The University of Venda’s Disabled Student Unit (DSU) organised the 2021 Disability Indaba under the theme ‘Access is a key to Academic Success’. The Indaba took place on Microsoft Teams on Thursday, 09 September 2021. This was for the second time the University celebrating Disability Indaba under difficult conditions due to COVID-19. 

The Head of DSU, Dr Tshifhiwa Mbuvha when talking about the purpose of the Indaba, gave a comprehensive explanation of the Unit and services offered. Dr Mbuvha indicated that the purpose of the gathering was informed by policy framework and legislations of the Republic of South Africa. Section 29(1) of the Constitution provides that “Everyone has the right (a) to a basic education, including adult basic education, and (b) to further education, which the state through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.” These include the Employment Equity Act that emphasise Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (2000). Also, the National Plan for Higher Education (2000) obliges universities to increase access for learners with special needs. She said the University of Venda is following the acts of the Republic by making programmes accessible to students with disabilities. 

Under the theme “Access is a key to academic success”, the following sub-topics were tackled: Access to teaching and learning; Environmental access and financial access. 

Disability Indaba aimed at raising awareness on disabilities and deepens the understanding on issues such as access and academic success in South African Higher Education. It also aimed to bring together a range of scholars from various disciplines and students with and without disabilities. 

“We cannot talk about access and success and not mention provision of reasonable accommodation to address disability in the Institution of Higher Learning”, says Dr 

Mbuvha. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment made in a system to accommodate or make fair the same system for an individual based on a proven need. She added “as the Disability Unit, we provide reasonable accommodation by giving extra time to students who cannot complete test and exams at the same pace as other students due to their disabilities. Online courses, alternate testing environment, learning materials in alternative formats, scribe for exams, sign language interpreters and provision of assistive devises are reasonable accommodation that we provide to our students with disabilities. All these provisions are determined on a case-to-case basis since these cannot be one shoe fits all strategies”. 

“The Integrated National Disability Strategy White Paper of 1997, correctly opined that the yardstick by which to measure a ‘’society’s respect for human rights, to evaluate the level of its maturity and its generosity of spirit, is by looking at the status that it accords to those members of society who are most vulnerable, disabled people, the senior citizens and its children”, these were the words by the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Venda, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni when welcoming the attendees of the 2021 Disability Indaba. 

He further said, “It is further stated in the White Paper that the concept of a caring society is strengthened and deepened when we recognise that disabled people enjoy the same rights as we do and that we have a responsibility towards the promotion of their quality of life”. 

Dr Nthambeleni indicated that in the education sector, the term access typically refers to the ways in which educational institutions and policies ensure that students have equal and equitable opportunities to take full advantage of their education. 

He demonstrated that at the University of Venda, we strive to widen access to all students regardless of their material condition or disability status. All students who meet the admission requirements criteria are accepted in their preferred programme without discrimination based on their disability’s status. 

The position of UNIVEN as part of widening access to students with disabilities, has established the Disabled Student Unit to offer targeted academic support to students with various disabilities. The Vice-Chancellor and Principal mentioned that our 

Disabled Student Unit is staffed with experts with diverse qualification backgrounds. Their sole mandate is to provide academic support and research assistive devices that are fit to the student’s individual educational needs. “It is our view and belief that “one size fits all” strategies cannot work for students with disabilities”. 

With regards to the progress in terms of the Assistive devices, Dr Nthambeleni informed the audience that the first batch of assistive devices were handed over to 33 NSFAS students living with disabilities on 18 March 2021 and the second batch were handed over to 64 NSFAS students living with disabilities on 08 September 2021. 

He further mentioned that the University also caters for students with challenges in transportation by purchasing an adapted bus that is user-friendly for wheelchair users. 

In his conclusion, he highlighted that physical environment sends powerful non-verbal messages regarding the campus climate. Furthermore, the way a University responds to accessibility issues can communicate a message of tolerance rather than embracing differences and diversity. 

The Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment – University of Johannesburg (UJ), Prof Daniel Mashao graced the 2021 Disability Indaba by giving a presentation which was an eye opener and made the audience to think out of the box as he shared ideas regarding the 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and disability. He spoke under the topic ‘4IR and access to education and opportunities for students with disabilities. 

Prof Mashao started his presentation by explaining what the 4IR is. He said it is the fusion of technologies for generating new cyber technologies, business models and values. He indicated that these technologies are not necessarily new, they have been there before, and they have probably gone through their cycle. 

Prof Mashao displayed how 4IR is impacting us in our daily life and the speed of change. 

Citing from K. Schwab, 2013, Prof Mashao said ‘we stand on the brink of technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything 

humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear, the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academic and civil society’. 

In his talk, he referred disability as any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. Prof Mashao highlighted some of the disabilities which are vision, movements, thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, mental health and social relationships. 

Prof Mashao indicated that the previous revolutions had enabled us to create tools that are outside ourselves, but with 4IR we can become part of the tool. 

He said solutions to access education and opportunities are: Artificial intelligence, Data science, Block chains and Virtual reliability or Augmented reality. 

Prof Mashao said the best tool to deal with disability is the smartphone or laptops. 

As he wrapped up his talk, he said the 4IR offers exciting opportunities to change, and enhance ourselves. “We need research and involvement to solve long term challenges”, concluded Prof Daniel Mashao. 

Representing students living with disability the Chairperson of DSC, Mr Hanyani Maswanganyi alluded to the fact of access to funding and challenges for students living with disability which is a thorn issue. He encouraged UNIVEN management to always give this a priority. 

When proposing a vote of thanks, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Teaching and Learning, Prof Jan Crafford commended the DSU led by Dr Mbuvha for hosting such a successful 2021 Disability Indaba. 

The attendees were welcomed by the Disability Unit Library Liaison Officer, Mr Azwitamisi Gadisi. 

The programme was facilitated by the Director Marketing, Branding and Communication, Dr Takalani Dzaga. 

Issued by: 

Department of Marketing, Branding and Communication 

University of Venda 

Tel: (015) 962 8525 /8710 

Date: 13 September 2021 

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