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University finally says yes to a disabled student.

The Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) which had previously denied a wheelchair-bound candidate an opportunity to study at their university has finally taken a U-turn. They will accept Lekae Combrinck-Nawa with immediate effect. This follows an outcry from the South African Human Rights Commission which is advocating for equality of all to access any services in South Africa despite their physical condition. The Commission is now investigating TUT’s admission policies on disabled students.

The University has initially denied Lekae entry into the university because of the fact that he is wheel-chair bound. The university said it could not put up more disability-friendly facilities like ramps at the Arcadia campus because of lack of funds. 20 year old Lekae was involved in a car accident two years ago where he lost both his legs. The acting vice-Chancellor said the institution had thought Combrinck-Nawa had prostheses, but later found that he didn’t have them. Combrinck-Nawa has prostheses but they’re uncomfortable to walk in. Combrinck-Nawa was the only student he was aware of that was turned away because of his disability.

Last year, he applied to study graphic design at the TUT and he was unconditionally accepted after submitting a portfolio of his work. The “unconditional acceptance” was later withdrawn. His father, Dr Lance Nawa, who works at the university, received a letter from TUT acting vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Lourens van Staden. It was informing him that his son could not be registered anymore because of his disability. His father sought the intervention of the Ministry of Education and was willing to approach the high court for an interdict.

Professor Lourens van Staden said the institution was friendly to disabled students. But he admitted without the department’s intervention, it would have been hard to enrol Combrinck-Nawa. “This university has for a number of years enrolled a large number of students across all our campuses. That building on the arts campus is old. We had our engineers there and it is not possible to install a lift there. The current staircases are very steep,” he added.

On Thursday, university spokeswoman Willa de Ruyter said the Department of Higher Education and Training had made funds available for him to get prosthetic legs. “The use of these prostheses will enhance his mobility and will enable him to move around more comfortably on the arts campus,” De Ruyter said.

Once registered, she said, Combrinck-Nawa would be assisted by the university’s centre for orthotics and prosthetics to become mobile on the prostheses. She said he would also receive on-going support from the disability unit.

Combrinck-Nawa said he was ecstatic that he would finally begin his studies. “After two years, I can finally go back to studying without being victimised. I can now concentrate on my studies and doing the best I can.”

Investigations will continue. Spokesman Isaac Mangena said, “Our investigation will cover the campus where this happened, but also look at what measures are in place to accommodate learners with disabilities at other campuses of the same institution. Our laws are clear: no person should be discriminated against on the basis of their disability. Like everyone else, people living with disabilities should have equal access to services, participation and opportunities, including learning opportunities.”

Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande has allocated R6 million to the institution to help it improve facilities. He reiterated the importance and urgency of developing the Strategic Disability Policy Framework in the post-school education and training (PSET) system. Minister Nzimande said this during a meeting with the Ministerial Committee on the Development of the Strategic Disability Policy Framework for the Department of Higher Education and Training.

It was mandated to identify key challenges in transforming the post-school education and training institutions to universally accessible sites that are disability-friendly and recommend solutions. It will also conduct an overview on the available disability policies at departmental and institutional levels and identify gaps in the provisions of services for persons in the PSET system, among other things.

The vice-chancellor assured that, they are working on improving all their facilities to be user-friendly for disabled students as soon as funds are available.

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