Historically, the experiences of persons with disabilities were very rarely addressed and as such was regarded as sensitive. After a series of discussions and engagements with students with disabilities, their specific information accessibility needs were identified with the aim of designing inclusionary computer LAN facilities in UKZN library spaces or in close proximity to the library’s spaces. These engagements and discussions resulted in the acquisition of funding from the Department of Higher Education and Training (Infrastructure funding) and IPP (UKZN) with the following achievements within six months of the projects being initiated in 2018:
The Edgewood Computer Lan facility for students with disabilities is located in the Edminson Library (Main Library) and houses 20 fixed accessible workstations.
This computer LAN facility includes a Teaching Practice laboratory where students with various disabilities will, through Learning Community support be exposed to experimential learning in their quest to become reflective educators in the real classroom setting.
There is also office space for one full time staff to assist users of this facility.
Facilities for the Disabled are currently located on Level 6 of Shepstone Building - on the Howard College Campus.
This Facility is fully accessible by all students (including those who use wheelchairs).
This Facility is fitted with 20 PCs however further discussions are being held to house such facilities in the library.
The Westville Facility is located on the 3rd floor of the Library and houses 20 fixed workstations.
This Facility also has four offices which will be utilised by DSU staff. This will allow for easy access to services.
A Braille Printer will be assigned to this venue.
One of the rooms will be utilised to house Low Vision devices to allow students to interact with Library material immediately (without the need for reformatting).
A major achievement was the successful allocation of space in the library on the Pietermaritzburg Campus to establish such a facility although there is such a facility located in the foyer of the New Arts Building with 10 fixed workstations.
This Facility also has a leisure area outside the venue for students to utilise.
An allocation has been made for users to bring in their own devices at all the Facilities.
All such facilities have the following:
Allocation of accessible work stations.
Individual accessible lighting per station to respond to the visual needs of students with low vision.
Architectural accessibility. Designated carpeted routes have been attended to for students using wheelchairs.
Braille Reading Stands.
Leisure reading spaces.
Specialised technological software to support the academic integration and adaptation needs of students with disabilities, for example, SuperNova, JAWS and Zoomtex.
The UKZN Disability Support Units are presently providing support services to 609 students with disabilities.
The photo above captures some of the unique facilities available in the Disability Unit which includes air conditioning, soundproof walls, custom designed desks and chairs, computers with specialized software, controlled lighting as per needs of the users and there is a special carpet from the entrance of the library to the Disability Unit which is to guide partially sighted users of the “cane”.
Writer: Desmond Beharilal