Durban — Blind, partially-sighted and students with disabilities at the University of KwaZulu-Natal have received a boost with the donation of of a new set of a Mitsubishi Xpander vehicle from the UKZN Foundation.
UKZN Disability Support Unit (DSU) manager, Amith Ramballie said that the vehicle would be used for consultations and services for this group of students on all UKZN campuses.
“With their own dedicated vehicle, the Independence Trainers could plan future services more effectively, knowing that transportation would not be a limitation.
“The previous vehicle was stolen, and there was a shortfall with respect to funding for a new replacement. We approached UKZN Foundation who then liaised with donors to cover the purchase balance of the vehicle”.
Ramballie expressed gratitude to the donors, saying: “The resource that you have allowed us to procure will positively impact the lives of students and staff with disabilities for years to come.
“Mobility is a concept, often taken for granted, and in this case the team were sometimes unable to deliver a quality service due to theft of our vehicle. With this funding, students will be able to better navigate the built environment at UKZN and participate in an equitable manner with other students at the organisation”.
He added that the training provided by UKZN’s Independence Trainers played a crucial role in enhancing the living and learning experience of students in a higher education setting, through the promotion of independent skills acquisition, aimed at holistically developing successful graduates ready to enter the mainstream workforce with greater confidence.
“Many students entering university are ill-equipped to cope with the transition to a higher education environment at UKZN, especially those who come from rural or special schools,” said an Independence Trainer based in Durban, Margie Naidoo.
Naidoo said the services addressed the students' unique training and development needs and empowered them with essential independence skills.
“One important aspect of the training is the assessment and tracking of students' eye conditions. The UKZN Independence Trainers assist students in obtaining referrals and coordinating with hospitals and eye clinics for regular check-ups, enabling them to monitor their eye health over time.
“In some cases, they accompany the students to have discussions with eye care practitioners. This comprehensive method ensures that students benefit from a holistic approach involving a multidisciplinary team of professionals for any deteriorating eye conditions.
“The training provided also focuses on skills of daily living, including room and home management, shopping skills (including online shopping), use of laundromats, and adaptive kitchen skills such as cooking and meal preparation. Personal management skills, including grooming and medication management, are also shared,” Naidoo stated.
She added that communication skills such as budgeting and safe banking practices were taught to ensure students could navigate their financial responsibilities effectively.
For partially sighted students, visual efficiency training is provided to help them make the most of their functional vision, she said.
Ramballie said that a vital part of the training was teaching orientation and mobility skills.
“Students learnt different techniques to navigate their environments safely. Throughout the semester, students benefit from a structured programme to learn routes from their residences to various lecture venues and other requested spaces. “The training services also extend to students with physical impairments, such as those using wheelchairs, scooters, or other devices”.
Donations and funding of this nature are invaluable for the Disability Support Unit, as the financial resources required to support inclusion, access and participation for students with disabilities at Higher Education Institutes often outweigh the current available resources.
“Generous contributions like this have a significant impact on meeting the training needs of students. The availability of the new vehicle ensures that the services can be provided more consistently across all campuses,” said Naidoo.
Bachelor of Science student Celiwe Gumede said, “The vehicle donation will impact us positively and will make our lives easier. Thank you to the donors for recognising the value the vehicle will bring us.
“The independence training from DSU has also boosted my confidence. Ms Naidoo’s advice and training has ensured that I live independently as a person with a disability,” she said.
Audiology student Mandisa Ntshangase added that “Ms Naidoo’s support has really assisted me emotionally, mentally and academically”.
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