PROGRESS REPORT 1994-1995
The Disability Unit at the University of Cape Town aims to mainstream
rather than follow the welfare model and to dismantle the many barriers
that inhibit students and staff who have disabilities or chronic illnesses,
from participating equally and fully in all aspects of the University.
Our work in the DU is complex and wide ranging. And, as many of the basic
facts have been explored in previous Reports, this Progress Report will
place a special emphasis on the way our philosophy influences our direction,
and the way in which it links us to other types of socio-political developments.
It also identifies the way our methods of working diverge from some of the
historical presumptions that have developed and which dominate work with
disabled people. We will report on specific areas that we have worked in,
primarily where they illuminate the role we play.
PRINCIPLES AND PHILOSOPHY OF ACCESS
The general principle of making institutions accessible to, and conducive
for all people to participate equally and fully in terms of gender and
race is now part of the fabric of our society. However, there has not yet
been a firm commitment in South Africa to creating equality in our society
for people with disabilities. Moreover, the process of how a society addresses
the backlog of numerous barriers that prevent such participation is still
in its infancy.
The rate at which the process of dismantling discrimination can occur, depends
on the intransigence and synergistic reactions of many components. They
range from historical circumstances and historically patronizing social
attitudes, through to existing structures. Very often, barriers are so subtlety
hidden from society and to the institution itself, that only when they are
challenged by a persons desire to confront them do they receive attention.
As in other parallel discriminatory acts, it is not enough for the institution
simply to state the desire to be non-discriminatory and inclusive; neither
does it create long-term and meaningful change simply to use quota systems
as attempts to fulfill the objectives of equal rights and participation.
As in other fields of anti-discrimanatory activity, the achievement of equal
participation necessitates meaningful changes to internal structures, and
not simply a provision of separate services supposedly designed to make
the life of a disabled person (the person discriminated against) more tolerable.
Most legislation informs of a RIGHT TO ACCESS and a right not to be discriminated
against. In the case of disability, if any legislation is to be at all
meaningful, this right has to include a process whereby the achievement
of non-discrimination can be both understood as well as obtainable far beyond
access for the individual.
The DU believes that if meaningful participation is to be achieved, then
development and structural change of the institution as a whole must occur.
Because of its complex and integrative nature, this process requires the
support of the Executive if it is to succeed. It must not be marginalised.
Acting as the interface between students and staff with disabilities, and
the University, the DU facilitates changes in attitude, the built environment,
communication skills, translating material, and most importantly, the creation
of knowledge and skills for staff and student needs that are required within
the University mainstream. While this sometimes may not be achievable without
the provision of specific services, it is most certainly our stated intention
and goal to achieve the necessary institutional change. If we were only
to provide special services, we would persist in perpetuating the situation
where people with disabilities continue to be treated as welfare recipients.
Aiming to create equal opportunity, our method is to decentralize so that
the existing structures cater equally for people with disabilities and chronic
illnesses within the mainstream. This is, of course, not possible in all
situations; particularly at the start of any new area of work.
As we believe that the existence of someones particular disability or chronic
illness does not, in itself, mean that they will, or necessarily, experience
discrimination, neither do we expect people to disclose their condition.
Accordingly, we have no screening process whereby we collect such data (a
lesson the world has had to learn from those who are HIV positive, or who
have AIDS). Thus, in our attempt to take the focus OFF the individual with
a disability, (who in the past has always been seen as the problem), we
insist on adherence to a policy that no staff or student HAS TO belong
to the DU. We work instead on referral or on individual choice. My experience
has been that any request of people with disabilities to categorize themselves
as disabled leads to discomfort, hiding and, consequently, to inaccurate
information. Any records we keep concerning students or staff are purely
for contact and communication purposes.
While in the short term we might overlook some people on their entrance
into the University, within the broad framework of ENABLING PEOPLE TO PARTICIPATE
EQUALLY, we feel that our policy:
- serves to take the focus off the individual, and aims it at the institution,
where it belongs;
- means that our education at the student/staff interface (Faculties,
Departments and numerous mainstream services) has to be THE focus;
- allows each individual the right to privacy and to "get on with
their life" if they are well integrated.
