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Monday, 10 November 2014

Disability Awareness Day highlights commitment to Universal Access and Design

Supporters: Vice Chancellor Dr Prins Nevhutalu, (middle) is flanked by HCI Foundation representatives Jamala Safari (left) and Carol van der Rheede (right) Supporters: Vice Chancellor Dr Prins Nevhutalu, (middle) is flanked by HCI Foundation representatives Jamala Safari (left) and Carol van der Rheede (right)

CPUT’s progress in meeting the physical and academic needs of staff and students with disabilities was celebrated last week, as students, design gurus, disability experts and donors gathered to showcase the university’s innovations in empowering persons with disabilities.

Dr Nina du Toit, Disability Unit coordinator, gave warm thanks to the units’ many supporters and donors, and reiterated that CPUT’s bold blueprint to provide universal access to those with disabilities across CPUT’s five campuses is forging ahead. Guest speakers included Mrs Wendy Ackerman, a staunch supporter of research and development in the field of disability through The Ackerman Family Educational Trust. CEO of the Carl and Emily Fuchs Foundation, Dr Riaan Els also gave a keynote address. This foundation has been extremely supportive of the Disability Unit since its inception in 2008, giving annually to boost the unit’s coffers. In his address, Dr Els emphasised that only 5% of those with severe disabilities attain a higher education qualification, with females at more of a disadvantage than males.

In recent years CPUT has unveiled a few ground-breaking technologies and projects to combat this dire statistic. These include the country’s first prototype car adapted for driving by people with disabilities. This is the first ever locally-engineered prototype to feature joystick engineering, and has opened a world of driving opportunities for persons with disabilities in South Africa.

CPUT’s Sport Management Department is also involved in training and research with the London makers of the Ekso Bionic Suit, which enables people with spinal cord injuries to walk.

img-Disability-Awareness-Day-highlights-commitment-to-Universal-Access-and-Design-2The Ekso Bionic suit which gives those immobilised by spinal cord injuries the ability to walk

Yet another innovation is being overseen by CPUT’s Universal Design guru, Prof Mugendi M’Rithaa. His students are developing a unique range of kitchenware for those with special needs, in collaboration with Hekkie Brink. Brink, a person with one arm was introduced to the Industrial Design department by Mrs Ackerman. Through the funding graciously approved by The Ackerman Family Educational Trust, Hekkie’s products are now being developed into a commercially viable range.

img-Disability-Awareness-Day-highlights-commitment-to-Universal-Access-and-Design-3One of the innovative kitchen utensils developed by Hekkie Brink and Industrial Design students

Other attendees included stalwart supporters of the Disability Unit such as national oil and gas company, PetroSA, who offer students with a range of disabilities full bursaries and guaranteed work contracts on successful completion of their studies. The HCI Foundation, the corporate social investment arm of HCI, were also gratefully acknowledged for their contributions to bursaries, and providing 54 assistive devices to students with learning difficulties.

Written by Janyce Weintrob

Tel: +27 21 460 3514
Email: weintrobj@cput.ac.za