Formal support and awareness initiatives at Wits seek to improve the student experience for those with disabilities.

Accessibility for people living with disabilities is improving at Wits University thanks to channels such as the Disability Awareness Movement (DAM) and structural upgrades.

DAM, a student society started in 2018, encourages members of the Wits community to participate in discussions about mental illness, physical limitations and learning difficulties.  

Chairperson of DAM, Rafeea Asvat, said that the movement aims to grow its membership and to educate people about the challenges that students with disabilities face.

Asvat, 20, who suffers from a motor neuron disability called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, told Wits Vuvuzela that the workload at Wits can be overwhelming and that communication with lecturers for support is key to navigating challenges such as accessing learning materials in suitable formats.

The third-year BA student said that she hopes for more representation of disabled students, “seeing more of them taking up leadership roles” in the university for greater levels of engagement.

She appealed to able-bodied students to approach students with disabilities with respect and kindness to establish what assistance they are comfortable with.

Dr Anlia Pretorius, the head of the Disability Rights Unit (DRU) said that in order to assist new students with spatial navigation, mobility training is conducted with new students with disabilities so that they can access specific venues on campus. The unit is dedicated to ensuring that students with disabilities have equal access to educational opportunities.

DRU academic and facilities access coordinator Subhashini Ellan said that the unit is consulted by campus planning departments on structural improvements, such as the construction of a ramp and accessible bathrooms in the Wartenweiler Library.

Asvat said that she hopes that DAM can “change and break the stigmas regarding disabilities. We aim to influence and educate many generations to come”.

FEATURED IMAGE: An interactive artwork accessible to those with visual impairments is displayed in the Disability Rights Unit offices at Solomon Mahlangu House.
Photo: Leah Wilson