The Mountain University, Student Antics, ‘Lifts’

So, as my UCT readers will know, the Semester started today. Yay… for now. It’s day one but in the few hours I’ve been on campus I’ve had to brush the cobwebs off of the Student Files stored somewhere very, very deep in my brain and actually engage.

I can see that, as the week continues, I have to actually have to sit up and pay attention. In between classes and the customary curriculum changes, I was struck by the fact that I am once again walking from the extreme ends of campus – not because that’s where my venues are but because that is where the accessible routes are located.

Why is it that the accessible routes are the most convoluted and hidden on campus?

I’m sure it is largely due to the fact that UCT is built on a mountain and built at a time when Disabled People were largely unseen and unheard. That said, the fact that I’m often walking far more than my non-disabled friends is somewhat ironic.

The ‘mountain build’ means that, of the buildings that are relatively accessible, it often involves one or more lifts. If you’ve been reading some of my other posts then you’d know that the UCT Lift Situation is… risky. 

I thought today would go according to plan and the lifts would be working the way you’d expect. They did. At the same time, though, I was reminded that the lifts are on a tenuous, thin lifeline. L50 (my best inanimate friend), for example, decided to clunk loudly enough halfway up the shaft that for a moment I had a serious concern that I’d be trapped in it… again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love what I’m studying but it’s times like lifts breaking down that I’m reminded that society, more often than not, allows those with physical problems to participate in it only as second-class citizens. Something as simple as a placement of a ramp or a lift’s operation speaks volumes. 

University of Cape Town Upper Campus Largely Inaccessible for Disabled Students

I posted this rant on my Facebook Page but think it should also go here.
What’s up University of Cape TownUCT Upper Campus? I’m a Second Year Humanities Student. I happen to also be in a wheelchair. While the University of Cape Town Disability Service is fantastic – truly, I cannot fault them – I’m getting increasingly irritated that my personal access to venues etc., as well as the access of my disabled friends is being impeded.
Yes, I understand that certain changes may take time to effect and that I cannot expect ‘all my problems to be solved with the snap of my fingers’ but I feel distressed that, because of no fault of my own, access to key buildings in my university career may well be denied to me for the remainder of my Degree.
The Beattie Lift, the only lift in the building in which the Humanities Faculty is housed, is constantly breaking down. More recently, the lift even broke down with me in it. I heard from the Disability Service a couple of days ago that the Beattie Lift is due for replacement but, due to circumstances out of their control, it will take 12-18 MONTHS FOR THE LIFT TO BE REPLACED.

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Accessibility Alert: UCT Lifts

How can we learn if we can’t get to class

It’s been an astronomically short period of time since my last post but I think this needs some discussion, particularly given what has just happened.

No sooner had I finished writing the last blog post, The Weaponised Pooch and tried to make headway in getting to my 10AM lecture did the Steve Biko lift breakdown leaving me stranded on the 4th floor – this is after it had repairs done due to a breakdown just last week. It was only by pure luck that I was able to get off that level as the Disability Service know of a route that I was unaware of. That aside, the most recent breakdown of the Steve Biko lift makes yet another installment on the list of broken lifts. With the exception of one very tempramental lift in Leslie Social, all the lifts which grant access to a majority of Upper Campus for physically disabled students are broken down and unusable. Please take note at the number of breakdowns that took place in order to make this statement possible:
1. MOLLY BLACKBURN (L50):This lift, although small, provides crucial access to and from University Avenue (off which most of the teaching venues are located) to the Steve Biko Building, the Cafeteria and some other teaching venues. Been out of commission for the entire semester, save 2 hours on the second day.

2. STEVE BIKO: Grants access from the Cafeteria to the offices of the Student Representative Council and Varsity Newspaper, the Disability Service, the Steve Biko Computer Lab just to name a few. Out of commission on and off for the last 2 weeks or so

3. Both PD Hahn Lifts: Although further away, these would be able to substitute the Steve Biko Lift for access to teaching venues. These have been down since the beginning of the semester and are being replaced – meaning they will only come on line in 3-4 months, essentially the rest of the year.

Although the Leslie Lifts should be able to get me to my classes if I go via an exceptionally long and convoluted route, I have found that the Leslie Lifts also breakdown far more than they should and so I’m inclined to avoid them as much as possible. Share the companion FaceBook post if you think this is wrong here
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Many thanks,

Aidan

P.S. I’m hoping to have a less ranty post soon. 🙂

The Weaponised Pooch

So recently (August 10) I was told by a University of Cape Town (UCT) Campus Protection Services (CPS) officer that my Service Dog, who is trained and registered with Guide Dogs South Africa, is not allowed on campus – despite the fact that she has come on to campus consistently since I started studying there in February. What made me particularly angry about this was the guard’s reason for the dog being barred from Campus: she was a dangerous weapon. Yes, that’s right a dangerous weapon. Even more infuriating was that after I tried to explain to him that the dog is not a ‘weapon’ but that, according to him, she would “remain a dangerous weapon until its teeth have been EXTRACTED!
Naturally, within hours I had written e-mails and had phone-calls to CPS Management wanting to lay formal complaints about this Officer and his conduct. My sister also posted a mini FaceBook rant about the incident. Less than 24-hours later it went viral and is still circulating rapidly online (for a link to the original post, click here). Within a few days of this post, UCT responded with a press-release publicly condemning the actions of the Security Officer and that they have spoken to him (click here).

Although I’m glad that the university has taken action, I think now would be a good time as any to point out the importance of Service/Guide Animals -let’s call them ‘Service animals’ for now- to both the individual the animal assists and the wider Disabled, or ‘Differently-abled’, Community as a whole. I know that Jessica Bothma from Varsity Newspaper is writing a piece for the latest issue on this matter so I won’t try to steal her thunder on this but, all the same, I think it needs repeating.
Service animals provide a sense of empowerment to the individuals they aid and, ultimately, allow them a greater sense of independence. Sure, depending on a dog/cat/horse for physical/emotional assistance does not make you fully ‘independent’, but then again who hasn’t depended on other individual for help at some point in their lives, by depending on an animal for a majority of our needs we are able to feel, at the very least more independent from human assistance – which could potentially lead to more discomfort or embarrassment than necessary.

By denying the Service animal, in my case a 5.5-year-old Golden Retriever, onto University/school campuses or other facilities, you are doing more than just telling the person that he/she may not bring an animal with them. Essentially what you, as the hypothetical security guard are doing is belittling another person by denying him/her the independence which you (the stereotypical example of an able-bodied community) take for granted. Yes I, a representative of the Differently-abled Community, might have a similar independence to you but what you must remember is that I might express my independence differently to you as a result of, in my case, a physical disability. Jessica Bothma, the same journalist who is running a piece on the discrimination I faced two weeks ago did a piece in the previous Varsity Newspaper which reiterates my independence point perfectly (find the link here here – thanks again Jessica for all the help).

Aidan