Unisa has broken new ground in a construction project that will cater for students with disabilities. The development project will be built at the university’s Sunnyside campus from this week.
The 24-hour facility will accommodate over 300 students and include a computer laboratory for over 400 students in Gauteng, as well as the Unisa Centre of Excellence in Disabilities.
In a sod-turning ceremony at the campus yesterday, surrounded by the institution’s dignitaries, Unisa vice-chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula said the centre was intended to be a world-class specialised research facility for disability inclusion and provide comprehensive and extended support to staff and students with various types of disabilities.
The new premises will primarily offer translation of research into practical applications to persons living with disabilities using techniques and assistive technologies.
In addition, the centre will also provide extended support to staff and students with various types of disabilities.
She said: “As we record the historiography of the university, we don’t leave out those who were also accompanists into this process. We co-ordinated an advocate resource centre for students with disabilities.
“With that it became clear that the work is supporting universal access for students with disabilities,” she said.
She said included in the project would be the centre for excellence in disability at the Sunnyside campus, which would serve as the national agenda.
“There will also be the development of research areas that will allow students to have 24-hour service and support.
“We know that as universities some of our students – 178 000 of them – come from environments where they don’t have their study system or an environment of learning that allows them to become centres of excellence that they would like to be.
“We are hoping that this centre will be redeveloped to enable them to access these aspects.
“We know that in our country and in the world issues of disabilities are part of the UN Convention of the rights of persons with disabilities and they protect people with disabilities and make sure that they have access to education and they are independent and can function as best as they should,” she said.
She said she was also aware that there were talks of universal access for disabilities.
“We are not just talking about people living with disabilities, but also including those of us who might not know what may happen tomorrow.
“It’s about creating enabling environments for students to learn in, but also showing that people living with disabilities are not left on their own but they have friends and partners in the work that they do.
“As a university, if we don’t invest in supporting infrastructure for student support we will not gain the success that we want.
“This project is among the first. Next year we will be announcing to you a collaborative programme with Bristol University and one of the universities in the UAE where we will be looking at building facilities for veterinary sciences,” she said.
Gauteng Regional chairperson of the Student Representative Council, Siyabonga Lushaba, welcomed the news.
“It gives us comfort to continue working and serving students. We are glad that this building is now coming to fruition. I’m happy the building will cater for students living with disabilities,” he said.