News & Events

Unisa promotes International White Cane Safety Day

(left to right): Dr Olwethyu Sipuka (Dean of Students), Dr Joyce Myeza (Regional Director) and Xolani Dubazane (Deputy Director: Academic and Technology Support)

On 15 October, International White Cane Safety Day was promoted by Unisa’s Advocacy Resource Centre for Students with Disabilities (ARCSWiD) in collaboration with the Dean of Students, Dr Olwethyu Sipuka, and Unisa KwaZulu-Natal Regional Director, Dr Joyce Myeza, to create awareness about the numerous challenges facing students with disabilities. 

This date, which is set aside annually to celebrate the achievements of blind or visually impaired people, and raise awareness around their safety, takes its name from what is an important symbol of blindness – the white cane. Importantly, a white cane is not just an aid, it also represents the independence of those who are blind or visually impaired. Programme Director Zandi Sodladla, from ARCSWiD, guided participants during the morning’s activities, with staff members and student leaders being afforded an opportunity to experience what it would be like to lose their sight.

Volunteers were blindfolded and given a cane to use as they navigated their way around, while members from ARCSWiD guided them. The purpose of this exercise was to conscientise and educate staff members, so that they would gain a better understanding of what is needed to improve the services rendered to students with disabilities. After walking with the white cane, Dr Myeza said that she had always wondered how people managed, adding that it was enlightening to walk in someone else’s shoes, for an inkling of the challenges confronting blind and visually impaired students.

(Left to right): Gugu Mngadi, Prof Sindile Ngubane and Dr Shariefa Hendricks

During the evening, a white cane ‘dinner in the dark’ was hosted. This event was designed to allow guests to experience what it would be like, to do something as simple as eating one meal without the benefit of sight. The guests could not see their food while eating, as all the lights were switched off, leaving the room in total darkness during dinner. Dr Sipuka commented during his speech that even Dr Myeza eventually gave up trying to use her fork while eating in the dark and ended up using her hands. In his view, the purpose of the evening was to get everybody on the same page. Although the event was filled with self-deprecating laughter, importantly, fundamental awareness was created. 

Zandi Sodladla (Programme Director)

The basic idea behind this exercise was to help participants realise that, without vision, the other senses are enhanced. It showed how a disabling society constructs blindness-related problems, and how a more enabling society could accommodate the needs and skills of those who are visually impaired.

Students with disabilities often choose not to disclose their disabilities when they register, for fear of discrimination. Most do not want to be labelled as having “special needs”. Unisa’s ARCSWiD focuses on the diverse needs of this student cohort, and on providing appropriate support for them.

Unisa is committed to helping all students achieve their academic ambitions, by offering assistance with both administrative and study-related processes. To that end, Unisa produces study material in alternative formats, including Braille, large print, audio and electronic texts, but can also request copies of prescribed books from national and international publishers on behalf of students with disabilities.

* By Jo Cossavella, Communications Officer, Unisa KwaZulu-Natal Region

Publish date: 2021/11/02