28 October 2022 Volume :10 Issue :49

UKZN Hosts Research Indaba on Disability

UKZN Hosts Research Indaba on Disability
Scenes from the Disability Indaba.

UKZN’s Disability Support Unit (DSU) hosted a virtual research Indaba on disability under the theme: The New Normal: Embracing a Post-Pandemic Inclusive Higher Education Landscape.

Facilitator of the event, UKZN’s Mr Mandla Dlamini, commented on a popular slogan of student leaders that states ‘nothing about us, without us’ and how that was true for the disabled community with the emphasis on disability being a priority for everyone.

Welcoming participants the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, Professor Sandile Songca, said the Indaba was a liberating initiative that would contribute to the transformation agenda in Higher Education. Songca saw UKZN as the university of choice for students and staff with disabilities nationally and noted the Integrated National Disability Strategy of South Africa as a policy created to assist people with disabilities to achieve.

Said Songca: ‘Disability is one of the seven focus areas identified by the South African Human Rights Commission within its mandate to promote, protect and monitor the realisation of human rights in South Africa.

‘People with a disability continue to lack access to adequate health services and good education and are at risk of economic isolation with poor prospects of securing employment.’

In a panel discussion titled, Towards Cultivating an Inclusive Higher Education Environment for South African Sign Language (SASL) users, the Disability Coordinator for the Howard College campus, Mr Nevil Balakrishna, spoke about the significance of SASL being included as the 12th official language. Noting the struggles that have taken place for this to be achieved, he questioned to what extent Deaf learners were being prepared to use SASL and transition from Basic to Higher Education; how Higher Education could create a conducive environment to ensure that SASL was respected and embedded in the space; and how institutions could ensure that the teaching and learning experience for SASL users was inclusive.

In response Dr Kate Huddlestone of Stellenbosch University highlighted the need to be aware of the varying individual needs of Deaf learners; the inability to address SASL as a home language during early childhood development; and a lack of written material for the Deaf. Huddlestone called for a linguistic and cultural community to be created for Deaf students in universities for inclusivity to be achieved and for Deaf lecturers to be employed in order for them to be role models for the students.

Mrs Modiegi Njeyiyana also of Stellenbosch University remarked on the struggles of preparing Deaf students with SASL in Basic Education and how this made it harder for them to transition to Higher Education. Njeyiyana commented on the limited career guidance available for Deaf students and a need for them to have linguistic concessions in examinations.

Mrs Martie Miranda of the Higher and Further Education Disability Services Association (HEDSA) questioned whether South Africa was ready to make sign language the 12th official language, noting the many gaps that still exist in both Basic and Higher Education for Deaf students and how the needs of the Deaf can only wholly be fully understood by them. She also asked if Higher Education Institutions were creating spaces that SASL interpreters want to work in.

A language practitioner from the Eastern Cape Legislature Ms Asanda Katshwa examined how COVID-19 exacerbated the challenges of Deaf learners, especially in rural areas. Katshwa urged society to address the injustices of apartheid that impacted the Deaf community which include socioeconomic issues, and access to information. She highlighted the lack of access to vernacular languages for the Deaf and called for parents to play their part in the education of their children.

The keynote address which was delivered by Extraordinary Professor in Education at the University of the Western Cape, Professor Sigamoney Naicker, examined the politics of inclusive education, interrogating why transformation is so slow around the world, and in particular in South Africa as the most unequal country. He explored neoliberalism as one of the hindering factors, as a concept rooted in monetary value.

Naicker discussed the role of universities in capacity building considering factors such as society and culture, the economy, and the conditions and lived realities of the majority.

Using practical examples of the socioeconomic climate in the country he said: ‘In the Western Cape around 40% of the people earn less than R40 000 a year and the implications this has on education, numeracy, literacy, the throughput rate and matric results are that there’s hardly a print culture at home, a development of oral language for young children, and a socialisation into an intellectual culture.’ Theorising why more working-class children fail he said there was a link between salary levels and the relationship that exists between poverty and disability.

Naicker highlighted how society needed to address social ills in order for a better future and how universities should reimagine themselves and the type of narrative they produce, urging the institutions to interact with disabled students about discovering their lived realities and how they have overcome challenges. He said the university needs to take on the lived realities of its community even through its knowledge generation.

In his vote of thanks, Dr Ashley Subbiah, Information Access Officer at the DSU, acknowledged all participants, the facilitator, the organising committee, panellists, the keynote speaker, SASL interpreters from UKZN and Stellenbosch University and management.

He highlighted how the 2020 Disability Indaba which spoke about ‘leaving no student behind’ focused on how ill-prepared Higher Education Institutions were in incorporating the needs of disabled students during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘However, in the last two years we have learnt about how the DSU can adapt and transform to ensure maximum engagement and participation of students with disabilities in the Higher Education environment. As we transition to a post-pandemic era, we don’t want to lose the knowledge gained which is what motivated us to create this year’s theme.’

Other topics discussed during the Indaba included: Accessibility, Reasonable Accommodation and Social Inclusion for Autistic Students Pre-, during and Post-COVID-19 Pandemic; Experiences of Online Counselling Among Students with Disabilities at the University of Johannesburg During COVID-19 Lockdown in South Africa; Inclusive Teaching and Learning for Social Work Students Living with Disabilities Post COVID-19 Pandemic and many more.

To watch the Indaba, click here.

Words: Hlengiwe Khwela

Images: Supplied

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