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Monday, 03 November 2008

Messages of motivation and encouragement at launch of new Disability Unit

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Students and staff members who contend with disabilities can now access a variety of support services at the University’s new Disability Unit.

The Unit, situated at the Bellville Campus IT Centre, not only features cutting edge facilities, such as computer equipment for those with visual, hearing, motor and learning impairments, but also serves as an information centre for anyone who wishes to learn more about how to accommodate disabilities in working or student life.

The Unit was launched at a ceremony on Bellville Campus on 24 October 2008. CPUT Transformation Manager Sam Henkeman served as Programme Director.

Dean of Students Cora Motale opened the proceedings by thanking the individuals who had championed the project, including the members of the Disability Forum and the Coordinator of the Unit, Dr Nina Du Toit. ‘We will never take any decision without consulting people with disabilities,” Motale said.

Diane Bell, of the Faculty of Business, shared her story about how she came to be one of the original motivators for the Unit. She spoke about how, as the mother of a child with hearing loss, she had considered what kind of environment her daughter would face when she entered higher education.

A discussion with a student with a cochlear implant and the atmosphere of change during the period when the Peninsula and Cape Technikons became a University of Technology added further impetus to laying the groundwork for a support facility.

Bell, together with like-minded colleagues formed a Disability Forum. With the University’s support, the ideas raised in the forum were put into a proposal, leading to the creation of a Disability Unit.

Disability Unit Coordinator Dr Du Toit then described some of the services that the Unit offers and called on the CPUT community to help the Unit achieve its aim of providing an outstanding support service.

“We need your understanding of what we try to achieve,” she said, “We need your moral support and we need your active input into our activities.”

Reinette Popplestone, Manager of the University of Cape Town Disability Service, and Andrew Merryweather, General Manager of the Restaurant at Theatre on the Bay, were guest speakers.

Popplestone, who is visually impaired herself, discussed the challenges that typically face the accommodation of disability at universities. Merryweather, who suffers from paralysis as a result of spinal cord injury, discussed his experience working with Prof Simeon Davies at the Human Performance Laboratory. “Under Prof Davies’ guidance I was actively doing something to better my situation,” he said, “This empowered me again and I have being going from strength to strength since.”

Zuko Mbolekwa, Treasurer General of the SRC added further words of motivation. He stressed that the University should improve its representation of disabled students in sporting codes and other student activities.

Two musical interludes during the ceremony demonstrated the talents of young people coping with disability. The Athlone School for the Blind delighted the audience with Marimba rhythms. Visually impaired violinist Morne van der Merwe of Stellenbosch University gave a virtuoso performance, accompanied by Dr Du Toit on piano.

After the ceremony, guests toured an exhibition at the library and explored the Unit's facilities.

The launch of the Disability Unit marks the start of a long-term process of improving the University’s disability support. Dr Du Toit currently visits all campuses regularly in order gather information about, and accommodate, the needs of disabled individuals who work and study there.

The Unit hopes to eventually develop permanent support facilities on all major campuses of the institution.

By Ilana Abratt

Photograph: (back) Disability Unit Coordinator Dr Nina Du Toit, SRC Treasurer General Zuko Mbolekwa (front) Guest speakers Andrew Merryweather and Reinette Popplestone, Dean of Students Cora Motale, Violinist Morne van der Merwe.

Written by CPUT News

Email: news@cput.ac.za