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Die Student
Students with disabilities need more help

Dear President Cyril Ramaphosa,

My name is Lorinda Diedericks and my intention is to share my inspirational story as a blind and hearing impaired woman. I am 28 years old and from Pretoria.

Lorinda Diedericks
Lorinda Diedericks

At about 12, 13 years of age I developed retinitis pigmentosa together with Usher syndrome, a nerve illness that causes one’s eye and ear nerves to deteriorate gradually.

My life changed

In May 2006, I woke up one morning realising that I am deaf. My parents took me for tests, where it was confirmed that the Usher syndrome damaged my ear nerves.

Through the grace of God my right ear was fit for a cochlear implant and all the procedures went well. Everything however sounded differently and it took me almost six months to adapt to the electronic sound.

I am forever grateful to hear again, although with one ear.

Through the grace of God my right ear was fit for a cochlear implant and all the procedures went well.

After I matriculated, my application to study at the University of the Free State was approved, but they informed me a few weeks before my classes had to start that there was no accommodation on the university’s premises any more.

I was terrified, but managed to start a tourism management course at the University of Pretoria, but they could not effectively accommodate me with my multiple disabilities.

For instance, some lecturers cooperated in holding my FM-system with them as they walk in class so that I could hear them more clearly, whereas the majority left the FM-system on their tables when walking around in class.

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This resulted in me losing important information and struggling academically.

After terminating my studies at the University of Pretoria, I completed my computer literacy and call centre course at the South African National Council for the Blind (SANCB) whereafter I searched for employment.

I wasn’t successful; for example, one company did not want to buy me a specialised dual headset that blind individuals use to answer a telephone without the caller hearing the screen reader’s voice.

There were (and still are) many hurdles on my journey to success, but I am not giving up.

This however didn’t discourage me from becoming educated.

In 2012, I registered at Unisa and did excellently. Although it took me five years, I completed my BA degree in psychological counselling cum laude, to which I give God all the glory!

I use a screen reader, Non Visual Desktop Access (NVDA) to listen to my study material, completing assignments together with examinations electronically.

I'm not giving up!

There were (and still are) many hurdles on my journey to success, but I am not giving up. In 2019, I plan to study industrial psychology whereafter I intend to do my BCom honours.

I received (and still do) good support from The Advocacy & Resource Centre for Students With Disabilities (ARCSWiD) at Unisa, but I still feel that the government can employ more individuals at various universities, especially Unisa, to work more effectively to support the disabled.

Although I depend on electronic study material, I noticed that due to a shortage in personnel at Unisa, most blind students often wait months for their material and then cannot prepare properly for examinations.

In 2019, I plan to study industrial psychology whereafter I intend to do my BCom honours.

Ensuring fully equipped examination venues with the necessary assistive devices will also be highly appreciated.

Sometimes problems with computers are encountered, thus regularly updating to the latest software is important.

Most blind students depend on computers with screen reading software to write their examinations and it will ease a lot of stress if provision like generators can be made available at examination venues in case of power failures, often due to cable theft.

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The overall population is ignorant and has incorrect perceptions of the disabled in South Africa.

Many think that disabled individuals are unintelligent, lazy and worthless, but the contrary is true – the disabled are often those who are more determined and persevered to become successful, but often lack opportunities to reach their dreams.

It would thus be heartbreaking if more and more disabled students become discouraged to study and prosper in life due to a lack in equal opportunities.

I love South Africa and would be forever grateful if more attention can be drawn to the circumstances in which disabled students have to live and study to encourage multicultural inclusion.

My plea is that you, Mr President, together with all other parties, can try and develop more support systems for us as disabled students in South Africa, like subsidising most assistive devices to lessen the financial burden on the disabled.

Disability grants are often not enough to cover these devices in full.

We also need attention 

I love South Africa and would be forever grateful if more attention can be drawn to the circumstances in which disabled students have to live and study to encourage multicultural inclusion.

READ MORE: 'I want to live forever'

I am forever thankful towards the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) who funded my BA degree at Unisa, but would appreciate it if they can fund non degree purpose- (NDP) modules as well in future.

I trust that you find this inspirational and that the disabled population can depend on South Africa’s government in establishing a better tomorrow in our beloved country.

Yours sincerely

Lorinda Diedericks

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