OUR ROLE WITHIN THE UNIVERSITY
In practice the DU works with different sections of the University, feeding
into existing structures which ordinarily provide services for any part
of the University Community. These range from faculty registration and administration,
academic teaching and supervision, communication, venue allocation, buildings
and structural services, technological services, financial aid, student
housing, health and counselling services, extra time in examinations, parking,
and any other facet that presents as a long- or short-term barrier to full
and equal participation of people with disabilities.
Our role is to help University structures to understand how to provide those
same services that they ordinarily provide, rather than to provide equal
and/or parallel services, separate from the mainstream for those University
staff and students with disabilities. The DU might, in some cases, temporarily,
provide part, or all, of a service until we understand enough of how this
is achieved. Our policy then, is to pass on this knowledge or responsibility
to the specific part of the University, or in some cases directly to the
disabled person. In other situations we may continue to provide one aspect
of a service, for example, Special Parking or Extra-time in examinations.
Here, we interview the disabled person and assess the professional documentation
concerning their disability. We then make recommendations to the appropriate
section of the University.
In the case of specialised services, we will not, for instance, consider
setting up a computer laboratory that is specialized for students who are
partially sighted or blind, or who have another disability. Rather we aim
at all times, to integrate such students with a disability into regular
computer laboratories, taught by those tutors who would ordinarily teach
in the mainstream. We do, however, see an occasional need for our staff
to undertake specialized tutoring, but such tutoring would be focused on
the mainstream tutors per se, rather than on individual disabled student/s.
Likewise we will not allow ourselves to be forced to set up special wings
in Residences for wheelchair users for this is simply perpetuating the commonly
held misconception that people with disabilities need to be catered for
separately. Thus, our aim is to create as much accessible accommodation
in as many Residences as possible.
Such beliefs and practices can have adverse funding implications, particularly
as some Donors want to present money for a specific and highly visible
project. This is very unfortunate for, in effect, it coerces Units like
ours to advocate "separate facilities" instead of going the long
road of making the mainstream facilities accessible. In this regard, it
is important that Donors and Universities alike see the dangerous parallels
between providing separate facilities for people with disabilities, within
an institution, and our dreadful recent history of Apartheid.
Institutional change is, by nature, extremely complex and therefore is a
slow process. As such, progress is not easily measurable by the individuals
experience at a particular time, rather it has to be measured collectively,
We are often asked to define disability, or are asked what numbers of
disabled people we work with. I strongly refute such questions as they
imply a reality of the many fixed definitions of disability as well as
perpetuating the notion that there are fixed percentages of people with
disabilities present in the population. Rather, I agree with Irving K Zolas
statement (1993, 18), that the reality of disability revolves around the
fact that the question "... is not whether but when, not so much which
one but how many and in what combination", disability occurs, and that:
"Disability is thus not a fixed status but a continuously changing
and evolving set of characteristics" (1993, 24).
Zola goes on to say:
"Any use of a specific and fixed figure for any planning,
whether it be in the allocation of resources, benefits, funding, or affirmative
action, is almost certainly inaccurate as well as underestimated."
The oft quoted findings that some 12.5% of the population have a disability
is as dangerous as it is erroneous, and to base some argument about the
experience of disability on such figures is utterly spurious. One is only
able to obtain answers to those questions that one actually asks. Thus,
if one asks flawed, simplistic questions, one will inevitably receive flawed,
simplistic answers. (As is often said in computer jargon, garbage in, garbage
Zolas statements about disability statistics and definitions, then, might
in part provide an understanding as to why I will not participate in the
numbers game in order to justify our services. Our belief is that while
inequality exists for some of our students and staff, who happen to have
a disability, or who live with a chronic illness within the University and
the community, the work of the DU needs to continue apace.
We deal with numerous students and staff with longterm and/or temporary
disabilities, including wheelchair users, people with walking disabilities,
people with pain and fatigue disabilities, people with sensory disabilities
or epilepsy, people with chronic illnesses (eg. cancer, AIDS, ME, Mycenia
Gravis, etc) and this year we have started to work with students who are
In working with individual people with disabilities, our role is to listen
carefully to their experience of different barriers, and then to initiate
ways of changing the effects of these barriers in our University community.
This, in part, involves serving on various committees and communicating
with a wide variety of individuals and sections of the University about
what we do. Understanding the structures of the institution enables us to
act decisively and continuously in order to counteract disadvantage when
and where it occurs. I firmly believe that every conversation which I, or
my staff, have with another member of our University community, has to play
this educative role, at least in part.
