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#StairsMustFall: A look back on Disability Week 2015

Christian Stroud

The lights fade at the Concert in the Dark, but unlike an ordinary concert, the lights would not come back on until the last performer has left the stage. The performers: poets, rappers, and musicians gave the audience a taste of what it’s like to experience music and poetry without sight. The event took place last Friday night at the Oppidan Dining Hall, and was be the final event in this year’s, Disability Week.

Rhodes University Student Representative Council’s (SRC) Residence Councillor, Adam Randera, who is currently in talks with Rhodes University officials about transformation within residences, commented on what the SRC hoped to achieve with Disability Week. “The biggest point of this week was to try and change mindsets, and to give people a more informed understanding of where disabled people are coming from,” he said.

Disability Week kicked off on Tuesday morning with a seminar headed by Professor Gerard Goggin, professor of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney. Goggin joined us via live video feed and spoke about, “trying to make learning institutions enabling places, not disabling.” This was in the context of technological advancements in universities across the globe. Goggin went on to say that as technology becomes integrated into our learning institutions, we are finding  “new forms of exclusion.” He continued by saying that, while technology does create some challenges, technology allows for better prospects to make universities great places for learning, for everyone.

Disability Week hit its high point on Thursday with an inspiring public lecture by Mfundo Lebaka, a deaf teacher. Unlike the seminar, the lecture was attended by a sign language translator, who breached the language barrier between Lebaka and those attending.

Lebaka told his story of struggling within the South African education system due to his deafness. Whilst Lebaka remained silent, his expressions were still apparent as he would grimace or grin where appropriate, as a person with hearing would in everyday speech. He explained that he only matriculated at the age of 21, due to the struggles he faced. Lebaka found it a challenge to study a Bachelor of Education as the University of Witwatersrand could not provide him with adequate interpreters. Through his story, Lebaka allowed everyone in the room a glimpse of how difficult it is to live as a deaf person, ” You can’t travel with an interpreter,” Lebaka stated, “even going to Pick ‘n Pay is a challenge!” [Check out Activate’s gallery on the lecture here]

“That staircase is their statue,” said Randera. “For them [disabled students] that is the statue of Cecil John Rhodes.” This is a thought that all students should take away from Disability Week, and keep in mind when talking about transformation here at Rhodes.

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