All documentation produced by the Disability Service is available in enlarged text, audio, Braille and e-text on request
Vision To establish a human rights culture at UCT with a special emphasis on disability. To act within the University structures, providing advice and support both in terms of harnessing mainstream capabilities for the accommodation of people with disabilities, as well as providing specialist services where mainstreaming is not possible. To provide academically deserving disabled people with the opportunity for a fair and equal educational and work experience. To be the sounding board, knowledge base and benchmark which deliver to the University the capacity to interact appropriately with students, staff, prospective students and visitors with disabilities. Dear Valued Friends and Colleagues
This report is very late and very long - even later and longer than it was last year – a robbery at home while we were all asleep in our beds goes some way in explaining the lateness. I can attest to just how debilitating it is when one is robbed not only of equipment but also vast amounts of information, time and emotional energy. Hence the lateness – the length is an indication of how much there is to tell.
We have had a very productive and busy year. At our 20th birthday celebration in October 2008 we were at last able to introduce the fully restructured and reconstituted Disability Service team to the University community – and what a team! I feel proud and grateful to be heading it up.
We were sad to say farewell to Arlene Warrin, by far the longest serving member of staff. Arlene joined Kate Jagoe-Davies not very long after the Unit was first founded, and she stuck with it from its brave beginnings to its current shape and stature.
We were pleased to welcome Masibulele Zulu (Sibu to all of us) in Arlene’s place. The Advocacy Co-ordinator’s post was also finally filled and we were proud to welcome Nafisa Mayat to our number – just in time for the birthday bash. Nafisa came to us from UKZN, where she had co-ordinated services to disabled students at one of its campuses.
Denise Oldham had been appointed in her new position as Direct Services Co-ordinator, and Edwina Konghot had joined us at the beginning of 2008 as Barrier Free Access Co-ordinator. So this is what the team looks like now.
Department of Student Affairs: Disability Service
University of Cape Town
Tel. (021) 650 5090
Cell 083 6470703
Fax (021) 650 3794
Last year we had occasion to mourn the untimely deaths of two of our students with disabilities. This year it seems to me appropriate that we pause and remember the founder of the Disability Unit, Dr Kate Jagoe-Davies, who died on July 8 2009 after a long illness. Kate began and ended her career as an artist; but devoted a considerable portion of her life to working for a better dispensation for students with disabilities at higher Education Institutions. For this Kate received two honorary Doctorates – one from Rhodes University in 1991, and from UCT in 2003.
We had hoped to welcome Kate as guest of honour at our 20th birthday celebrations (more presently) but she had to decline the invitation, as she was no longer well enough to undertake the journey to Cape Town from Pringle Bay where she had retired after heading up the Disability Unit for almost a decade. It meant a great deal to us though to be able to convey Kate’s good wishes for the 20th anniversary celebration of the DU’s founding, as well as for its future growth and success.
Several of our most loyal donors had formed a personal friendship with Kate in the early days of the unit’s existence, and to them, as well as all Kate’s family and friends we extend our condolences, and undertake, to the best of our abilities, to build on the foundation she laid.
Our 20th Birthday Bash
On 8 October 2008 we celebrated our 20th anniversary. The Disability Unit at UCT was founded by Dr. Kate Jagoe-Davies in 1988.
We were determined not to have just another “Meet and Eat”, with a few speeches endured more or less patiently by the guests. No, it was a truly joyous celebration, with singing and poetry recitals by UCT students, and some wonderfully boisterous singing by the choir from the League of Friends of the Blind in Cape Town. Our youngest disability activist and would be Ikey-student Jody Bell blew out the 20 candles on our birthday cake. Jodi, currently in grade 11 has a profound hearing loss and is hoping to study at UCT when she graduates from school. Talking of Jodi, our thoughts and good wishes are with her and her family as after her recent cochlear implant, Jody learns to hear for the first time as part of her post op rehabilitation.
The early weeks of 1809 saw the birth of three male children, each of whom would make their mark in history: Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln and Louis Braille. The former two would achieve fame during their lifetime – but Louis who died at the age of 43 would only receive recognition many decades after his death for his gift to the world of a tactile system by means of which blind people could read and write and as a direct result of which I’m able to write this report.
