UKZN’s Disability Support Unit unveiled a LAN for students with disabilities on the Westville campus on 29 October.

Located in the Westville Campus Library, the LAN was carefully planned and designed to suit the needs of UKZN’s students with disabilities.

Funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training and UKZN’s Infrastructure Planning and Projects (IPP) department, the multi-functional LAN boasts the latest software to ensure students with low vision can magnify computer screens or scan text and have the software programme read articles or journals to them. Additional software which was pinned in the LAN offers blind and partially sighted students a choice of software to use to engage with their learning material. Braille facilities are also available at the LAN.

Howard College Disability Co-ordinator, Mr Nevil Balakrishna emphasised the importance of accessing a space without barriers. He said the LAN had been meticulously considered to ensure access – with lifts, ramps, lighting, paint colour, furniture and floor texture to allow students in wheelchairs or who are partially sighted to use the facilities with greater ease.

Executive Director of Student Services, Dr Rose Laka-Mathebula, said the University wants every student, irrespective of their background, to succeed with their studies. ‘At UKZN, we are very student centred. We want all students to experience the campus and University life,’ she said.

Deputy Director for Student Housing Infrastructure Programme at the Department of Higher Education and Training, Dr Ncedo Xhala, commended the University on this “pioneering” achievement and for ‘lobbying the interests of students with disabilities.’ He said he hoped this initiative would motivate other universities and emphasised the importance of assistive devices for students with disabilities.

The launch included a demonstration by blind PhD Biology student, Mr Ashley Subbiah, who lost his sight in 2010. He demonstrated some of the latest software available in the LAN, including JAWS, a programme which is helping him to complete his PhD studies. ‘There is no way I can use a paper and pen to do my work,’ he said. He applauded the University for improving the facilities available in the past four years.

Software programme Super Nova was also highlighted by a supplier who is blind and a UKZN alumnus, Mr Albert Peters. He recalled his time studying at Salisbury Island, a predecessor of UDW, which later merged with the University of Natal to form UKZN. Peters recalled how blind students were reliant on manual typewriters and cassette recorders to assist with their studies. He lauded the software programme Super Nova which includes features like optical character recognition which allows Pdfs to be read to people who are blind.

Senior Student Development Specialist in the Student Services Division, Mr Amith Ramballie, outlined the services and LANS available at other UKZN campuses. He acknowledged all those who have helped ensure the projects’ success, including the Director of the Library, Ms Joyce Myeza, UKZN Foundation’s Professor Anesh Singh, IPP’s Mr Muzi Khumalo and his team (more especially Ms Mafungwashe (Nwabisa) Matyolo), ICS’s Mr Abdullah Sharif and his team, and the external Principal Agent TJ Architects represented by Mr Paul Elliot.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer

Photograph: Albert Hirasen