There are enormous variations between University departments. For instance,
because of a combination of social attitudes and specific academic or professional
requirements, one department might be perfectly comfortable with the presence
of a person with a particular disability, while another, because of these
same elements, might find it very difficult to see its way to making accommodation
for a particular student.
Our role in the DU has not necessarily been to insist outright that all
Departments simply take disabled students, but rather, it has been to undertake
appropriate research (which might be global in scope) in order to try and
find examples and experiences of people with similar disabilities in similar
professional fields. Having done this, we try to initiate international
communication, and examine the way in which other Universities or Colleges
have overcome the specific barriers that our department has identified.
In such cases, we either link our department directly with the appropriate
international community, or we liaise between the two. In this way we make
use of experienced people in different cities or countries as a resource
for our own University, whilst simultaneously enlarging the DUs own data
This process can take many years, depending on how complicated the barriers
are, but at all times our role is to work through this process with the
individual student/staff (and possibly their family) as well as with the
UCT department and faculty. In this way, we involve as many people as possible
in the process of learning, including the Equal Opportunities Officer at
UCT. Once a second student, with the same disability, applies to the same
department, the learning curve is much lower and the time-consuming, intense
and complicated process of research and translation of experience and knowledge
can more easily be put into effect.
While people with certain types of disability might not realistically be
able to enter certain disciplines, historically limits have frequently been
too rigidly defined. We believe there is a real need to support and research
the possibilities of disabled students choosing disciplines which previously
had been barred them.
A few examples include deaf students in Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy,
a blind student applying for Clinical Masters in Psychology (involving Neuropsychology),
and a quadriplegic wheelchair-user doing Drama. Another area under investigation
has been the feasibility of head-injured and spinal-injured students returning
before their "normal" expected rehabilitation has been completed.
It is always the first generation of students with particular disabilities
in specific departments that need to undergo the most rigorous investigation,
and who have to meet certain criteria before they are accepted and can get
on with their studies in the mainstream. However, I have no doubt from my
twenty years of experience in Universities that every student who is a trailblazer
in one particular department, or field of study, creates a much easier path
for the next generation.
BARRIER FREE ACCESS
Our Barrier Free Design work has two components:
1. New buildings:
This generally involves work with outside architects, and is a chance to
educate architects more broadly, over and above the design of a particular
UCT building. Our intention is that they will ultimately take both the general
awareness and the knowledge gained into their work outside the University.
However, although it is nearly ten years since the Barrier Free Design legislation
was first passed, it is my experience, that because it is such a complex
and detailed field, and one that is out of the ordinary experience of most
architects, without a consultant many architects still do not interpret
the specified details correctly, wasting both time and money and causing
frustration and hardship.
2. Existing buildings:
Together with the Planning Unit we are involved in investigating all existing
University buildings and their environs in order to make them accessible
to people with different disabilities. This is a complex, time-consuming
and very intensive task, and each building and its environ has to be investigated
in its own right. It is undertaken on three fronts:
- whenever renovations are undertaken in a building and environ;
- in response to a student or staff member requiring access to particular
- high profile/used, public areas.
We continue to undertake the assessments and recommendations for all staff
and students with temporary and permanent disabilities.
In 1994 I was involved in a committee of the University that undertook to
develop a Policy for Extra Time in Examinations and Practicals. One of the
aims of this Policy was to enable the University to provide facilities for
students with a very wide range of disabilities. The policy has now been
operating successfully for the whole of 1995.
Our involvement encompasses those students whose disabilities necessitate
either alternate methods of undertaking examinations and/or extra time.
This process can involve us in extensive assessments of individual students,
in conjunction with departmental requirements for the examination. We closely
liaise with the Student Health Service in order that they, or we, can make
recommendations to the University Administration as to the appropriate means
We continue to be involved with student applications for bursaries from
the Department of Labour. We also advise both the Department and the University
on specialized academic expenses which students with disabilities incur.
We have developed a good working relationship with the Residence Administration
and Maintenance Department, working towards accessible housing for disabled
students. Our residences are old and far from main campus, and this can
be a difficult issue.
We continue to research ways in which we can provide access transport to
physically disabled students.
We find that we are sharing basic primary-health and stress-reduction information
with more and more temporary and permanently disabled students. We coordinate
our activities with those of the Student Health Service.