It pains me to say that in our very busy year we did not pause to mark this 200th celebration of Louis Braille’s birth, but we participated outside of the University in several events – among them a national Braille conference which took place in August, and we co-organized a national essay writing competition for Braille users with the title My Brailliant Life. We hope you find the braille alphabet card enclosed in this post is our own way of honouring this historic moment.
The Disability Service Computer Laboratory
By Denise Oldham
This was the first full year of use of our new Disability Service Computer Laboratory, following extensive renovations at the end of 2007. The spaciousness, light and flow of the new Lab were appreciated by all. There is now opportunity for face to face interaction between students with disabilities and volunteers as needed within an open plan space.
The JAWS (Job Access with Speech) programme for blind users has up until now been the core computer programme available in the Disability Service. The growth in numbers of partially sighted students has resulted in the addition of a text enhancement site license to cater for the specific needs of these students. The beauty of the Zoomtext programme lies in the flexibility to adapt to the individual needs of each student. Font and background colour, speech and magnification of text can all be tailored to suit the student. Used in tandem with the electronic desktop print magnifier, Zoomtext goes a long way to assisting students across the spectrum of visual impairment. Whilst the lack of blind undergraduate students remains a source of concern, the enrolment of blind postgraduates continues. We gave support to two blind Law postgraduates, one blind PhD, and 2 blind students registered for the MPhil in Disability Studies course.
Thomas Ongolo (left) and Nzuzo Qaji (right), both postgraduate students, enjoy the
20th Birthday Celebration.
Demand has significantly increased for the lab to serve as venue for tests and exams written by students with a variety of disabilities. It is also worth noting that the numbers of students directly supported by the DS doubled this year, as shown in the following statistics.
80 exams were written in June 2008 by 22 students.
95 exams were written in November 2008 by 28 students.
169 exams were written in June 2009 by 53 students.
Students with the following permanent disabilities were assisted:
blindness (using screen access software),
partially sighted (using enlarged exam papers and screen enhancement software),
mobility difficulties and back injuries (requiring special furniture),
chronic illness such as unstable epilepsy (requiring a quiet and safe space).
We also continue to provide support to students who are temporarily disabled, who have broken fingers or arms in sporting accidents, or those who are recuperating following surgery.
In the Disability Service Lab we try to address the individual practical needs of each student with a disability and encourage personal growth through interaction. The academic success of the students using the Lab since our last report is a testament to the success of this philosophy.
By Denise Oldham
In 2008 and 2009 over a hundred students joined the Disability Service Volunteer Programme. We were delighted to welcome some UCT staff members who volunteered during their lunch breaks. 2008 saw the development of three distinct, though often overlapping, areas of volunteer and outreach opportunities. Students and staff were encouraged to become 'Scanning and Editing Champions'. This core activity of the DS Computer Lab requires volunteers who are good at multi-tasking, patient, calm and with an eye for detail, who don't mind working alone while scanning and editing. The Interactive Teamwork area provides a social opportunity for volunteers to join teams run directly by students with disabilities. Teamwork includes face to face reading sessions, library search work and internet searching assistance, and provides students with disabilities with the opportunity for leadership – friendships are also made and strengthened here. The formation of the Disabled Students Movement during 2008 provided volunteers with the opportunity to become directly involved in disability activism and social support.
Reinette Popplestone started the Volunteer programme from a front room in her home in 1990. The facilities and numbers have grown to this day, but the volunteer principle remains the same. At the 20th Birthday celebration, tribute was paid to the stirling work and commitment of the Disability Service Volunteers who contribute their time and energy to the practical tasks of scanning, reading and typing for students with a range of disabilities. While many things have changed over the years, the sense of community spirit and Ubuntu that draws students and staff each year to join the Volunteer Programme has been a constant. UCT has every reason to be proud of the calibre of its students. A big thank you is extended to you all.
Disability Service Staffer Nafisa Mayat (second from the left) with colleagues and volunteer students at the 20th Birthday Celebration
It doesn’t always cost a lot of money
On account of a mobility impairment Kirsten had attended a special school and made history as the very first one from that school to get into UCT. She walks with full leg callipers which keep her hips and knees supported and her legs straight, and with the aid of these and crutches she is able to walk, albeit slowly. UCT is by most standards an inaccessible campus, but even leaving out the fact of its situation on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, lecture venues are at times unavoidably far apart. Kirsten’s 9a.m. lecture was in a venue on the south side of University Avenue. Her 10 a.m. lecture was scheduled at the extreme northern end of the campus. There are fifteen minutes in which to move from lecture venue a to b, and that is assuming that the lecturer has not run over time. Even for perfectly mobile students this presents a challenge. It requires probably a fast jog to get to your lecture on time.
