Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

UCT gives students with disabilities hope

The disability service at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is playing a critical role in enabling students with disabilities to cope with their studies, thanks to funding from the FirstRand Foundation (Tshikululu Social Investments).

These students are, in turn, inspiring others with their stories of perseverance and resilience and have expressed gratitude for the way they have been assisted with tailor-made support such as Braille readers and South African Sign Language (SASL) interpreters.

Loretta Feris, UCT’s deputy vice-chancellor of transformation, explained how the support has been geared towards the individual needs of each student. “Disability is often the forgotten part of transformation in our society, but this should change.

“Many students with disabilities grapple with layers of disadvantage. If we want to ensure the success of all students, we need to ensure the equity of success of students with disabilities.”

The FirstRand Foundation granted the disability service more than R11-million earlier this year to support students who rely on the unit to thrive at the university and excel academically. This has enabled the service to appoint SASL interpreters, note takers and similar human support, technical aids, improved transport and bursaries to assist students with learning and physical disabilities.

Jamie Adams, a psychology honours student who lost her right leg in a motorbike accident in 2013, said the staff of the disability service had been an “amazing” source of encouragement, and her bursary had helped immensely. She has also been able to write her exams in the disability unit instead of in the usual exam venue, which has many steps to navigate.

Adams is full of enthusiasm and is a role model to others. She has been admitted into the global Golden Key International Honour Society, a nonprofit organisation based in the United States that recognises academic excellence, for being in the top 15% of her class.

Edwina Ghall, manager of disability services at UCT, said it was important for the students to feel included. “This is their space and we want them to own it and feel at home here. This is all about inclusion and we hope to bring about further change in this environment.”

Students with disabilities have been helped in many ways. A PhD student who was experiencing writing difficulties and considered giving up her studies was helped by Dragon Naturally Speaking dictation software. A mechanical engineering student with low vision has been using a Transformer HD magnifier to help with the technical drawings he needs for his course. Another visually impaired student uses the portable Zoomax Snow 7 magnifier to read their lecture materials.

A student has been given a wheelchair bag in which to transport heavy books and a blind master’s student will soon benefit from a portable Orbit Braille reader.

The fund has also paid for a carer for a blind master’s student so that he can get to lectures and other venues. Students also have assistance from note takers in lectures and tutorials, as well as scribes during exams. Several students with disabilities have been supported by the fund with bursaries that include tuition fees, accommodation and a book allowance.

The service has acquired a new vehicle, which will be adapted to transport students and staff with disabilities, making the unit the first at an academic institution in the Western Cape to provide accessible transport. The vehicle will supplement UCT’s nine-seater bus, which can accommodate three wheelchairs, as well as another smaller vehicle.

Students who have learning difficulties are also assisted, such as Tumishang Selamulela, who described how he had battled to keep up with the pace of his mechanical engineering degree. “It took me eight years to get to the end of a four-year degree. Eventually an educational psychologist determined that I had a learning disorder.

“Somebody gave me a chance and I appreciate it. The extra time is a relief and it’s made such a difference. I am on a journey and I will get my degree. It’s given me new hope.” — University of Cape Town

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

University Of Cape
Guest Author
Town 1
Guest Author

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

DA’s egregious sexual harassment case finally begins

The party is accused of protecting a councillor, who’s also implicated in R1.2m graft

The ANC, DA and EFF ‘oblivious’ to climate crisis —...

The Climate Justice Charter Movement has critiqued the manifestos of the main parties contesting the local government elections and found them ‘shallow’

More top stories

Special Investigating Unit to oppose efforts to reject Mkhize report

Former health minister Zweli Mkhize seeks relief to declare the SIU’s conduct against him ‘unlawful and unconstitutional

Bird flu outbreak on Dyer Island causing mass deaths

The island hosts the vulnerable African penguins, endangered bank cormorant and roseate tern

Countries bear cross-border responsibility for harmful effects of climate change,...

The UN committee has been accused of ‘turning its back’ on the children who filed a groundbreaking legal complaint with it against five countries

Magashule files notice to have corruption charges dropped

Counsel for the suspended ANC secretary general tells court the former Free State premier falls outside category of who can be charged for corrupt activities

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…