The counselling that I am involved with is often very focussed. Because
of my position as Vice-Chancellors Nominee on Sexual Harassment, I find
that I am also involved in counselling additional problems relating to sexual
harassment and physical abuse.
One of my fundamental beliefs in counselling at the level at which people
like myself serve, is that an enormous amount is done within the context
of trying to empower the individual to continue functioning with more strength
in the community. In this context, I find that I am also very often involved
in counselling the support groups of affected individuals, be they families
or networks of close friends or colleagues. I feel that this aspect is important
as it, again, not only takes the emphasis and pressure off the individual,
but serves to share skills with a wider group of people who very often would
not have identified themselves as being in a counselling role.
I continue to work in HIV/AIDS education. We are gradually building up the
AIDS Education Work Groups Resource Center which is coordinated by the
Having become more active in the field of Sexual Harassment on UCT campus,
in 1994 I attended a course on counselling. In 1995 I was appointed one
of the Vice Chancellors two nominees on Sexual Harassment. In this capacity
I have been involved in the Informal Executive of the Sexual Harassment
Prevention and Support Service (SHARPSS). SHARPSS is involved with a broad
range of activities, such as counselling, education and advocacy. I have
also been involved in the development of University Policy on Sexual Assault
and Rape, and have recently completed an Introductory Course on Mediation.
- At present the DU is not in the position to be able to fund interpreters
for deaf students. However, during the last two years we have been able
to accept, into various departments, deaf and partially deaf students who
- In reference to earlier discussion, (page 7), deaf students have necessitated
particularly intensive research in regard to their choice of professional
Blind Student Reading Programme (BSRP)
- We continue to run a service which translates the printed word (for academic
purposes) primarily onto audio cassettes, but also sometimes into Braille.
- We continue to keep up to date with the most recent blind-access technology,
and explore ways of introducing it into the mainstream of the University.
This is a vast, swiftly moving field, that requires great commitment in
order to keep abreast of it, so as to be able to keep the University informed.
In the 1990s we are witnessing high levels of social violence, abuse of
alcohol and motor vehicle accidents. This, together with medical technologys
ability to keep people who would otherwise have died alive, has meant that
we are seeing students who have had head injuries (HI) wishing to return
to tertiary education. As many traumatic brain injuries affect the very
aspects of a person that tertiary education is reliant on, the issues of
when, or if, a student is able to return to University are extremely complex.
This year the DU has been involved in a great deal of research, communication
and dissemination of information about head-injured students. We have worked
closely with individuals, families and friends as well as faculties, departments
and the service structures affected by a number of returning HI students.
In some instances, we have had to set up trial models of support and investigation,
in order to assess the complex relationship between a HI student and the
Due to overload of work this year I brought in disabled colleagues from
the community to undertake some of my teaching. This has proved to be an
important means of giving a new generation the chance to broaden their expertise.
We run an extensive library on issues of disability and chronic illness.
This resource is used by a variety of staff and students in both our own
and other universities, as well as people from the community. Running this
resource involves an enormous amount of work. While we are able to keep
up with some of the demands in less busy times, we have to impose many unfortunate
limits on potential developments and networking.
As well as the academic work which I formally supervise, we advise many
students undertaking work on disability and AIDS-related issues. It has
been particularly interesting to be involved with students undertaking new
areas of research. For example, the integration of disabled people in the
I would like to take this opportunity formally to thank my staff, without
whom I could not undertake such work. The positive and productive interplay
of personalities that has built up in the team in the last three months,
and the enormous individual and communal committment each staff member has,
has been an absolute delight and pleasure to work with. My warm thanks to
everybody as individuals and for making an effort to work so hard and take
so much responsibility as a team in the DU.
DR KATHRYN JAGOE
DIRECTOR: DISABILITY UNIT
VICE CHANCELLORS NOMINEE ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT
"At all times our aim is to enable staff and students with
disabilities and chronic illnesses to participate equally in the mainstream
of the University, and not to provide special and separate facilities for
Kathryn Jagoe Ph D (hc)
Zola, I K (1993) Disability Statistics, What We Count and What It Tells
Us. A Personal and Political Analysis. Journal of Disability Policy Studies,
Vol. 4 (2), 12-39: Department of Sociology, Brandeis University, U.S.A.