For their unwavering commitment and dedication to serving students and staff with disabilities; for championing inclusivity and transformation in all spheres of campus life; and for going above the call of duty for the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) growing cohort of students and staff with disabilities – UCT’s Disability Service (DS) unit was named one of two deserving recipients of the 2022 Vice-Chancellor’s (VC) Service Excellence Award. The other award was presented to the Scientific and Technical Officers Association.
The VC’s Service Excellence Award recognises “outstanding service by staff, including activities, initiatives, practices and/or projects that have contributed to the delivery of exceptional or significantly improved services to UCT’s staff and students”.
“UCT’s Disability Service unit has become one of the leaders in the higher education sector in South Africa and to other countries in Africa, through our alumni. They are often used as a benchmark by other disability support units and higher education institutions in ensuring that students and staff members enjoy the fair access to all that is offered at UCT,” said UCT VC Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
“Their crucial role within the broader university community is evident through their representation at the various university-level committees as disability inclusion is critical to meaningful and sustained transformation and curricular change. This team takes on any task as long as it involves people living with disability. No task is large enough for them and they are never too busy. We are so proud to have them in our midst. They contribute immensely to our inclusivity agenda.”
The DS’s successful nomination was led by Professor Theresa Lorenzo, the head of the Division of Disability Studies in the Faculty of Health Sciences. In her nomination, Professor Lorenzo said: “The practical support that DS [has] offered students with disabilities on our [Disability Studies] programmes has enabled us to walk the talk of disability inclusion. Their service in this area has improved the quality-of-service provision for students with disabilities, and for all of our programmes. The Division of Disability Studies and DS have also found a united voice in advocacy for disability inclusion at UCT. We commend their initiatives around disability awareness and highlighting [challenges] in various faculties and committees. This means that it’s not only individuals who receive support, but that there is an effort to bring about institutional support that will better accommodate this group of students, as well as contribute to [the] creation of a more inclusive society.”
Professor Phakeng presented the DS team with their award during the university’s Staff Annual Awards gala evening, hosted at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Wednesday, 30 November. The DS is a unit within the Office for Inclusivity & Change (OIC) and its mandate is to catapult this change by championing the rights and well-being of students and staff with disabilities. OIC director, Dr Sianne Alves, supported Lorenzo’s nomination.
“It’s testament to our growth as a unit over the years and it pays tribute to the hundreds of staff and students with disabilities who have served and will continue to serve going forward.”
“We are absolutely elated by this award. It’s testament to our growth as a unit over the years and it pays tribute to the hundreds of staff and students with disabilities who we have served and will continue to serve going forward,” said DS manager, Edwina Ghall.
“We will strive to continuously improve our service offering and as we do, we’ll keep top of mind the Disability Rights Movement’s slogan: ‘Nothing about us without us.’”
For Ghall and her team, excellence manifests in different ways. But fundamentally, she explained, it lies in realising an individual’s full potential and helping them reach their dreams; displaying resilience and courage when things don’t go according to plan; fighting against stigmas, exclusion, and discrimination; and working towards achieving social justice for all.
“We believe too that excellence is about listening to those things that are not being said and creating respectful environments for everyone to be comfortable to just be themselves, feel valued and to feel as if they are part of a vibrant, caring community,” she said.
And to achieve excellence in their line of work, she said colleagues in the unit bring their A-game every day and are committed to the cause – to creating an inclusive campus community that accommodates the needs of all students and staff; and to ensure that everyone enjoys equal participation in university life.
“As a team, we put the needs of our students and staff first and we take the utmost pride in delivering an efficient service, while being courteous, respectful and responsive to their needs, especially as some of them face exceptionally challenging circumstances,” Ghall said.
Striving for inclusivity
One of these challenges, she explained, relate to academic exclusion. However, by promoting the use of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model – a teaching approach that works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners and aims to eliminate unnecessary hurdles in the learning process – will directly address this challenge.
Further, staff in the unit are continuously working towards ensuring that lecturers provide visually impaired and Deaf students with lecture transcripts so that they have easy access to their course material. And championing for an inclusive language policy that takes the needs of Deaf students and staff into consideration is an equally important facet of their work.
“We are promoting the use of UDL so that a variety of academic learning styles are catered for and so that disability inclusion is embedded into every aspect of university life. It should not be unique; it should be a common practice,” she added. “Removing all physical, policy, and attitudinal barriers that might hinder the progress of our students and staff with disabilities is of utmost importance. As a community, we need to do all we can to ensure that they fulfil their goals.”
Teamwork makes the dream work
Of their highly acclaimed award, Ghall said she is thrilled and thankful that the work carried out by colleagues in the unit has not gone unnoticed. And the recognition comes at just the right time, as the globe prepares to draw the curtain on Disability Rights Awareness Month. But awards of this kind would be impossible without the commitment, sacrifice and unfaltering service of a one-in-a-million team.
“Teamwork is essential and with a strong team of colleagues, who support each other when things are going well and when they’re not, anything is possible.”
“Teamwork is essential and with a strong team of colleagues, who support each other when things are going well and when they’re not, anything is possible. This is the kind of culture we strive to inculcate in our unit. So, this is a team award; it’s a validation of our hard work and sacrifice and it is proof that nothing goes unnoticed. We are eternally grateful,” Ghall said.
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On Wednesday, 30 November, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng hosted the UCT Annual Awards 2022, which serve to honour and celebrate exceptional individuals at UCT for their contributions through excellence and dedication in research, teaching and service.
The celebration acknowledged staff receiving Long Service Awards and the recipients of the Distinguished Teacher Award, the Alan Pifer Research Award and the Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Awards. The evening also recognised those staff members who received ad hominem promotions this year.
The UCT Annual Awards 2022 event took place in person. The ceremony highlights will be made available on this page as soon as possible after the event, along with stories and videos – about some of the winners and the celebrations on the night.
“We are celebrating the hard work and the attention to excellence you each bring
to help make UCT such a highly rated and highly regarded institution.”
– DVC Prof Elelwani Ramugondo, welcoming the guests