We had prepared a lecture venue audit for the staff tasked with timetabling and venue allocation in which we indicated that a particular lecture venue is wheelchair accessible. But we had failed to take into account a student with a significant mobility impairment who does not use a wheelchair – not to mention the grid over the drain at the entrance with holes just large enough for a crutch end to slip through! But we are very fortunate at UCT to have access to a fully accessible bus for staff and students with disabilities, so we scheduled the bus to be at the ready when the 9 a.m. lecture finished and wiz our student off to her next lecture.
We hit another snag once inside the lecture venue. Because the callipers hold her legs fixed straight, she couldn’t fit into regular seating. On her advice, we bought four bar stools, cut their legs to the required length, so she can lean propped and take some of the weight off her feet. And then we realised that those bar stools are actually quite nice and of course if we were to distribute one to each of her four lecture venues, they would more than likely end up at someone’s bar! So we arranged with the relevant building custodians in which her four lectures were, that these would be put out before each of her lectures begins, and that they would be collected and stored safely when the lectures ended. And just in case you think this cannot possibly be worth it - in all her first year exams this particular student never scored below 68%, and in several instances above 75%, in other words a distinction…. It is worth it!
High achiever 2008
As was the case with the four bar stools, many of the solutions we find together require flexibility rather than expensive infrastructure. Our achiever of 2008 is Paula Jackson, who was awarded her BA degree with distinction at the end of 2008. She also has the distinction of being by far our youngest published academic. Her name appears first in the list of co-authors of a recent HSRC publication entitled South African Governance in Review Anti-corruption, Local Government, Traditional Leadership.
Paula sustained a back injury while still at school, which means that she is in almost constant pain. It also means that she is able to stand and to lie down, but not able to sit for any length of time. So from our discretionary donor funding we bought a bed and a lectern. Paula writes tests, exams and does much of her work during the term taking turns standing and writing at the lectern and lying down in between to rest her back. For those of us who live a life free of pain it is perhaps hard to grasp just how debilitating and energy sapping dealing with chronic pain can be, and I imagine it is particularly tough in an undergraduate university environment where your peers seem to inhabit their bodies with effortless ease. Paula is currently registered for an honours degree and we wish her every success with her future studies.
Of course, once you have a facility, it turns out to be useful for so many more students than you would have expected. After a spinal fusion a second student writes his exams with us now, and several students with epilepsy who have to be in a safe environment while writing their exams in case of a seizure, make use of our bed too.
June 2008 Graduation
The June 2008 graduation ceremony was an advocacy event par excellence. Among the group who graduated from the MPhil in Disability Studies four students were in wheelchairs; the hoist onto the Jammie Hall stage came into its own.
(From left, back) Dr Margie Booyens, A/Prof Harsha Kathard, A/Prof Theresa Lorenzo, A/Prof Jennifer Jelsma, Prof Kit Vaughan, Mzolisi ka Toni. (From left, front) Ndileka Portia Loyilane, Vic McKinney, Joshua Malinga, Nothandathu Gara
UCT is to my knowledge the only University on the African continent currently offering a post graduate degree program in Disability Studies, a field of scholarship which internationally has taken its uncontested place with other social justice disciplines, such as Gender and Diversity Studies.
The course was first offered in 2003, and our hope is that in time it will become a fully inter-disciplinary course for which students will queue to get into. It is important that this is not seen as a course in Disability Studies geared for Disabled people. The important point is that this field of study has the potential to generate vitally important research that will afford insights into all aspects of human action and interaction. Poverty, lack of education and inadequate social service provision is responsible for the unacceptably high levels of disabilities in South Africa - many of them preventable - that mars our society. Add to that violent conflict and crime. Do we know enough about the lives and circumstances of victims of the above?
A few more success stories
I mentioned briefly in last year’s report that we had been successful in overturning some denied applications and that it would prove interesting to track the progress of these students. It gives me pleasure to report on some of them, halfway through their second year of study.
