Disability Awareness Month:
Annually, South Africa commemorates National Disability Rights Awareness Month between 3 November and 3 December. Disability Awareness Month creates an opportunity for people with disabilities to raise awareness on the barriers they face daily and how society can improve those barriers. This year, the Stellenbosch University (SU) Disability Unit celebrates 15 years of support and inclusivity. To mark this, the Corporate Communication and Marketing Division spoke to students and staff who have been supported by the Disability Unit. Read below:
Bongani Mapumulo has come a long way since an injury at the age of four left him in a wheelchair. Today, he holds a Sociology degree and two postgraduate diplomas from Stellenbosch University (SU).
Graduation did not mark the end of his journey with SU, however. He now works in the University's Registrar's Division, providing support to the committees forming part of the SU management team, including the Rectorate, Senate and Council.
Solid support from Disability Unit
It's not difficult to understand why SU has been a key part of his life for nearly a decade: From the outset, Bongani found a supportive environment at the University. “Even prior to my arrival as a first-year student in 2014, the Disability Unit communicated with me to find out what kind of disability I had, what assistance I needed, and whether I required any assistive devices," he recalls. The Unit also helped him choose the residence that would best meet his access requirements.
Throughout his studies, the Disability Unit continued to assist him in various other ways. “Sometimes, they would get involved as a third party when I found it difficult to communicate with some of the departments I was working with," he says.
In addition, Bongani became involved in, and eventually chaired, the student organisation Dis-Maties. “We were part of many conversations on campus," he says. “We also held our own events, all centred around raising awareness about disability. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
Further disability-linked studies on the cards
Although no longer a student, he retains his links with the Disability Unit and participates in its programmes. Bongani is also part of the Unit's current discussions regarding reviewing the University's Disability Access Policy.
Having completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Disability and Rehabilitation Studies in 2020, he plans to enrol for a master's degree. “I would like to bridge the gap between fundraising and disability projects," he explains. “The disabled community has many challenges. I would like to learn more about how to raise funds in a very practical manner to be able to address those challenges, which are often quite complex."
He adds: “You can't address all the problems in one go, so I want to take them on bit by bit where I feel I can make a difference. SU is pretty good at fundraising, so at some point, I would like to tap into those networks and learn how the University does it."
Disability not “the end"
Bongani is highly motivated – something he attributes to his exposure to a range of professionals who helped him with his rehabilitation after he lost the use of his lower limbs. “They helped shape my thinking and taught me not to regard disability as the end, but to believe that there's still a life out there if I continue working hard," he says.
“I look at life as a gift, especially because I became disabled through a traumatic event that could have led to my death. There has to be a reason why that didn't happen," Bongani reflects. “Whenever I think about the things I want to pursue, this thought motivates me to want to find out what lies ahead."