ELECTIONS: Being ‘special’ is not a privilege



SPECIAL ENOUGH: Jermaine and his guide dog Ygor are 'able' to participate in these elections.

SPECIAL ENOUGH: Jermaine George and his guide dog Ygor are ‘able’ to participate in the elections.






















A ‘special’ vote is not a privilege to a disgruntled blind student.

Jermaine George, BMus student, said he chose not to use the special vote provision for disabled people because he prefers to fit in with society instead of being kept apart.

George said his main grievance with the special vote provision is that “your vote is not completely confidential, you have to share it with whoever is helping you.”

George said that while the ANC succeeded in giving disabled people some form of independence, he added they also alienated and separated disabled people from society because there was not enough education to deal with disabled people.

“It’s easier to ignore disabled people than to interact with them,” he said. “They want to get us out of the way so that they can get to the rest of the people.”

George said that he understands the special provision when given to the elderly because of their lack of mobility.  However the blind, the deaf and those in wheelchairs are not slowed in mobility or intellect.

Dr Anlia Pretorius, head of the Disability Unit at Wits University, said: “our students are very independent and geared up and can do this on their own”.

She said some political parties have reached out to the disabled, with the Democratic Alliance publishing their election manifesto in braille and sending it for distribution to the disability unit.

While George is not sure about who he is voting for and his decision will be based on infrastructure, education and the economy.

“With those three things, the rest will sort itself out,” George said.

George can often be seen on campus with his guide dog Ygor. He is regularly found producing music or song-writing at the disability unit’s computer centre.

“I just wanna compete on par with everyone,” he said.





Disabled students roll with the punches


MAKING IT THROUGH: Second year BCom PPE, Brian Sibanda, a paraplegic, makes his way to class. Photo: Luke Matthews

MAKING IT THROUGH: Second-year BCom PPE, Brian Sibanda, a paraplegic, makes his way to class.
Photo: Luke Matthews

Disabled students at Wits still struggle on campus despite plans to make their lives easier.

Several departments at Wits are working to improve the experiences and learning conditions of disabled students but a more widespread approach is needed across the university.

Duncan Yates, psychologist and learning disabilities coordinator at the Wits Disability Unit (WDU) said that there needs to be more changes made to accommodate all disabled students. He added that there have been some improvements.

“In the library we have what is called IPals … these are cameras that take pictures of texts [from books] and recites the text for visually impaired students, so we’ve had to look at alternative formats for disabled students,” he said.

Yates said an organisation called the Disability Interest Group gets together to discuss the struggles of disabled people and look for solutions.

One of the initiatives which will be implemented is Access Maps. Yates explained that these are online maps where disabled students can find different, accessible routes to entrances, parking, and classes on the different campuses.

Responsibility lies with the whole university

“Another challenge at Wits is that the buildings are old and when they were built they didn’t make provisions for disabled students, so it’s hard to make the necessary adjustments,” he said.

Anlia Pretorius, head of the Wits Disability Unit, said: “The DU cannot be everywhere all the time, so the responsibility lies with the whole university.”

[pullquote align=”right”]”The challenge is that when you’re in a wheelchair you always have to take the long way”[/pullquote]

Pretorius said she knew of a blind student who once bumped into a pillar which had been placed in the middle of walk-way.

“She obviously didn’t know that it was put there so she walked into it and broke her tooth … We need to work together to create solutions and create more awareness about the different disabilities,” said Pretorius.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to a student, who asked not to be named, who has a learning disability. Learning disabilities are often called the ‘silent disability’ as they cannot be physically seen by others.

“I didn’t understand why I was slow and why I struggled to keep up in class. After my June results I went to look for help, because I was scared I would fail. I received therapy and I was taught different learning styles like learning with shapes and colours like in pre-school,” the student said.

“The DU helped me be patient with myself and not be ashamed of my condition because people don’t understand it and judge you.”

Pretorius said there has been a good response from lecturers and students who want to learn to work with disabled students.

“It’s important for the Wits community to understand because these students don’t want to be labelled,” she said.

Accessibility and Advocacy office at Wits

Brian Sibanda, 2nd year BCom PPE, told Wits Vuvuzela that being in a wheelchair was a “challenge” at Wits.

“The challenge is that when you’re in a wheelchair you always have to take the long way. Another one is that when you’re new you don’t know your way around and most structures don’t accommodate the disabled.”

Yates said disabilities are sidelined and there needs to be universal designing of structures and facilities to accommodate everyone.

The university is in the process of staffing an accessibility and advocacy office. The office will look at what is needed to benefit the disabled throughout the university.



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?