Disabled university students: Doomed without support
Hirohito Dikobo, the Disability Senior Manager at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) expressed this opinion at the recent hand-over of assistive devices to students with disabilities at the University of Venda.
Dikobo said the reason why disabled students receive higher food allowances than able-bodied students is that they often have to rely on sending able-bodied students to purchase food for them because they are unable to easily access the places where food is sold on campus. The University of Venda (Univen) currently has 197 registered students who are living with various disabilities.
Despite being admitted to tertiary institutions, many disabled students from rural communities often find it difficult to adapt as they have to first learn how to use assistive devices, which they never had during their high school years as they cannot afford them on their own.
Access to technological assistive devices is still a huge challenge for disabled students from poor rural families, often resulting in them dropping out if they fail to get funding or a bursary to cover these extra costs.
“For some of us, if it was not for the support we receive from NSFAS and the Disability Unit at the university, getting our hands on all these assistive devices was going to remain a dream. They are very expensive and we cannot afford them on our own. Without assistive devices studying becomes difficult so we need to receive them at the beginning of the first semester as we need more time to learn how to use them,” said Moses Masuku, a third year BSC Physics and Chemistry student at the University of Venda.
The head of disability unit at Univen, Dr Tshifhiwa Mbuvha, said if disabled students are not empowered to advocate for themselves, discrimination against them will never end. This is because they are still being overlooked when they apply for employment opportunities.
“As a university, we always strive to ensure equal access to information and treatment for students living with disabilities. We do not turn them away when they come to enrol. We also empower them to advocate for themselves and we need adaptive technology which makes it easier for them to access information and complete their studies with ease,” said Mbuvha.
About 74 University of Venda students with disabilities have received assistive devices, including laptops specifically designed to accommodate their special needs. – Health-e News.
An edited version of this story was published by Health24.