Mutanga, O. (forthcoming). Students with Disabilities and the Transition to Work: A Capabilities Approach, Routledge: London & New York.

Summary

This book on the experiences of students with disabilities in higher education and their transition to employment sets out to ask how students with impairments experience higher education. What are universities doing to contribute to the readiness of students with impairments for the world of work? Which theoretical approaches promote a broader conception of disability? In particular, what should universities do to promote inclusion and ensure success for all students?

The book foregrounds the voices of people with disabilities and apply the capability approaches as the main conceptual frameworks to explore identity, inclusion, participation and success of students with disabilities in higher education as well as their transition from university to employment. Although the primary focus is higher education experience, I also investigate how universities advance graduate employability for students with disabilities. I extrapolate some of the major predictors of employment outcomes among South African graduates with disabilities and look also at predictors of employability. This addresses the question: what are the factors shaping outcomes for graduates with disabilities from South African universities?

Empirical evidence from this book is drawn from a two-phase qualitative study done in South Africa. The first phase focused on university experiences and was conducted between 2013 and 2014 when the 14 participants were university students. The second phase was a post-university study conducted in 2017 when a selected group from the same cohort had graduated from the university, reflecting their transition to employment after graduating.

The findings challenge the dominance of policy responses that are strongly reliant on a homogenised understanding of disability. The book balances empirical data, theory and policy analysis with specific regard to the interests of people with disabilities, creating a unique and comprehensive contribution to the literature on access, inclusion and success in higher education, employment and the capability approaches. The book adopts capability approaches, especially Mitra’s (2018) conceptualisation which gives scope and depth to the understanding of disability compared to existing disability models. With her analysis, although all people with impairments are at risk of disability, not all of them are disabled. The other novel aspect of the book is its focus on the rich, in-depth perspective of participants, both as university students and as graduates, on their conceptualisation of disability, their experience in higher education and transition from universities to employment. Nancy Fraser’s participatory theory is also used to make an argument for radical shift in our approach towards disability.

This book is valuable in informing educational policy planning and implementation, not only in South Africa, but also in countries with a similar context. The book makes very important contributions to disability, an area that is substantially under-researched globally and specifically in Africa.

[1] In this book, disability is conceptualised as falling on a continuum of abilities with one end being able to accomplish some things and the other end being unable to them.