The Disability Human Rights Unit has recently moved to the first floor of the East Wing at Senate House. It was previously located on the ground floor.
By Liesl Frankson and Pheladi Sethusa
It’s easy for able-bodied students to forget that navigating the world without sight or the ability to walk can be very tough.
Students in wheelchairs and students who cannot see have to carefully map out their routes to classes, residences and the like.
If they are met by even one obstacle on that route on a certain day, they have to think on their feet.
Cuthbert Ramatlo of the Disability Unit on campus said blind students with guide dogs would be stranded in such an instance, as their dogs only know one specific route.
The Disability Interest Group meets two to three times a year to discuss issues which constantly comes up is access to campus for disabled students.
One of the major issues around this is often a lack of clear signage indicating suitable entrances, parking areas and toilets.
Wits Vuvuzela walked around to investigate access and wheelchair friendly routes on campus.
Some signs were vandalised while others were not clearly marked or visible.
Along with this a wheelchair lift at the School of Arts had been vandalised, forcing students who use this entrance to go through the after hour’s back door.
“Often we think of back door access for people with disabilities and that’s really wrong because it’s basically going back to discrimination when there were different doors for different races,” said Duncan Yates secretary of the Disability Interest Group.
Yusuf Talia, BSc final year, a student who uses a wheelchair said: “There are some limitations at older buildings, like elevators that make certain places inaccessible”.
Along with this he said weathered paving made for tricky navigation and this problem was intensified when going uphill.
To tackle access issues the unit has started developing interactive maps which will show easy access areas around campus for disabled students.
Yates said the map would be a living map that grows as the university changes.
The access map system aims to make online and printed maps available for disabled students, staff and visitors to make their experience at Wits more pleasant.
Students and staff will be able to flag areas on the maps online that are not easily accessible or where they may be experiencing problems.
In addition to the new mapping system the disability unit also provides training for staff and bus drivers. One of the achievements they are proud of is the dedicated Wits bus with access for disabled students.
The unit aims to respond to all student suggestions and complaints.
Talia confirmed this and said most buildings and areas are accommodating, if one lives at res the disability unit generally makes a plan for students to be comfortable.
Physical theatre – usually considered the preserve of fit, able-bodied actors – will give disabled actors the chance to show Witsies “how they view themselves and interpret other people’s view of them”, during March. Pictures by: Thule Zwane and Emelia Motsai