There has been lively public debate about UCT’s admission policies and even as I write, the policy is being reviewed once more. Over the last three years I have advocated for more flexible admission criteria for students with disabilities. This runs contrary to received wisdom at most other HE Disability Support programs in the country, which advocate that no concessions should be made for disabled students at the level of admission.
One reason for my stance concerns UCT’s relatively tough admission requirements. Fewer disabled students make it into UCT than any other institution. We needed to ask ourselves why. I have argued that for this group of students, school leaving results are very often a poor indicator of their academic ability. I don’t doubt that the same argument can be made for the larger cohort of the student population, but disabled students are doubly hamstrung as standards of teaching and opportunities for learning are in many so-called special schools seriously compromised by a lack of expertise in teaching learners with specific needs. In the case of students with sensory impairments particularly the reality is that many of the teachers in the schools they attend have no formal training in teaching students who are blind or Deaf.
But to get to the point ...
Gadija came to see me a few years ago to ask my advice. She had had poor vision even at school, for which she received no support, but by the time we met her vision had further deteriorated to the extent that she could no longer follow her career as a very successful interior designer. It was clear to her that without some other formal qualification she would not be able to find a job, and she longed to be independent. “Search no more,” I said. “A degree is what you need, and we’ll help you get it.” She was blown away by all that we had on offer – and went away feeling a lot better.
Unbeknown to me Gadija did apply and the admission machinery spat her out. In the course of the following academic year I was sent a list of students with disabilities who had applied but had been unsuccessful. The list was depressingly long, and among the names I came across was that of Gadija.
I was mortified. I dug out her contact details and asked her to apply again. This time I urged her to contact me the minute she got the letter offering or denying her a place. And sure enough the phone call came from a by now philosophically resigned Gadija: her application had been unsuccessful again. We sprang into action, arranging that she do the Alternative Admissions test again, this time ensuring that she had the accommodations to which she was entitled: an enlarged text, extra time and the exam read onto tape in case she could not make out the text. Needless to say her AARP score was significantly higher and it took little to persuade the Humanities Faculty to admit her. In fact, together with Commerce, Science and Engineering, the Faculty has come on board big time when it comes to respond positively to our motivations. Needless to say Gadija is flying. She got Upper and Lower Seconds in her first year and is blossoming in her second.
Jacques is another one who had very middling matric results - probably in part as a result of being educated in a remote platteland school where good maths and science teachers are hard to find - but also probably because he had simply not finished growing up. A few years after leaving school he was in a motor vehicle accident and lost the use of his arm. This I suspect is going to turn out to be the making of this young man. After one phone conversation with him it was clear to me that this was a man with a dream, with a passion. His dream was conservation, sustainable development and particular as it relates to water conservation. On account of his matric marks the system had spat him out. I arranged for him to do the AARP test and to reapply. The application results came before the AARP results and he was turned down a second time. When we got his AARP results he scored off the page in the test that assessed people’s mathematical and scientific aptitude. He was in! And he too has been achieving wonderfully, and now in his second year we are using him in turn to tutor a student with a disability in the engineering faculty.
Eamon is another student for whom we motivated for admission. Eamon’s chances were slim. He had been to Tafelberg High School for learners with significant learning disabilities. Eamon’s mother believed in Eamon passionately, as did the principal of his school. We had some misgivings, but they were unfounded. Not only is he doing well but he is also very involved with UCT sport. Increasingly I believe that if there were a way to measure people’s levels of motivation – their determination not to fail, no matter what it took – our throughput figures would probably match exactly our admission figures. This is why I believe that mature age exemption or Recognition of Prior Learning needs more attention at the undergraduate level.
Promoting Access, Finding Solutions
Promoting Access, Finding Solutions is the motto my predecessor came up with, and I am yet to come across a better one. That is what we're about - what we are best at: coming up with practical solutions for removing barriers to learning and work at this institution. An important principle around which we structure our work is that in disability access provision there is no "one size fits all" solution. Sometimes we can intervene at an infrastructural level: installing a lift or making a bathroom accessible may be done at this moment to provide access to a particular staff member or student at a particular time, but that lift or bathroom will be there in one or five years' time for the next user who needs it.
