The Disability Unit (DU) at Stellenbosch University (SU), which provides services to students with disabilities, is currently running its Lead with Disability programme that focuses on disability awareness and sensitisation for students. This programme is run in six sessions over lunch time. Mrs Lizelle Apollis, the Inclusivity and Access Support Officer for the DU, says that the programme teaches students to identify practices and attitudes which lead to inclusion and exclusion. The programme is accessible to all students registered at the university and is being presented in a hybrid-mode with all sessions being hosted online and face-to-face.
The programme was started because the DU noticed a gap in the knowledge and training offered to students at the university, and it therefore gives students an opportunity to discuss matters related to disabilities and engage with students with disabilities. It is meant to bridge the gap and foster an environment where students can grow and learn from each other, as many students often find it hard to talk to or make friends with students with disabilities. Thus, it helps students by giving them the tools and understanding to achieve accessibility not only now at university but also in their future careers.
“It is of utmost importance to support and promote the idea of an inclusive society in the Stellenbosch University community and society in general,” says Apollis.
Many spaces across campus were not designed with students with disabilities in mind so many of these students have faced obstacles in regards to inaccessibility in facilities, transportation and communication. One of the main ways that this programme hopes to benefit students with disabilities is by lessening the stigma and discrimination faced by them, after students have learned more about and engaged with students with disabilities. The program is accomplishing these goals of promoting inclusivity by allowing students to critically engage in these sessions. During these sessions, students complete different tasks and reflect on their growth as well as test their knowledge.
The programme is based on the Social Model of Disability, which focuses on things that hinder people with disabilities, such as inaccessible transport and buildings, exclusion in a work or academic setting, personal prejudices, institutional biases and other such obstacles. This model does not solely centre on the person with the disability, as Mrs Apollis states, “This model and framework of thinking, rather, focuses on the ways in which societal barriers inadvertently exclude full participation and advancement of people who cannot perform the usual social roles because of the barriers.”
Accessibility for all students on campus is of the utmost importance. Mrs Apollis has stated that there are approximately 660 students at the university who have disclosed their disabilities, and the university should work towards becoming more inclusive and accessible in all spaces to give these students equal access to education. This programme aims to raise awareness about important topics that are often ignored, reduce barriers and expand universal access to all students and staff.
This programme not only looks at areas that affect people with disabilities, but also gives students the knowledge on general disability-related matters, that will make it easier for them to advocate for accessibility. Mrs Apollis hopes that in the future this programme will form part of compulsory training that all the university’s students should attend, which will help to create a better and more inclusive environment for all students.