Universities to improve access for students with disabilities

SOUTH AFRICA: The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has invested a landmark R175.6 million in infrastructure to ensure students and staff with disabilities have improved access to university facilities including teaching and learning aids for students with disabilities .

Wheelchair user pushing himselfThe multi-million rand project follows a strategic decision three years ago to support all universities with funding to improve or expand facilities and infrastructure for students and staff with disabilities. The emphasis was to ensure uninhibited and open access to all facilities for students and staff with disabilities that’s not only limited to low lying facilities on the ground or first floors.

While the long-term aim is to provide universal access, a differentiated approach which includes creating barrier-free built environments, both inside buildings and externally in the open space system has been implemented.

This has also led to each university undertaking or planning to undertake a comprehensive and up-to-date disability audit which would inform campus master planning strategies.

Some of the upgrades at the country’s 22 universities have included improvements to areas such as lifts and walkways, general accessibility, assistive learning hardware, magnification of printed text, enhancement software, low vision aids, Braille embossers, computers, software, hardware and accessories.

The University of South Africa (UNISA) received the largest investment allocation estimated at R39 million. This was used towards restoring computer laboratories for students with disabilities and upgrading the institution’s Disability Study and Diagnosis Unit.

Currently, the department is finalising its radical disability policy. This policy, following wide consultation, will help guide the post-school education and training sector on how best to harness the skills of students with disabilities.

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