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Unisa celebrates its 2024 graduates living with disabilities

A recent graduation ceremony at Unisa was a momentous occasion for a special group of graduates: students living with disabilities. These remarkable individuals have defied challenges and persevered in their academic journeys, obtaining their degrees and diplomas. Unisa is proud to celebrate their accomplishments and acknowledges the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed in higher education while navigating the challenges of disability.

Making use of support from the university in creating an enabling environment for disabled students, a number of students have demonstrated resilience and passion towards their studies until they graduated. We bring you the stories of three such individuals.


Pintias Nkuna, Lerato Masuku and Thabiso Molopo

Pintias Nkuna, Bachelor of Arts Honours in Psychology

Pintias Nkuna is the Acting Training, Research and Capacity Development Specialist in Unisa’s Department of Student Affairs. Nkuna was born without a disability, however, a tragic robbery in 1999, in which he was shot, left him paraplegic and wheelchair-bound. He explains: “I am permanently paraplegic because of gunshot injuries. I faced discrimination, including rejection by some members of my family and the community. Public transport is a nightmare because I have to load my wheelchair in first, resulting in impatience in the eyes of fellow commuters.”

However, he states that this did not deter him from pursuing his dreams.  “I decided to work three times harder to prove that persons with disabilities are very much capable and no different to non-disabled people. My personal experiences made it clear to me that living with a disability requires different and reasonable accommodation,” he added.

Nkuna enrolled at Unisa with one goal – to dedicate his life to advocating for persons with disabilities. He is among the ARCSWiD (Advocacy Resource Centre for Student with Disabilities) champions, who volunteered their services to assist disabled students when the centre was established by Professor Olga Makhubela-Nkondo in 2003.

As a person with a disability, Pintias affirms that he is aware that enrolling at an institution of higher learning comes with challenges, including inaccessible transport, stereotypes about disabilities, inaccessible buildings, attitudinal barriers and financial constraints. However, he explains that he will use his qualification as a motivational tool to help those who cannot mentally cope with being disabled. In addition, he pleads for communities to liberate persons with disabilities from stigma and discrimination. He urges students to come forward and disclose their disabilities so they can get much-needed assistance from ARCSWiD.

Lerato Masuku, Diploma in Administrative Management

Masuku  suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and the insertion of screws to help mend the bones. This injury, she says, has significantly affected her mobility. “I face challenges with mobility, which affects my ability to move around campus easily and participate in activities that require physical exertion,” she says. “Despite these challenges, “I am determined to succeed and have adapted by utilising assistive devices, seeking support from faculty and peers, and focusing on my studies with determination and resilience.”

Masuku says she  aspires to make a positive impact in community organisations by leveraging her skills and knowledge to improve their efficiency, promote effective leadership practices, and advocate for inclusive policies that support individuals with disabilities. “I aim to contribute towards creating a more accessible and equitable environment where everyone has the opportunity to thrive and succeed,” she explains.

Regarding her experience at Unisa, Masuku says that it has taught her the importance of perseverance, adaptability, and never giving up on her goals. She states that she’s exuberantly proud of overcoming the hurdles towards completing her diploma. “It is a testament to my resilience and determination to succeed, no matter the circumstances,” she says.

She advises fellow students to maintain open communication with lecturers, advisors, and peers about their disability and any challenges they may face along the way. “Advocate for yourself and create support systems that can help you succeed academically,” she adds.

Thabiso Molopo, Bachelor in Business Administration

Molopo is a double amputee who lost both his legs when he was seven, after being hit by a car. He explains: “I used to be a prolific football player, but after losing both legs lived in fear that I will not become anything in life.”

He continues: “My experience at Unisa has been great,” stating he received quick assistance during registration. He advises that persons with disabilities should be patient with themselves, and they must study at their own pace and not overwhelm themselves by taking on too much.

With his degree, Molopo hopes to change the perception that communities have of persons with disabilities. “We should all be treated the same, no matter our physical challenge,” he adds.

In addition, Molopo plans to use the knowledge obtained from his qualification to grow his business and create jobs for unemployed youth.

A beacon of inclusivity

“ARCSWiD stands out as a beacon of inclusivity and support, dedicated to providing academic assistance and reasonable accommodations that ensure students living with disabilities thrive at Unisa,” says Bheki Nxumalo, Acting Deputy Director: ARCSWiD. Nxumalo adds that through individualised support services, accessible resources, and proactive advocacy services, ARCSWiD has helped break down barriers and create a more inclusive learning environment for students living with disabilities.

Concluding his message, Nxumalo says the graduation of each student with a disability serves as a powerful affirmation of ARCSWiD’s commitment to academic excellence and success. “In addition, he says, “it reminds us of the university’s transformative impact on inclusive education. As a result, we are continuing to innovate, advocate, and collaborate so that we can contribute to Unisa Strategy 2030.”

*By Godfrey Madibane, Acting Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2024/05/03

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