UCT Disabled Access: A Copy of The VARSITY Article

UCTLogoReImagined

I was asked by UCT’s student-run newspaper to write an opinion piece on campus accessibility. This is cool. I think I should expand its reach than just the university for various reasons so below is a copy of the article I sent the editor word-for-word.

I’m a Second-Year Humanities Student. I happen, also, to be in a wheelchair. In the ideal world, this wouldn’t make any difference for my education. UCT’s campus, however, is not easy on the accessibility front. That said, there are various groups of staff and students who fight to make the campus that little bit more manageable for the disabled students but they face considerable challenges on various levels. The effort that groups like UCT’s Traffic Department and the Disability Service put in, although considerable, does not negate the fact that UCT is still very inaccessible for disabled students.

If I had to put the accessibility issues I’ve experienced into a single word, it would have to be ‘lifts.’ I’ve lost count how many times the lifts I need are broken. I’ve also been stuck in two different lifts on Upper Campus. I think it goes without saying that a broken lift can scupper my entire plans for the day. Recently, there was one day where all but one of the Humanities lifts on the South Side broke and the one that remained was, perhaps, the one I could have afforded to lose. Yes, the Disability Service report broken lifts promptly and inform the affected students timeously but that does not change the fact that previously-accessible, planned-for, short routes have been rendered all but useless.

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Accessible Venues: A Given, Right?

Hey guys,

I’ve had quite an interesting experience happen to me today that I want to share with you.

As you’ll know if you’ve been ‘Keeping Up with the Diaries’, UCT and I go through an ‘on again, off again’ relationship on the Disability Front. Nothing bad happened to me today but today’s interaction reminded me that accessibility, sadly, is not something I can take for granted.

It’s the third week of the Second Semester and all tutorials are due to start this week and it’s time to start mobilizing in general: assignment deadlines are around the corner, lectures are in full-swing, and the beginning-of-semester administration is dead and gone. When I checked my timetable in Week 1 to double-check whether all my venues were indeed accessible, I found myself having to e-mail a couple of lecturers to have a couple of tutorials due to inaccessible venues. Simple right? Wrong.

Of the four courses I’m doing this Semester, two of them have resulted in tutorial problems that I can’t seem to get resolved just yet for some reason. The first course, I signed up for online like everyone else because it suited my schedule and it was in a building that I know to be accessible. The second was in a room I knew to be a problem so I requested it to be moved, as I’d done for the three semesters before. I thought that’d be the end of it for my ‘venue problems’.

Tutorial 1 for Course The First comes around on Thursday last week and I go to the building and start hunting for a room which, according to the signage and general layout of the building should be easy enough to find, after spending literally half-an-hour marching up and down the building, exploring all four floors I discovered that the specific room I was meant to be in is the one inaccessible room in a building that is otherwise largely accessible. I’m in communication with the department now to try and fix the problem and, hopefully, the fact that I missed the tutorial (of which there are only three this semester for this course). As Adrian Mole would put it: “just my luck.”

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High School to University: My Experience

downloadSo, as you’d know if you read the About Page, I was born with a disability and have been in a wheelchair for several years now. There’s no escaping it, Disability is a part of my life. Hell, it’s part of my identity as a person. As you’d expect it brings its own set of challenges. As real as these challenges are I am largely unaware of them on a day-to-day basis. That’s due in part to the exact nature of how my disability affects me, the people I surround myself with, and the way that I manage my life. Some environments though, help to exacerbate the harder-to-avoid challenges. University, as fun and exciting as it is, can often become an environment where ‘the differences’ become a little clearer.

High school, for me, was an environment where disability played a part, yes, but was largely unaffected by it since I went to the school where my father was teaching for several decades and the school themselves were willing to be highly adaptable to the various needs required as I got older. University, however, was a different monster for me altogether. At the University of Cape Town, by contrast, I was an unknown in a way that, for the first 18 years of my life I was wholly unaware of.

        If, for some or other reason, I encountered a problem at High School all I had to do was pick up the phone and get ahold of my father who would help to fix the problem that same day or, alternatively, approach any of the academic and/or support staff (a majority of which I had known for most of my life) and they too would help. That in-depth, personal support structure I had grown up with faded away when I moved to UCT. Sure, there were support structures in place but not the same as what I had become accustomed to.

 As daunting as you’d expect this pivotal transition in my life to be, without all the added problems that disability would automatically bring to the party, I’m beyond glad that this happened. Why? It taught me to become that more self-sufficient and to further realise that I am capable of handling my own problems – even in an environment where I am a stranger. That freedom that University grants a person, that undeniable sense of a new beginning, the opportunity to prove that you are becoming more and more the person you want to be is the basis of this entire blog.

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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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Disability Discrimination at UCT

So… Let’s hope I can make this a little less ranty than I have with my last few posts.

I’m not entirely too sure what it was exactly that pushed UCT’s Disability Service to publish this but I’m glad they did all the same. I’d like to think that it had something to do with my most recent FaceBook rant regarding the unreliable lifts but I’m not going to be cocky and think that I was the one to push them into making their post public.

The post was a stark awakening to the discrimination and other injustices UCT’s Disabled Community faces. Even as a member of the aforementioned population group, I was unaware of this. I knew there was discrimination to the disabled community, just not at this extent.

I hope that their post, coupled with the protestations of the Disabled Community, both in and outside of the university, raise the necessary awareness for something to be done about these despicable acts

-A.

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. 🙂