News & Events

Reflecting on and listening to the realities faced by students with disabilities

On 31 August 2021, Unisa’s Midlands region hosted a virtual orientation for students with disabilities.

The goal was to share information with students with disabilities and to encourage them to speak up when facing challenges so that their issues could be addressed appropriately. The aim was furthermore to create a positive learning experience for students with disabilities and outline services available that respond to their learning needs to enable them to complete their qualifications at Unisa.

‘Disability issues are human rights’

In his welcome address, Regional Service Centre Manager, Dr Stanley Nhlapo, emphasised that Unisa regards disability issues as questions of human rights, which is an indication that the institution is walking the talk. Unisa and other organisations participating in this session should ensure that the continuation of the process includes men and women with disabilities, and their representative organisations should be involved and participate fully in the implementation of the convention. People with disabilities should contribute extensively to the monitoring process.

 “Nothing about us, without us,” said Nhlapo, referring to the motto that was repeated in New York during the negotiations on the United Nations convention. The motto was and is still used to communicate the idea of everyone’s right to participate equally in society. The disability perspective should be a natural, integrated element of every public authority’s regular operations, including institutions of higher learning, such as Unisa. These institutions must provide services to all citizens, and students with disabilities should be on equal terms with other students. It is important to keep in mind that all human rights are invisible and interdependent.

Ilona Mamabolo, Student Administrative Advisor

It's all about creating an enabling environment

According to Student Administrative Advisor, Ilona Mamabolo, Unisa offers a flexible mode of learning for students with disabilities by providing them with relevant tools and specific assistance to ensure that they complete their studies with Unisa. In her presentation, Mamabolo indicated that the Advocacy and Resource Centre for Students with Disabilities (ARCSWiD) is dedicated to coordinating services and creating an enabling teaching and learning environment for students with disabilities.  Some of the available support services include developing and implementing advocacy and awareness programmes, producing study material in alternative forms, providing sign language interpretation services for deaf students, facilitating need-based support as well as encouraging students with disabilities to study through Unisa.

The Regional Service Centres (RSCs) always strive to create a conducive environment for students with disabilities where they can participate independently in teaching, research and learning activities. The university respects the rights of people with disabilities to disclose or not disclose the nature of their disability. However, if students do not disclose their disabilities, they might forego certain services and support offered to students with disabilities. “We encourage the students to declare their disabilities during the application and registration period to enable the university to allocate necessary resources and support,” said Mamabolo.

Simon Netshituni, Braille proof-reader and transcriber, outlined some of the objectives that contribute to supporting students with disabilities. These include creating an enabling environment that would promote full participation and equal opportunities for students with disabilities, identifying and minimising or eliminating barriers to learning and development, and developing mechanisms and capacities that would facilitate the integration of students with disabilities. Netshituni emphasised that supporting such students would maximise participation in the teaching and learning processes and allow students who have a diverse range of learning needs to proceed with learning, teaching, and assessment through a common curriculum framework. These objectives speak volumes on empowering students with disabilities as well as facilitating teaching and learning through the policy.

Sophy Mabaso, sign language interpreter, and Tshireletso Qelesile, Mahikeng Regional Office Coordinator, participating in the conversation

Towards equal opportunities

In 2007, the university approved a policy for students with disabilities to provide, through a formal process, an equal platform in terms of representation and opportunities. One of the mandates in the policy is that ARCSWiD must facilitate the establishment of the structure that will represent students with disabilities. According to Netshituni, an inclusive approach is necessary, where various programmes are available to respond to students with disabilities and which provide equal opportunities, enabling them to access teaching and learning in a manner that does not compromise them but places them on an equal footing with others.

This means that students should be provided with necessary support within the space of universal design, and the support must be aligned with their aspirations and expectations. There should also be barrier-free access, whereby the university provides a system or environment that eliminates all barriers and empowers the students to perform to their full capacity. The university should provide a conducive environment so that students can access the opportunities that enable them to engage with the university.

In her closing remarks, Mahikeng Regional Office Coordinator, Thsirelets Qelesile, assured the audience that the concerns raised by stakeholders and students did not go unnoticed. Moreover, the regional centres will strive to ensure that the needs of students are met, and that the centres are compliant in terms of reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities.  “Let us reflect, observe, and listen to the realities of people with disabilities to see that, there has been little to the minimum change in their situation in every aspect of life, including, economic, cultural, social and political”, she concluded.

* By Thotogelo Masenya, Communication and Marketing Officer: Midlands Region

Publish date: 2021/10/01