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If it is about them, involve them

The Chairperson of the Unisa Tshwane Region’s Forum for Students with Disabilities, John Milolo, says that students with various disabilities continue to experience challenges concerning the accessibility and the depriving of educational resources such as accommodation. His comment is made even more relevant as South Africa prepares to observe National Disability Rights Awareness Month from 03 November to 03 December. Central to awareness is a slogan often invoked in the disability rights space, “Nothing about us without us!”, which accurately verbalises the often-ignored fact that people with disabilities need to be consulted and participate in policies that affect them.

John Milolo, Chairperson of Tshwane Region’s Forum for Students with Disabilities at Unisa

Urging institutions of higher learning to do more to accommodate students with disabilities, Milolo says they need to provide better education and academic support for vulnerable groups. He believes that the language and systems used in these institutions should be changed altogether. “Systems and language should be integrated in order to form a unified single system which speaks to the various needs of these students,” he adds.

The forum, which is recognised in terms of Unisa Student Representative Council’s (SCR’s) policies and the institution’s statutes began its work in September 2016. Comprising of both executive members and a non-racial disability constituency, the forum was led by Thakane Masuka as the first regional chairperson. Under his leadership, the forum managed to draft and submit six policies to the university at its policy conference in 2017.

Aiming and seeking to represent all students with disabilities in the greater Tshwane Metro at Unisa, in its formation the forum formulated constitutional objectives. These include collecting and disseminating information for optimal beneficial use by students with disabilities, and promoting equal rights and opportunities for such students at Unisa.

Dineo Moseki, Deputy Chairperson of the forum, says many students with physical disabilities are frustrated by their experiences stemming from negative attitudes from others, physical barriers on campus, and a lack of appropriate services, programmes and funding to improve their situations. She adds that some students without disabilities make negative stereotypical judgments pertaining to disabled students’ academic abilities.

Dineo Moseki, Deputy Chairperson of Tshwane Region’s Forum for Students with Disabilities at Unisa

“Students who are physically challenged due to mobility disabilities, hearing or visual disabilities, and non-visible disabilities such as learning problems and/or psychiatric disabilities, are discriminated against by non-disabled individuals, who often express prejudiced opinions about what a person with a disability can and cannot do,” says Moseki.

While Unisa assists students with disabilities in various ways, the forum requests the university to, among others, develop a university-wide training programme for faculties and staff members, increase accessibility to instructional materials and technology, develop a peer programme for students with disabilities, and build a specific support programme to accommodate for different ways of learning.

Pintias Nkuna from Unisa’s Advocacy and Resource Centre for Students with Disabilities (ARCSWiD) says the centre provides academic support to students with disabilities, including special examination arrangements, application for assistive devices, and advocacy campaigns to raise awareness in academic departments about the needs of students with disabilities during their online exams.

ARCSWiD encourages students not to conceal their disabilities in order to receive reasonable accommodation and assistance from the university and to observe the Covid-19 regulations.

*By Nancy Legodi, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

* The teaser image was sourced from thesouthafrican.com

Publish date: 2020-11-12 00:00:00.0