SAMANTHA NOLLE He walks purposefully according to a detailed map of the university that he has committed to memory, calling to mind the now familiar routes. Absorbed, he listens to the lecturer as other students take down notes. Percy Makube, a first-year social work student, is blind. He has had to rely on his other senses to become accustomed to a large and bustling campus. In an ordinary day he makes his way from class to class as any other student would, but he needs to constantly formulate his route. He says that this process is fairly easy and he is able to get to and from classes on his own. He and the other students with special needs are provided with a support system by the Student Affairs Disability Unit. Makube remains in constant communication with the relevant lecturers and tutors, as well as with Student Affairs. Dr Florinda Taute, a social work lecturer, confirms that she takes extra measures to provide study material for Makube, such as textbook content and study guides which are passed on to his tutor or to Student Affairs for him to collect. Jean Erwee, senior administrative officer of the Disability Unit, explains that text can be converted into braille in Microsoft Word and printed by a braille printer. For students who are visually impaired, font size can be enlarged to create an easily readable format. Tests and exams are undertaken orally with the lecturer or in Student Affairs using specific computer programs. In some circumstances, a scribe is provided to read the questions as the student dictates the answers, or extra time is given. According to Erwee, the function of the Disability Unit is to create self-sufficiency and independence amongst students while dealing with the logistics of each particular disability. Promoting equality is essential, as is diminishing stigmas and labelling of disabled students. The Disability Unit aims to assist disabled students to function on the same level as other students, keeping in mind that academic performance is one’s own responsibility. Erwee adds that there is no excuse not to perform since the necessary resources are provided so that the difference in experience between students with disabilities and those without is leveled out as much as possible. To further support students, the Unit for Students with Special Needs provides wheelchair-friendly residential placement. It is entirely the students’ decision whether or not to seek other social support, although Erwee has established an open-door policy for students which involves mentoring, social care and guidance. Within lectures, the environment and experience varies for both students and the lecturer. Makube describes himself as a survivor who overcomes his challenges and plans to complete his degree in the standard time like any other student. Along with his optimism, he expresses his appreciation for those students who introduce themselves to him. In order for him to be a part of the community he must familiarise himself with students’ voices since he cannot recognise their faces. He suggests that students should be more open-minded about his disability and the unique perspective it provides and should engage with him rather than simply avoiding him. “I can greet people and they can greet me,” he says. Dr Taute says that the students in her social work class are supportive and prepared to help Makube. She does, however, point out that, “It should not be a matter of ignoring the student, but rather treating them as any other student.” She explains how proud she is of the performance and excellence in work from her students with disabilities. “They have excelled in the same way as other students,” she says. Moreover, Makube receives social support from friends within the Disability Unit which also acts as a social hub. Within this unit students have access to the resources and facilities they need, including computer and internet access. The awareness and acknowledgment of students with disabilities and special needs unifies the diversity within the student body. An optimistic and holistic environment enables different students to achieve success with the resources and support provided by the university. Photo: Kobus Barnard

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