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:
Rentia Meyer felt at home at Stellenbosch University (SU) even before she registered as a student last year. While in Grade 11, she contacted the Disability Unit to find out how classes worked and whether her congenital hearing loss would pose a challenge. The Unit arranged for her to be shown around campus and even attend a few classes. “So, from the start, the Disability Unit wanted me to feel comfortable," says Rentia, now a second-year BA student.
Swift assistance when in-person classes resumed
While she did not need much assistance last year, as most classes were online due to the Covid-19 pandemic, her situation changed when face-to-face teaching resumed in the second semester this year.
The Disability Unit swiftly arranged a notetaker for one of her classes, as she found it difficult to listen to the lecture and make notes at the same time. In addition, the Unit ensured that her other classes were recorded and translated into Afrikaans so that she could make notes afterwards of anything she had missed. “This is crucial, as it enables me to double-check the lecture content," Rentia explains.
There are also a number of other ways in which the University provides a supportive environment for students with disabilities, she says. “All the lecturers are always very considerate. They always want to know how they can help, and what they can do."
Rentia describes her overall experience at SU as “very positive and very welcoming". “I never feel as if I can't ask for help. People constantly check in to find out whether there's anything else they can do for me. Knowing that all those involved in my studies are always willing to help is a major reassurance."
Early diagnosis key
She intends on majoring in Psychology and ultimately wants to become an educational psychologist. “When I was little, a few psychologists helped me with my speech," she explains. “That inspired me to become an educational psychologist, as they can make a big difference in children's lives."
Although born deaf, Rentia's disability was only diagnosed at the age of two. This has instilled in her a passion to help children with undiagnosed disabilities. “I'm passionate about kids at school who may have learning disabilities. If their disabilities are not diagnosed at an early stage, this could have a significant snowball effect and may see them struggling, even though there are interventions that can help them."
'Focus on what you have'
Reaching her goal of becoming an educational psychologist is still a way off, though. After her BA, she first needs to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education to enable her to teach, followed by an honours in Psychology, and a master's in Educational Psychology. Yet she is confident and excited about the future. “I try to live by the mantra: Focus on what you have rather than what you don't have," she says. “I have so many things in my life – my family, my friends, and the ability and opportunity to study.
“All those things make up for the fact that I'm deaf, have cochlear implants and don't always hear that well. If one considers all those things, you realise that my deafness is really a small thing. There are so many other things to focus on," Rentia concludes.