Likewise, when we purchase a site licence for assistive software and make it available on the Network, it will hopefully serve the needs of current students and staff, but it will be an ongoing resource for a future cohort of staff and/or students. But this approach has its limitations. Some of the most resource intensive accommodations are "once off": A contract with a Sign interpreter for instance will be an ongoing recurrent expense, as will be a Note Taker for someone who is Deaf or hard of hearing. But on the whole people don't object to this kind of investment, in part because no ownership is transferred from the institution to an individual.
However, once we propose making a once-off investment into a device or piece of equipment which must necessarily cease being the property of the Institution and become the property of an individual, some in our midst begin to feel uneasy. And this attitude is also discernible in Employment Equity regulations. While people readily accept that a blind or visually impaired person requires screen access software in order to perform optimally in the workplace, and that the employer has a duty to provide this, attitudes seem very different when it comes to supplying for instance something like a hearing aid. The argument is (silly as it may seem) that the beneficiary also has access to this “accommodation” outside of work hours, and that, once he/she leaves the employ of the company, or graduates from the university, that resource leaves with them. There is also a view that this is essentially a medical issue, and that medical insurance should provide this kind of accommodation.
But the reality is that most families can’t afford membership of expensive Medical insurance Schemes, and that even when they do, the amount allowed does not even begin to cover the cost of an effective aid. The most obvious way of empowering students who have a significant hearing impairment is to provide them with a quality hearing aid. This is particularly so because whatever other hardware one installs, Loop systems or FM transmitters, communicate directly with the hearing aid. So without a functioning hearing aid, it is not possible to access the assistive technology. That is why, when a need is identified, it is perfectly legitimate for the Disability Service to use discretionary funding to assist a student in this way.
Rather a long preamble to Jonathan’s story, which is that up till the time we met him when he was doing an Honours degree in Sports Science he had worked his way through University working nights and weekends. He has a significant hearing loss but had battled on till then with a hearing aid which was old and no longer worth repairing.
Having got the blessing of one of our valued donors, we sent Jonathan to an audiologist for testing and fitting with a hearing aid.
I enclose an extract from the letter Jonathan sent us after receiving his hearing aid …
This is a letter of gratitude.
In my short life I have been blessed to have experienced many of the different faces that life has to show. In a peek-a-boo fashion, surprising me joyfully one moment and presenting me with failure the next. Now lately, roughly 5 days ago from the time I am writing this note, I was given a renewed gift of hearing. Most people cannot know what it feels like to be given a sudden and immediate cure for a long standing ailment. In an old book written many centuries ago, a woman touched the robe of a figure known to be a healer and was healed instantaneously. Twelve years, one touch, complete healing. Today I am 26 yrs old, with what can be called a very minor disability when compared to millions of others in the world. Within the space of moments I, just like that woman felt what it was like to be healed (what I call it). And even though I have had experience with hearing aids in the past, none had the satisfaction of the new ones I was given without charge on Tuesday the 19th of the 08th month of 2008. As long as I’ve been around to know, my father has always loved birds. There’s a tree in the lane just outside my window, and for the first time in as long as I can recall, I heard what these birds actually sound like when they tweet, every note. Being brought up in the spirit of stories and fairytales, the sound was what those books always described - the sound of birds in the trees. Another experience is that my mother often calls, says something from the kitchen and since the Tuesday I no longer have to go to where she is and ask what she said, I can actually hear without the need to lipread, I can hear when someone speaks behind me. Getting into my VW beetle (of which I am a proud owner) just after receiving my new aids, I heard the clunk sound that the indicator switch makes when you push it up or down where before I could just feel it. Insignificant to others, exhilarating to me.
These are the things I hear now thanks to you and those you called to help me. No longer to guess what someone said and try to answer appropriately, no longer to strain to hear and get tired and frustrated in the process. I understand that this will take long to read in your busy day but I try to equate what has been done for me with words and in a sadly funny way, it’s all I can afford these days. Out of words I obligate myself to design a gift which can be both beautiful and useful. I trust that this can be useful at least in some way, perhaps endorsing the joy that this unit at UCT brings to students as myself. It may be that your help to some goes unnoticed or unappreciated but I’m pretty sure that if these students were better designers of words and sentences they would write similar letters of gratitude.
