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:
Stellenbosch University (SU) third-year medical student Anzel Pansegrouw is an ardent campaigner for the interests of students with disabilities on Tygerberg campus. She has been actively pursuing her goals in various initiatives and capacities.
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As chair of the Students' Representative Council's (SRC) special-needs portfolio, she worked very closely with the Disability Unit this year. “In my experience, the Unit is eager to learn about students' experiences, which is very important," says Anzel, who has autism. “We really don't have to try and manage on our own. The Disability Unit has resources. They are there to help us. We have this entire office to support us. We often forget that."
The SRC too was very supportive during her term of office, she says. “My team on the SRC this year was absolutely incredible. People were so conscious of including disabilities in their advocacy. They would always circle back to how we can be more inclusive."
Open discussion good, but more to be done
Anzel adds: “In the past year, I've also noticed that people have become much more comfortable discussing their disabilities. People are starting to open up and help create a more welcoming environment on campus. “I have a lecturer who openly disclosed his disability. And after he spoke about his experiences in class, everyone still saw him as a very cool lecturer."
Anzel, who says she herself now feels more comfortable talking about her autism, welcomes this change. “It was very strange before. Even in a hospital, there are many doctors with autism, but no-one discloses it."
Leaving a positive legacy
Anzel is determined to help bring about change wherever she can. “I live to ensure that the legacy I leave behind is the best possible I can give," she says. “It's not necessarily about fixing something, but making sure that where I was, something good remains."
For this reason, she is attracted to palliative care and intends working at a government hospital after she graduates. “It's a difficult field, but I think it's the right one for me because you can support people when things are tough," she says. Her other option is psychiatry, which she finds appealing for much the same reason: “I'd like to create more accessible care, specifically relating to addiction and mental health. You don't deserve to be treated as less than because you made mistakes or have a past. “Yet it sometimes feels like these are the patients no-one else cares about; they are kind of untouched patients. That is where I want to work. I enjoy being there for them."