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The University of Venda, situated in Thohoyandou in the scenic Vhembe district of the Limpopo Province of South Africa was established in 1982. The university has ever experienced tremendous growth and change. From its early years, staff members were drawn from various backgrounds in South Africa but by 1994 staff was increasingly recruited from other African countries and overseas. The presence on campus of staff from diverse backgrounds creates a unique atmosphere and a fertile environment for new ideas and a capacity for change.

Limpopo is characterized by high incidences of disabilities which are attributed to poverty, malnutrition, insufficient medical care, and lack of access to health facilities. This partly explains why Univen has the highest number of students with disabilities in the country. Univen has since 2001 begun to move towards the institutionalization of services for students with disabilities by appointing two staff members on a part-time basis. This decision was in line with the Constitution of South Africa (Act 108 of 1996) Section 2a (1) which state that everyone has the right to:

  • Basic education, including Adult Basic Education and
  • Further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.

Following the establishment of the establishment of the disability unit on a part-time basis, the university made a subsequent appointment of fulltime staff in 2005.

DU supports students with disabilities of various disabilities, including:

  • Visual
  • Hearing
  • Physical
  • Speech impairments
  • Chronic illnesses (e.g. diabetes, epilepsy)
  • Painful conditions (e.g. back injuries & carpal tunnel syndrome)
  • Psychological disabilities (e.g. bipolar disorder & severe anxiety/depression)
  • Temporary disabilities (e.g. broken limbs) may request services for the period during which they require them.

The Disability Unit (DU) focuses on providing the following services to students who due to their various disabilities are inherently experiencing barriers to learning. The following are its key functions:

  • Provide training in adapted technology for students thus fostering their independence.
  • Provision of technical academic support for the visually impaired students such as brailing and scanning of learning materials, tests and examinations.
  • Building advocacy for purposes of enhancing physical access for students who are physically challenged.
  • Co-ordinate/facilitate training for staff and students in basic Braille and South African sign Language.
  • Ensure academic accommodation for students with documented learning disabilities.
  • Co-ordinate rehabilitative services for students with fine-motor problems with relevant professionals both within and outside the university.
  • Update data for students with documented disabilities.
  • Co-ordinate special library services for visually impaired students.
  • Establish linkages with business, industry, government and educational institutions for purposes of graduate placement and experiential learning.

Orientation and Mobility Training

Blind students using their M&O skills to access Disability Unit

The DU outsources services for orientation and mobility training for new entering students with disabilities. This programme is for first year students and is aimed at familiarizing them with the new surrounding as well as enhances their free and independent movement on campus.

Braille printing

Braille printers are made available to visually impaired students to transcribe print into Braille. The DU provides Braille services to, individuals and organizations outside the University campus.

Computer Training

Partially sighted staff member, Mr. Azwitamisi Gadisi assisting a student with computer literacy skills

All disabled students are offered computer lessons to develop essential skills for using the advanced adaptive technology. The unit is trying to shift from manual methods of writing which create barriers to students with impairments making corrections, to electronic technology which allows total independency.

Sports and Recreation

Tshififi Golden Girls playing with Univen soccer for the blind

DU encourages students with disability to participate in different sporting codes e.g. goal ball, wheelchair tennis, soccer for the visually impaired students and wheelchair basket ball.

Individual programme planning

Mrs. Mbuvha giving academic support to the students with disabilities

As per student needs, the DU coordinator plans a programme of services for students with disabilities. Many students require academic adjustments, or modifications in instructional methods: for example, Brailled textbooks and class handouts, extended time for examinations, or substitution of an essay for an oral presentation. In combination, programme modifications, auxiliary services, and academic adjustments are often referred to as "reasonable accommodations" in University and common parlance. The DU coordinator liaises with course-coordinators, ensuring that they are aware of the particular needs of a student.

Conducting research

Mrs. Mbuvha is collecting data from the visually impaired student

The unit also conducts surveys on a range of issues relating to the students with disabilities experiences of teaching and learning, learning resources, assessment,student services etc. The surveys aimed at “Best Practices” of the disability unit.

People doing Aerobics during Univen Sport Day in support of Casual Day

The unit also engages in fund raising projects e.g. National Casual Day. The project aimed at advocating disability and breaking the barriers between disable people and non-disable people. The money raised in his project will be used for the building of a sheltered corridor from residences to the lecture halls.