Assimilating knowledge despite visual disability

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek-People with disabilities often depend on others to make their everyday life a bit easier. This is not so much the case for 23-year-old Moses Tobias and his peer Dominga Mema, who are education students at the University of Namibia. Tobias and Mema both lost their sight at a young age and are both majoring in languages.

“We try to live on our own. We try to not be too dependent on other people,” said Tobias.
The two do at times get help from their friends to assist them walk to the classrooms and make their way around the campus.

But they do not want to be too dependent – they have learnt to do as much as possible for themselves.

Tobias and Mema live on their own in the hostel. Often times they do assignments on their own, prepare their own food, they know where the bathroom is and do their laundry.
New Era visited Tobias in his room, where he opened up about his life. Mema was in the resource centre of the Disability Unit, where she was preparing to do an assignment.

Apart from education, Tobias is an avid runner who participated in the Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro last year. Tobias is an aspiring musician, who has released a music album titled ‘Sondre’.

“Like I said we try not to depend on people so we study our environment in order to do things for ourselves,” said Tobias while sweeping the floor in his room.

Before sweeping the room, Tobias makes sure there are no objects on the floor.
“I know where I have swept and where I have not swept because I start from one end of the room to the other. I know I have swept clean if I can’t feel grains of sand on the floor,” the free spirited Tobias says.

His room is so organized that he also knows where to find the food he wants to prepare.
“This is rice, this is salt, this is macaroni,” he says, touching on the food packets. When cooking Tobias relies on his hands and a spoon to check the remaining content, and taste, to tell when the food is ready.

He does it with so much ease, he says, adding that he does not need anybody to be present when he has to cook.
When choosing what clothes to wear or even buy, Mema and Tobias depend on their hands to feel the texture.

“I am wearing a black and white dress with a scarf. When I am buying clothes I just feel and then ask for the colour of the clothes,” says Mema.
Tobias and Mema chose to study at Unam because they believe they have a contribution to make in education.

“I want to work just like other people,” said Mema, who is a third year student, when asked why she decided to pursue a career in education.

Challenges
“We have to work extra hard due to the lack of materials. We are not exposed to information like other students, so we have to find [other] ways [of accessing extra learning material] to pass. But this requires persistence and confidence,” adds Tobias.

However, he feels that much remains to be done in order for people with disabilities to be completely catered for in the education system. In addition, the two feel that some lecturers do not understand the needs of students with special needs. When this happens they depend on their friends for additional assistance. However, there are also lecturers who go the extra mile for them, Tobias and Mema said.

“The challenge I face is not getting my materials on time because they have to be brailed. It makes me work too hard,” said Meme who was typing an assignment.

Braille is a form of written language for blind people, in which characters are represented by patterns of raised dots that are felt with the fingertips.

Despite the challenges, the two expressed gratitude that students with disabilities are accorded the opportunity to study at the university.

Meanwhile, the assistant coordinator of the Disability Unit, Sara Moshana, said the university’s academic and administrative staff have built on experiences on the challenges of providing services to students with disabilities.

Unam has seen an increase in the student intake of people with disabilities. This year 81 students with disabilities are studying at the institution of higher learning.

The Faculty of Education has the highest number with 24 students having disabilities. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has 20 students, the Faculty of Law has 10 students and the Faculty of Science has five students.

The Faculty of Health Sciences has two students, the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Science has five students and the Centre for Open, Distance and E-learning has eight students with disabilities.

“Even though much is done in this respect, room for improvement and implementation still remains,” said Moshana. She added that some students do not reveal their disability when applying for admission.

“Students do this to avoid labelling or stigmatisation, but these students fail to realise that with the support and assistance from the university, it becomes easy to direct their academic activities on campus,” said Moshana.

Also, the lack of awareness among staff members could be a challenge. That is, some lecturers lack the responsiveness and the understanding of the necessary support needed by students with disabilities, she added.

The students’ challenges differ with the type of disability, said Moshana. For visually impaired students, a lecturer would require extra time to mark the student’s script, explained Moshana.

“This is because the scripts would have to be de-brailed (the process of translating Braille back to print), by specialised staff members at the Disability Unit, before a lecturer is able to mark the script. Such a process is not applicable to abled students,” she said.

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