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  • pg 1
Department of Student Affairs
Disability Service
Progress Report

All documentation produced by the Disability Service   is available in enlarged
text, audio, Braille and e-text on request


To ensure that the influence of the UCT Disability Service is exercised in a
manner which will enhance the reputation and standing of UCT and the Disability
Service both within UCT and at Universities and organisations world-wide.

To establish a human rights culture at UCT with a special emphasis on

To act within the University structure, 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 provide UCT with the knowledge base to react with sensitivity and insight to
the need for accommodation of disability. To provide UCT with the necessary
guidance in developing or establishing cost-effective infrastructure, which
meets the needs of disabled staff and students. To ensure that this is done, to
the greatest possible extent, through the harnessing of mainstream university
facilities and activities, but where reasonable accommodation of disabled staff
and students is not possible in the mainstream environment, to ensure that such
reasonable accommodations are provided for via Disability Service specialist
facilities and services.

In this way the Disability Service is 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.


1. Assisted Listening

Students with hearing impairments has been a group which until recently has been
under-represented and underserved at UCT. We were determined to build on the
modest foundation we laid in 2005 when we provided Sign interpreting services
for two Deaf students who had enrolled in the Adult Education Masters offered in
the Centre for Higher Education Development (CHED). Although there are currently
no students registered at UCT who use South African Sign Language (SASL) we do
have several students with hearing impairments and that seemed like a good place
to start. We paid a visit to the Ear Institute in Pretoria during February this
year and we were extremely excited about the FM transmission technology which we
saw working in Eduplex, a mainstream educational setting specialising in
integrating children with hearing impairments.

We are still very keen to install this equipment when we find candidates for
whom it will be of benefit. It is important to bear in mind though that in
order to benefit from this technology one needs to be in possession of a
relatively sophisticated hearing aid. We would therefore be duty bound to ensure
that users of this system could also be sure of having access to suitable
hearing aids. We may well need to appeal to our generous donors in this regard
when the occasion arises.

In the mean time we have laid sound foundations towards being able in the near
future to accommodate Deaf students whose first language is SASL.

2. Deaf Awareness Presentations

An absolute find in this regard was the addition of Emma Coop to our student
body. Emma is a doctoral student with a hearing impairment, who also happens to
be an ace presenter of seminars on Deaf culture and a born teacher. An
enthusiastic audience of students and staff responded warmly to a Deaf Awareness
presentation by Emma. It was practical and interactive with audience members
soon following Emma's lead in signing the alphabet. After learning some of the
Deaf do's and don'ts the audience had the opportunity to sign up for the South
African Sign Language classes which the Disability Service will be offering
under Emma’s capable leadership to staff and students at UCT in 2007. Over 200
people have thus far signed up for these.

3. Ikhaya Dayhouse

As this report goes to press, we are putting the final touches to the Ikhaya
Dayhouse for students with disabilities. Do they need a separate facility?
Couldn’t they use the bigger mainstream student Dayhouse? Of course they can,
and will be encouraged to do so. Even so, sometimes it is nice to know there is
a place where you can go to make yourself a coffee and warm up your lunch in a
fully wheelchair accessible kitchenette - put your books and other possessions
in a locker so you don’t have to schlep them round all day, maybe do some work,
watch a video, even lie down - just chill out in a space where it is okay for a
short while to, if you like, just be disabled. Of course you should rejoin the
hustle and bustle, go to classes, go to the library, get involved in whatever
university life has to offer. But when it all gets just a little too much, there
is a space where you can duck out for just a little while, and interestingly
enough, get to know other students with disabilities. Because contrary to what
you might imagine, students with disabilities do not naturally seek each other

4. Research-related logistical support

Below are some of the eminently deserving requests we have responded to in 2006:
* A doctoral student doing groundbreaking research on the law in South Africa as
it pertains to victims of abuse is someone with a learning disability with
particular problems related to memory processing needed to have research
interviews transcribed. The nature of his disability specifically made that part
of the work around his research at worst impossible, and at best very difficult,
and by no means the best use of his research time and skills.
* Another student who plans to register for a doctoral degree in Philosophy and
who was described to me recently by one of the students in her tutorial group as
"a damn good tutor" (a rare accolade I suspect) was provided with a computer
with screen reading software in her office in the Philosophy department.


