be accepted is important for one to feel confident, competent, and useful (Hough 2000).

The results showed that mainstreaming assisted the beneficiaries to feel belonging to the mainstream society; this was shown by their choice of tertiary institutions that didn’t cater for the needs of disabled students, unlike their control group who chose institutions that had special accommodation and programs for students with disabilities. These in a way give them a sense of belonging and hence they didn’t experience challenges. It was however evident from the frustrations that the control group experienced that without support, it could be difficult to cope in the labour market.


The results showed that negative societal attitudes were experienced by beneficiaries for enrolling in careers that didn’t have disabled students (Elias), using public means of transport alone (Lethabo), and going to institutions that did not have special accommodation for students with disabilities. Their control group didn’t experience challenges maybe because they were not the first group to register for the course and that they were many on campus.

The negative attitudes seemed to change as the students got used to staying with people with disabilities and realising that they have the potential.

This is in line with the contact theory that postulates that frequent, meaningful, and peasant interactions between people with differences tend to produce changes in attitude (Griffey, 1985). The results are further supported by those of (Suomi, Collier, & Brown,2003) who found that the non-disabled from inclusive schools reported increased tolerance, self-worth, and better understanding of other people.


The results in the study showed that both the beneficiaries and their counterparts experienced physical (infrastructure) challenges at tertiary institutions and in the labour market raising a need to advocate for provision and improvement of infrastructure for people with disabilities


The results further showed the beneficiaries have a positive self-esteem than their counterparts as shown by their reasons for career choices. The beneficiaries wanted to make a change in other people’s lives whereas their control groups reported that the career choices when done because they were the only ones available (Hough, 2000).

This study had the following limitations: the sample size was small, different result might have been found with a larger one. Though in-depth interviews were held by an experienced interviewer, the researcher was not able to control the environments. The post test only was used; it would be interesting if the beneficiaries were assessed prior mainstreaming. Purposive sampling also has selection bias.



The research results show that the LHFBS’s programs have been effective in empowering people with disabilities, since the beneficiaries were found to be self-confident, self-reliant and well integrated in the society. It is thus recommended that mainstreaming be done with support, further research to be done to explore on their experiences at mainstream schools, and a larger size sample to be used in future to make a more representative group.



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