Articles

Trailblazing student improves access to higher learning

‘He who learns, teaches’. The Ethiopian proverb resonates in a fascinating experience at False Bay TVET College’s Khayelitsha campus, where Nandipha Gcora has become the first blind student to study at the campus.

False Bay TVET College (FBC) had previously enrolled two blind students who completed the NCV Office Administration course at its Fish Hoek campus, as well as a number of students with other disabilities. The commitment of FBC to inclusive education has been concretised in several ways.

 

It has adopted a formal Inclusive Education Policy. All opportunities have been taken to reduce physical barriers to learning. The College has invested in software and hardware to aid students with disabilities and has acquired a range of learning materials to use with the technology.

Appropriate training is provided to staff and campuses have dedicated Inclusive Education Officers to assist students with disabilities.
In 2014, FBC received the Department of Social Development’s National Disability Higher Education Institution Award for supporting the advancement of people with disabilities. The Deputy Minister of Social Development, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu, also handed over a donation of a braille printer and Duxberry software.

False Bay TVET College is finding the experience of accommodating Nandipha’s needs useful in interrogating the efficacy of the policy and our capacity to service the needs of blind students. It is in that sense that the student is indeed teaching the College.

The assistance to Nandipha, a Khayelitsha resident who completed her schooling three years ago at the Athlone School for the Blind, began with an initial evaluation by the Inclusive Education Officer, Jacqueline Lenting, followed by an assessment of her needs in terms of assistive technology, human support and access to learning materials.

The assessment was conducted by Shauwn van Staden, Programme Manager for NATED Business Studies, Mr Klaas from Athlone School for the Blind and Michelle Botha, Career Development Practitioner at Cape Town Society for the Blind (CTSB). Due to Nandipha’s three-year gap since schooling, she was advised to first complete a refresher training course in terms of orientation and mobility training as well as computer skills at CTSB. In January 2017, after completing the free training at CTSB, she commenced her three-year NATED Certificate in Public Management at FBC.

Shoprite Checkers donated a laptop for Nandipha’s use which FBC’s IT staff loaded with Jobs Access With Speech (JAWS) screen reader software and fully networked with the campus, enabling WiFi connectivity, email and access to learning materials on the student shared drive.

At this point the goodwill and value of long-term partnerships kicked in with a vengeance. The publisher, Future Managers, assisted Nandipha with free prescribed electronic textbooks. Bruno Savaria from Sensory Solutions facilitated training for Ms Lenting in the use of the braille machine and software required to enable conversion of learning materials to accessible formats for JAWS and brailling.

The League of the Friends of the Blind assessed Nandipha’s orientation and mobility skills on campus at no cost and volunteered assistance with accessibility of learning materials.
CTSB also provided free student desensitisation training in handling guidelines for blind persons. A staff information session was hosted by the Inclusive Education Office to advise on Nandipha’s support needs and suitable teaching strategies.

An NSFAS bursary award enabled the procurement of assistive technology for Nandipha's use in the classroom and at home, including a voice recorder, a PEARL camera with conversion software and a 4-in-1 printer/copier/scanner.

During her first semester Nandipha’s determination to succeed overcame all technological challenges. She not only proactively helped the Inclusive Education Office to review challenges to her support needs, but managed the academic requirements well.

Thanks to Nandipha’s presence, a longstanding issue with examinations for visually impaired students was resolved. FBC’s Chief Examination Officer, Leandre Alexander, secured the assistance of DHET to provide all external examination papers in braille for the June 2017 examinations. This was a breakthrough for False Bay TVET College.
Exam papers were moderated by DHET to ensure questions were not prejudicial to a blind student. Nandipha was allowed extra time and the use of a scribe to transcribe her answers in the exams.

With the appropriate support, Nandipha proved that she could do as well as her sighted peers in the June examinations. 
“When I applied in May 2016, they said the college would need time to assess my needs and get everything I need. I didn’t think they would do everything that they said they would until they called me back and told me I could come and register. I am very happy with the whole experience, because I feel supported,” says Nandipha.

In sum, the successful integration of a blind student required no curriculum adaptation, but rather a combination of good preparation, sound partnerships, appropriate assistive technology, IT support and infrastructure, and empathetic and sensitised staff and students.

Author: Jacky Lenting, Occupational Therapist: Inclusive Education