I have decided to depart somewhat from the format of previous reports and
include a high achiever profile. On the one hand one hesitates to do this,
because it is the Disability Service's achievements and progress that is
primarily highlighted in this report, and we should take infinite care not to
imply that we deserve some of the credit when students with disabilities achieve
exceptional results. Rather we are wanting to say that if a student can do this,
then surely it behoves us to work even harder, to be even more committed to
build that ramp – to install that lift, to buy that special piece of software
that will just make things possible, never mind easy.

And no student underscores this fact better than Tristan Gorgens.

In October 2003 almost at the end of his second year at varsity, one week before
exams were to begin and very shortly after he had been elected as SHAWCO
(Student Health and Welfare Centres Organisation) President, Tristan dived into
what appeared to be deep water off Clifton beach, and hit a sandbank. He
sustained very serious neck injuries and now lives with quadriplegia.

But here’s the thing. Barely three months after Tristan sustained what really
were life threatening injuries, he wrote all the exams he had prepared for the
previous October and passed them all. He dictated his answers into a tape
recorder, because they had to be marked by several members of staff, some who
were out of the country. Tristan recalls swotting for these exams lying in bed
in the living room of his parents’ home, with workers swarming around busy
rebuilding parts of the house so he could access his upstairs bed-room.

Because of the nature of the work of SHAWCO Tristan had to be replaced as
president, but by March of 2004, very, very shortly after being discharged from
hospital, he was back on campus attending SHAWCO meetings as a board member and
taking on his full share of responsibility. It is hard to exaggerate just how
unusual and courageous this is. When one sustains a serious injury of the spinal
cord at cervical level it is not only that your arms and legs don’t work any
more. Your organs, the biological systems that keep you alive, are severely
compromised, and often take months, even years to normalise and readjust. You
have to contend with life threatening plunges in blood pressure, and seriously
impaired kidney and lung function.

Tristan took only one year off from his studies for rehabilitation. In February
2005 he was back on campus full time taking a full course load and graduated at
the end of that year with exceptional results. When I commented on how
remarkable this was, Tristan answered: “the short turn-around time between my
injury and my return (and much of my subsequent success) is due to the
phenomenal support of my family. When I was in hospital I watched many people
have family walk away from them or unable to support them and in South Africa,
with the problems in our social security net, re-entering the world with a
disability without the support of your family is extremely difficult. I am very
thankful for the unerring support that I receive from my family.”

Tristan received the Student Affairs student leader award in 2004, and was
awarded a Mandela-Rhodes scholarship when he graduated at the end of 2005.

And he’s done it again!. Tristan has graduated with a first class Honours in
just one year. He has been awarded the Steve Biko scholarship to pursue post
graduate studies in the field of Social Development.

As a person with a disability myself, I am not easily impressed by ordinary
disabled people doing fairly ordinary things. But I am truly in awe of this guy.
Go Tristan!


Thanks to one of our generous donors we were able to purchase a special
hydraulic “standing” chair for Ronald Mothelisi, a wheelchair user, who is in
his fourth year of his MBChB degree. This chair enables Ronald to “stand” up so
that he is at the “normal” height to work at operating and dissecting tables.

  Ronald is to our knowledge the first wheelchair user in South Africa to be
admitted to a degree of medicine, although I understand that a few students who
had been injured during their training had completed their degrees in the past.
Ronald has done remarkably well throughout his studies. His lecturers have
nothing but praise for his work, and all were delighted when it became apparent
that the “standing” wheelchair was going to become a reality.


Great strides were made during the course of 2006 to get disability formally
established on the University’s transformation agenda, on an equal footing with
its siblings gender and race. In many spheres of South African life there is a
tendency to pay lip service to disability as a designated category along with
race and gender, but in reality it has emerged over and over again as very much
the runt of the litter. The UCT Executive is to be commended for its
determination that this will not be the case at UCT from now on.

An example of the extent to which the University has made good on this
resolution is that Mike Watermeyer whom many of you will remember as the
Disability Unit's previous Director was appointed as Faculty Manager in the Law
Faculty commencing 1 October 2006. Appointing a totally blind person as a senior
administrator in an extremely high-pressure environment required an act of
faith. I have no doubt that Mike will live up to and exceed those expectations.


