n Journal of Educational Studies - "I am a university student, not a disabled student" : conceptualising identity and social justice in South African higher education through the capabilities approach lens

Volume 12, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1680-7456


This paper draws on data from an exploratory research project that was carried out at the Centre for Higher Education and Capabilities Research (CHECaR) at one South African university in 2012. I examine the experiences of one student, Jane1 who is disabled according to the university's categorisation of disability. She chose not to identify herself as such and did not declare her status to the university, even though students are encouraged to declare their disability/impairment status on the official application form. Although some students declare their status and thus are referred to the university's Disability Services Unit for Special Services, other students don't declare their status. Few studies in the Global North have looked at the reasons why some students choose not to declare their disability status. It is usually difficult to access the perspectives of those who choose not to declare. Theoretically, Jane's account provides some insight about the reasons why some students choose not to declare their disability status. Drawing on the identity concept, factors that influenced her decision not to declare, and the consequent effect on her experience of higher education (HE) are explored. The article uses the capabilities approach (CA) as espoused by Sen and Nussbaum, as a theory that foregrounds social justice issues in education. Using the CA's core concepts, the paper lucidly conceptualises disability and social justice, terms that are frequently but loosely used in both academia and policy. The CA helps in understanding identity and social justice issues and facilitates the understanding of the complexity, and interconnected processes.

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