Johannesburg - Blind students at Unisa’s Polokwane campus have accused the institution of violating their right to quality education.
They accuse the distance learning university of either sending essential study packages late or not sending them at all. They say they have missed their final exams because of this.
Sighted students usually receive couriered packages that include study guides and tutorial letters shortly after registration. The students claim this is not the case with Braille material for blind students.
BA communications science student Lester Mathebula, 28, said he had yet to receive his package since he registered for the degree in July. Mathebula is totally blind. His fees were paid by the Department of Labour.
He said he was made to send a “special assistance form” to the university three times to notify it that he required Braille material.
Only in August, a month after he had registered, did Unisa acknowledge receipt of his special form. “Even now [November], I am still waiting for that material,” said Mathebula.
Another blind student, Kate Rakumako, 47, said she had paid R1 600 cash for her studies and had received her material a day before her exams. The marketing certificate student was meant to sit for her exam last week.
“In addition to arriving late, the material is incomplete,” said Rakumako.
The university will allow her to write her exams in May next year.
Mathebula said two more blind students at the regional campus were yet to receive their study packages. But The Star could not reach them to independently verify this. Unisa has partly blamed the blind students for the delay.
“This student [Mathebula] had difficulty in forwarding a completed special assistance form. After several attempts, he eventually forwarded it to us on August 22, resulting in the delay in preparing and submitting his material,” said university spokesman Martin Ramotshela.
Responding to Rakumako’s claim, he said: “When we realised that the study material was taking too long to produce for this student, we offered her deferment to the next semester, which she agreed to.”
However, Ramotshela would not explain why her material was delayed.
Mathebula said the problem had been going on for years.
“They came here in 2010, promising us heaven and earth. Even today, nothing has changed,” said Mathebula.
“They don’t care about us, those people. It’s painful the way these guys treat us,” he said.
“They claim their machine can print 800 pages of Braille material per hour. Then what stops them from delivering it on time?” asked Mathebula. He had subsequently cancelled three of his five registered modules because he had not received the materials.
“I wrote only two modules, even though I had not received the materials after I had cancelled the three modules,” he said.
The university said on Friday that “arrangements can be made for the student to write the two remaining modules in 2013”, said Ramotshela.
Mathebula said the problem was exacerbated by the university’s alleged reluctance to establish a regional disability desk in Polokwane.
Ramotshela said the university strove to deliver the material within two weeks after registration.
“However, in exceptional circumstances, the study material may be of a complex nature and, therefore, take longer to produce. If the study material is not available in an electronic format, we have to scan the material and then edit the errors occasioned by the scanning process before the material can be produced,” he said.
“Unisa places a high value on the education of students with disabilities, as articulated in its 2015 Strategic Plan,” Ramotshela added.