OPINION: We the disabled, the invisible

THE ISSUE of disabilities has always been a sore point for the university and, barring a few extraordinary individuals, it has been treated with reluctance and a measure of reservation.
Everybody in management knows how to talk the talk to impress university stakeholders and guests. But the reality is much different.
When having a conversation with the head of the disability unit, Dr Anlia Pretorious, one learns quickly that she undoubtedly has the credentials and the profile of a person who understands and has worked alongside people living with disabilities. That is commendable, but one cannot help but ask whether she uses these qualities to serve the community of differently abled persons?
To date, apart from a few technological upgrades and renovations at the main disability unit offices, there is yet to be tangible changes for the differently abled.
Students are still left to the mercy of a system that is ignorant to their needs. Apart from a few intermittent awareness campaigns, that are known to be hamstrung by bureaucracy, not much has gone towards achieving solutions except for the odd individual case.
It is safe to state that Dr Pretorious is not being given the space to operate to the best of her ability.
The disability unit needs a strong, reliable person as a head who will understand the nature and the social position of the student that comes to its doors needing assistance.
These are mostly previously disadvantaged youths aspiring to obtain a worthy qualification so that they can lead better lives.
Does anybody hear us, or see us, or is willing to ‘walk’ with us?

Sport for all

Disabled athletes and students at Wits face an uphill battle if they want to compete in sport.

Soccer player Katleho Sera, 2nd year BA, and blind rower Sisanda Msekele, 3rd year BA, are two Wits students who train at UJ because Wits does not have a disabled sports programme or training staff.

Sera, who has cerebral palsy, said support from Wits was a big problem. “I play soccer at UJ and on the day of my national trials I had to walk to UJ because I had no transport.

“Quinton van Rooyen, whose one portfolio was disabled sports, used to help us but when rugby season started he got busy and when he left no one from Sports Administration informed me or the Disabled Awareness Movement (DAM).”

The DAM said Wits does not have trainers and proper equipment for students with disabilities to train or practise with.

UJ sports manager for students with disabilities, Henriette Vermaak, said Wits and UJ needed to pool resources.

She said Msekele was given a rowing machine by UJ to help with her training because Wits did not have rowing machines.

Vermaak also said that the development of other disabled sports such as blind tennis and swimming had been delayed because of a lack of facilities.

“UJ does not have a quiet venue to hold blind tennis tournaments but Wits does, but when approached, Wits said the venues were not available at the times we needed them.”

Wits Sports Administration said Wits offered a number of disabled sports and had a disabled sports club but students were not interested.

Jimmy Ramokgopa, 3rd year Civil Engineering and secretary of the DAM said: “How will Wits or Sports Administration get students with disabilities interested in sports if they don’t introduce a programme.”

Ramokgopa said DAM had no knowledge of there being a disabled sports club at Wits.

He reiterated the call for collaboration between Wits and UJ to further develop disabled sport in Gauteng.

“UJ has the athletes, we have the facilities, so we need to work together,” Ramokgopa said.

UJ has 34 disabled athletes, 11 of whom went to the 2012 Paralympics.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela, 25th Edition, 21 September 2012