Although the COVID-19 pandemic might have “overshadowed Stellenbosch University's Year for Persons with Disability a little bit", SU has been fully committed to broaden the accessibility of physical spaces and make people more aware of the rights of persons with disabilities.
This was the message from the head of the University's Disability Unit, Dr Marcia Lyner-Cleophas, at a two-day online seminar, held on 14 an 15 September 2020, to discuss and reflect on the University's 2020 Year of Disability. The seminar was hosted by the Disability Unit at Stellenbosch University (SU) in collaboration with the Division for Student Affairs and the African Network for Evidence-to-Action on Disability (AfriNEAD).
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many universities to reinvent their methods of learning and teaching to enable students to complete the 2020 academic year successfully. SU's Disability Unit has been able to use the pandemic as an opportunity to review their way of work and to identify gaps, while also helping students with disabilities to access their academic work and continue their studies online.
Prof Gubela Mji, Director of the Centre for Rehabilitation Studies at SU, helped Lyner-Cleophas facilitate the seminar and said that it has created “an important platform" for staff and students to address certain issues and help pave a way forward to better advocate for persons with disability.
Some of the speakers at the two-day seminar included:
- Prof Leslie Swartz, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology,
- Mr Wentzel Barnard, Sport Manager of Maties ParaSport,
- Dr Ronel Retief, Registrar at SU,
- Dr Martha Geiger, senior lecturer at SU's Centre for Disability and Rehabilitation Studies,
- Prof Quinette Louw, physiotherapist and Head of the Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at SU,
- Ms Katlego Letlonkane, Programme Manager: Capacity Development in the Employment Equity and the Promotion of Diversity division in Human Resources,
- Mr Bongani Mapumulo, postgraduate student and former head of Dis-Maties,
- Mr Jeff Ngobeni, student activist and assistant lecturer in the Faculty of Theology,
- Ms Josie Joubert, undergraduate student at SU,
- Mr Rudi le Roux, Technical Officer at SU,
- Ms Hillary Lane, AfriNEAD Coordinator,
- Dr Choice Makhetha, Senior Director of the Division for Student Affairs at SU,
- Mr Ben Truter, clinical psychologist and Clinical Director at Neurodiversity Centre,
- Ms Heather Osborne, parent to SU students with disabilities,
- Dr Cindy Wiggett-Barnard, CEO at ChangeAbility, and
- Dr Candace Vermaak, a biokineticist specialising in persons with disability.
Many of the speakers reflected on personal and professional experiences related to persons with disability. Among the approximate 32 000 students at SU, 423 students with disabilities disclosed their disabilities on application to SU.
Most of the speakers advocated that more should be done to help those with “invisible disabilities", especially mental health conditions and students seeking support for psychosocial conditions.
According to Lyner-Cleophas, statistics have shown that more students feel free to open up about their need for support with mental health conditions, but the reality is also that most disabilities are not visible.
“Students with specific learning disabilities, mental health and other health conditions should feel safe to come forward and ask for help from our unit. Although the Disability Unit has come a long way in tackling the challenges to make the campus more accessible, there remains so much more work to be done," said Lyner-Cleophas.
During the seminar, Dr Ronel Retief highlighted some of the major work that SU has done over the years to be more inclusive and create access to students with disabilities. Among the highlights she mentioned was the Disability Access Policy, which was implemented in April 2018.
Retief said that every year more students with disabilities register at SU and that the University was doing everything in its power to create a more accessible and inclusive environment; however there still are many challenges.
“We still have many challenges that we need to overcome and address. There needs to be continued awareness and to make visible our unconscious bias, to question our assumptions, especially around professional bodies, and to constantly change our ways of thinking, to change policies, to change our operations and to improve our infrastructure," said Retief.
For more information on the Disability Unit click here.
Some other contact details:
email@example.com – for any disability-related query
Braille@sun.ac.za – for the conversion of classroom material into readable formats
firstname.lastname@example.org – for extra writing time queries
Wentzel Barnard – email@example.com – for any sports-related enquiry