Background: Persons with disabilities continue to be excluded from professions in South Africa despite legislation on non-discrimination and equity. Objectives: We sought to identify both the opportunities and obstacles that students with disabilities face in professional degrees.
Method: Selected texts from the South African and international literature were analysed and synthesised.
Results: Students with disabilities are afforded opportunities to graduate into professions through the current climate of transformation, inclusion and disability policies, various support structures and funding. These opportunities are mitigated by obstacles at both the higher education site and at the workplace. At university, they may experience difficulties in accessing the curriculum, disability units may be limited in the support they can offer, policies may not be implemented, funding is found to be inadequate and the built environment may be inaccessible. Fieldwork poses additional obstacles in terms of public transport which is not accessible to students with disabilities; a lack of higher education support extended to the field sites, and buildings not designed for access by people with disabilities. At both sites, students are impacted by negative attitudes and continued assumptions that disability results from individual deficit, rather than exclusionary practices and pressures.
Conclusion: It is in the uniqueness of professional preparation, with its high demands of both theory and practice that poses particular obstacles for students with disabilities. We argue for the development of self-advocacy for students with disabilities, ongoing institutional and societal transformation and further research into the experiences of students with disabilities studying for professional degrees.