As part of a strategy to raise UCT's employment equity profile of people with
disabilities, the Disability Service has laid the groundwork for establishing a
national database of graduates with disabilities, so that talented PWD’s can be
identified and encouraged to apply for jobs whose requirements match their skill
sets. We are also working on our own code of good practice for the recruitment,
appointment and advancement of people with disabilities.

We have also formed a Disability Advisory group whose remit will include
strengthening the Disability Service’s transformation mandate, and to assist in
the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures intended to
advance the opportunities for work and study at UCT.


November 2005 saw the successful graduation of two senior blind students,
Phandle Phandle and Siphiwe Mashawu. Assistive technology was invaluable in
facilitating their academic success.

The range of services offered to students with disabilities was enhanced in 2006
by the addition of an electronic desktop magnifier to assist visually impaired
students. We also acquired a five-licence version of special scanning software
to afford blind and visually impaired users full access to scanning facilities
in our Student Computer Lab.   A standing desk/podium and a bed were purchased
to assist students with serious back injuries, or those who are unable to write
tests and exams sitting up for long periods of time.

The power crisis in the Western Cape earlier this year also prompted us to
purchase three laptops as a safeguard against power outages during the exams.
They have also proved very useful as they provide more scope and flexibility to
accommodate students who cannot write in the normal exam venues.

The scope of our service to students with disabilities writing tests and exams
continues to grow and expand. In the 4 years from October 2002 to October 2006,
a total of 722 tests and exams have been written at the Disability Service, by
students with disabilities ranging from blindness, schizophrenia, quadriplegia
and epilepsy, to handwriting disabilities, broken arms, and dyslexia. We
believe that the provision of a safe space with individual attention and
specialised accommodations has contributed to the continuing success of these

We also assisted the Alternative Admissions Research Project (AARP) with the
conversion of the entrance exams into braille and alternative format for
students with disabilities hoping to enter UCT in 2007. Supervision and
invigilation of these exams is also provided by the Disability Service.

Our volunteer programme continued in 2006, and we thank our dedicated and
enthusiastic student volunteers for their support.


Our Resource Centre continued to expand and we added a total of 68 books and 7
DVDs to our collection of resources on disability-related issues. We also
launched a project this year to try to collect in one easily accessible place
copies of the research in the field which has been done in this country. There
is a surprising amount of it, but it is not usually easy to find, scattered as
it is in small branch libraries all over the peninsula! We have thus far
gathered 25 copies of dissertations in the field of disability.


In 2007 the new Graça Machel women’s residence will be opening its doors for the
first time. It boasts four fully accessible wheelchair rooms with bathrooms.
Our measurable progress in pushing the barrier free access envelope has been
less than we might have wished, but a lot of planning and lobbying has been
happening and we are hoping to come up with firm policies and procedures to
accelerate the pace of this part of our work. Due to the ongoing restructuring
in the Department of Student Affairs our physical access portfolio has been
vacant since Cindy Watermeyer left us in October of 2005. We are hopeful that
this matter will be resolved soon. In the mean time we have not been idle.
During November to January 2005-2006 we conducted a comprehensive access audit
of lecture venues. This has greatly assisted the staff responsible for assigning
lecture venues. As a result we had no last minute requests for venue changes as
a result of courses in which there were students in wheelchairs having been
located in inaccessible venues.

We contracted with Disability Solutions, who have submitted plans for
significant alterations to at least three of our buildings, and we hope to have
tangible proof of our joint efforts by the time you read our next report. We
also see our collaboration with Disability Solutions as a fruitful one in terms
of specialised skills transfer and training for Disability Service staff. This
will become vital once new posts are filled as restructuring unfolds.


We visited several schools in the peninsula, among them, the Athlone School for
the Blind in Bellville South and Vista Nova school in Pinelands. We hope next
year to expand this project and visit several more schools in the Western Cape
including the three schools for the Deaf.


In May 2006 The Disability Service and SHAWCO teamed up to provide assistance to
the Golden Girls Disabled children's home in Langa. The Disability Service had
a few very small wheelchairs that had been used in disability awareness
programmes. They were not suitable for its adult users, but the many children
at Golden Girls could benefit enormously from them. Golden Girls cares for about
50 children with disabilities. SHAWCO students visit the children to help with
occupational therapy and physiotherapy each week.
Reinette Popplestone
Manager: Disability Service
Phone: 021-650 5090

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