Thank you for what you have done for me. I have no address to thank the sponsors so I send this to you who paved the way for me.
Jonathan obtained his Honours Degree in Sport Science at the end of 2008 and did so with flying colours.
I have strong views about what counts as effective disability awareness raising. I happen not to believe in putting blindfolds on people who can see and thinking that that will give them an insight into what it is like to be blind, far less hope to narrow the gap most people perceive to exist between themselves and those who have disabilities. On the contrary – I think these so-called sensitization exercises widen rather than breach that gap. My experience leads me to believe that the only meaningful way in which people learn about each other is in the natural interactions that occur in work and play.
So we devised an advocacy initiative which we termed Buza (to ask) – to fit in with a number of other transformation initiatives entitled respectively Khuluma and Mamela.
A group of staff and students were invited to an informal finger lunch at which there would also be a panel of people with a range of disabilities. The injunction to the guests: now is your chance to ask all those questions you’ve always wanted to, but have been too embarrassed or too scared to ask.
What I had hoped would happen – did. Once I had broken the ice by asking a few provocative questions of my fellow panellists who were wheelchair users, there was no stopping. I have to say, I learnt a lot myself.
The event was a major success. We intend to host more of them soon. The secret is to keep the group fairly small, and to have lots of good food to eat.
And one good thing has a way of leading to another. As a direct result of a conversation that took place during the birthday celebration, we hosted earlier this year the first in what we hope will be many more disabled sports events. It was a roaring success as advocacy events go. A team of Wheelchair Rugby players took on some of UCT’s first rugby team after demonstrating how the game should be played. Members of the SRC got an opportunity to test their skills in Goal Ball - a game played by blind people, which depends on the player’s sense of hearing, spatial awareness and agility. As can be expected the blind team won!
We are steadily nibbling away at the access elephant.
Since last reporting we have installed one lift and modified another in the Barnard Fuller Building on the Health Sciences campus, as well as improving access to the third floor of the Falmouth Building on which there is now an extra accessible toilet. We successfully modified a flat in the Forest Hill residence complex, with fully accessible kitchen and bathroom, thereby adding accessible accommodation to the 2nd tier residence offerings. Work has begun on improving access in All Africa House, a short term B&B facility for visiting academics and post graduate students. The finishing touches are being applied to the new Fitness Centre, which once completed will also be fully accessible. We have recently embarked on something of a crusade to ensure at least one accessible toilet for each building on UCT’s campuses. As well as the one in Falmouth Building, accessible toilets have been created in the Sports Centre on Upper Campus, All Africa House, and in the Maths building.
We have fitted stair rails and have also commenced a project to demarcate stairs more clearly for people with visual impairments. And how could I forget! -- but I’ll let the Monday paper have the last word - …
New Accessible Map
A new map launched by the Disability Service on 13 May will make access to the Upper Campus and its facilities easier for people in wheelchairs. (See enclosed copy). The map shows wheelchair routes to buildings and plots easy-access paths to amenities and roads. It also identifies the 52 parking bays for disabled drivers. Of particular value are the notes on access limitations and the cautionary tips for wheelchair users, for example, alerting them to 'hotspots' on campus where there are no pavements and where there is heavy vehicular traffic.
The map is the result of careful planning and numerous recces of the Upper Campus by Edwina Konghot (Barrier-Free Access Co-ordinator) and her colleagues. They built the new map on the existing one of Upper Campus, noting new buildings, doors, ramps and lifts.
There is more to tell, but I won’t push my luck – this report is already too long.
It remains then for me to thank the Disability Service team, our colleagues, my line managers, the UCT Executive and our wonderfully loyal donors for their ongoing support. UCT leads the field in disability support provision at tertiary institutions in South Africa and beyond our borders. Our peers confirm this. Thank you for helping us to bring that about.
Dr Rosemary Exner, Denise Oldham, Marlene Le Roux, Dr Ian Mackintosh, Reinette Popplestone, Dr Max Price (UCT Vice Chancellor), Edwina Konghot, Nafisa Mayat, Refentse Tsaoi, Moonira Khan (Executive Director: Department of Student Affairs)
We gratefully acknowledge the continuing support from our loyal donors. In particular we would like to thank the following for their contributions in 2008/2009
Carl & Emily Fuchs Foundation