Mom juggles challenges to thrive in disability studies

19 March 2020 | Story Kim Cloete. Photos Lerato Maduna. Read time 6 min.
Sarah Oosthuizen will graduate with a Postgraduate Diploma in Disability Studies later in March.
Sarah Oosthuizen will graduate with a Postgraduate Diploma in Disability Studies later in March.

A desire to learn more about disability in education inspired mother-of-four Sarah Oosthuizen to immerse herself in online courses and sign up for the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Postgraduate Diploma in Disability Studies. The course introduced her to a new way of thinking and instilled in her a deep interest in the rights and education of the differently abled.

Sarah’s tight-knit family, where there is clearly plenty of love to go around, also inspired her to sign up for her studies. She has homeschooled her four children at different times over the years, including currently her 14-year-old daughter, Jessica, who lives with type 1 diabetes and her 12-year-old son, Kamva, who is HIV-positive and has learning challenges.

MOOCs as motivation

It was one of UCT’s massive open online courses (MOOC), “Education for All: Disability, Diversity and Inclusion”, that first drew her interest.

“It triggered something in me. It was so inspiring. I wanted to do more.”

She enrolled for two more MOOCs developed by UCT’s innovative Teacher Empowerment for Disability Inclusion project and then plunged into the Postgraduate Diploma in Disability Studies programme. One of its key goals is to help students to appreciate the shift in perspective from seeing disability as a welfare and charity issue to a human rights and development issue. This resonated with her.

The year-long programme consists of four courses, with two teaching blocks per year of two weeks each.

Inclusive and welcoming

Sarah described the first day of class as an eye-opener. “We might live with various challenges, but the nature of privilege means I have access to various solutions, more than other people. I was struck by the humility of people who live with significant challenges but were incredibly inclusive and welcoming.”

She said the group was a diverse blend of people ─ from professionals to newly graduated young students and students from different African countries.

“I found the [opportunity] to share in one another’s lives invaluable.”

Sarah said the lecturers also made a great effort to bring in speakers from outside the university, such as a pioneering principal of a school and a mother who is an ability activist, whose child lives with ability differences.

“She allows nothing to hold her back. It was so inspiring.”


“I was an old dog learning new tricks. I sorely lacked the tricks, but I loved it.”

Programme convener, Associate Professor Judith McKenzie, described Sarah as “an outstanding graduate who managed to juggle a lot of things” to complete her diploma and “has great ideas about where she wants to go from here”.

“Sarah demonstrated exceptional commitment and enthusiasm,” she said.

For Sarah, the year involved quite a few firsts. After a hiatus of 25 years, she was suddenly a student again, faced with the prospect of doing her first Power Point presentation and her first video conference.

“I was an old dog learning new tricks. I sorely lacked the tricks, but I loved it.”

Camaraderie at home

Her children also developed new respect for and pride in their mom.

“We’d pull up our chairs and work alongside each other. There was a lot of camaraderie in the house,” said Sarah.

Mom juggles challenges to thrive in disability studies
Sarah with her daughter, Jessica.

Jessica, who is the epitome of gentleness and kindness, said she was extremely proud of her mother and had gained an insight into the life of a student by spending a day with her in class. The lecturers had welcomed Jessica with open arms, said Sarah. Kamva was also intrigued by this new chapter in his mother’s life.

Sarah said her husband, Barend, was very supportive and learnt how to cook to help accommodate her travelling from Stellenbosch for lectures, while daughter Emma, a third-year art student, and Rebekah, who is in matric, stepped in to help as well.

From theory to practice

The experience has encouraged Sarah to take her interest further.

“I’d like to take a MOOC and work through it together with teachers, facilitators, parents and people from different schools to discuss issues and find solutions and ways forward.” She also plans to do her masterʼs with a focus on disability in education.

Stigma, discrimination and a lack of understanding are still big obstacles in schools, and Sarah would like to see the narrative changed.

“Disability is another form of diversity. Every person, irrespective of abilities, has a voice that must be heard as much as anyone else.” she said.

She uses the term “disability” reluctantly and feels strongly that it should be changed. “It’s not right to be characterised as a ‘dis’.” She hopes this will be changed in time to a more empowering and respectful term.


“Disability is another form of diversity. Every person, irrespective of abilities, has a voice that must be heard.

Sarah said disability is hidden so people who haven’t been touched by it don’t necessarily feel the need to get involved. She hopes that change can be sparked on campus.

“I agree with the goal of the Disability Studies department to reach every part of campus. For someone with a physical disability, something like installing a wheelchair ramp is not enough. We need to learn more and do more. Everybody should do some form of disability studies course within their studies. It would help to create many more compassionate students, academics and professionals one day.”

While graduation ceremonies have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sarah said she completely understands and supports the decision.

“I’m grateful that UCT has adopted strict measures like postponing or cancelling events like graduation. Pre-emptive measures are more important than events. My greatest hope for this time is that we do not lose our humanity in our worry. Itʼs time to be all the more inclusive in our care.”

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Graduation 2020


We understand the disappointment that our students and their families feel about the impact that the global pandemic has had on the normal operations for graduation ceremonies. Please know that the decision to host virtual graduation celebratory events was not taken lightly. We congratulate the March and December 2020 graduates on their academic success during an exceptionally challenging year.

The March 2020 Senate List of Qualifiers was approved at the beginning of March and everyone on that list had technically already graduated in absentia with a confer date of 19 March 2020. The celebratory event video was made available online at 18:00 on Monday, 14 December to honour the March 2020 graduates.

The December 2020 graduands have graduated during the virtual graduation celebratory event at 18:00 on Tuesday, 15 December 2020.

Find full information, including Frequently Asked Questions, on the Graduation page on the Students website. You can also follow the celebrations on UCT’s Twitter page and the #UCTGrad2020 hashtag.

Videos – 15 December virtual graduation celebratory event

Your names

The names of all of the 2020 graduates and graduands can be found in the ceremony programme PDFs. The names of all of the March 2020 graduates are accessible in the March programme PDFs that you can find through the index: just click through the March index to find your graduation ceremony group PDF. The names of all of the December 2020 graduands are accessible in the one December ceremony programme PDF.

Your photos

Graduates and graduands were invited to submit photos for publication as part of the 2020 celebrations. If you submitted a photo, you will find it in the gallery collections, divided into the March and December cohorts.

Our stories: inspirational graduates

The UCT News team has profiled a cross-section of inspirational graduands and graduates whose stories inspired us. To all those we haven’t been able to feature, we’d like to say: each one of you is an inspiration – to your university, your families and your communities. We wish you every success in the future.




Graduates’ Video messages