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17 May 2024 | Story Edzani Nephalela | Photo Charl Devenish
Louzanne Coetzee
During the Faculty of Education ceremony, Louzanne Coetzee, a blind UFS alumna and speaker, shared her remarkable journey. From her days as a high school learner to becoming a student, she highlighted her challenges and how she overcame them.

The April graduations at the University of the Free State (UFS) were a remarkable celebration of diversity and inclusivity, with 44 graduates with learning difficulties, visual, mobility, or hearing impairments honoured for their achievements.

Despite facing unique challenges throughout their academic journeys, these resilient students triumphed over adversity to earn their degrees, inspiring their peers and educators alike – all with the assistance of the Centre for Universal Access and Disability Support (CUADS) within the Division of Student Affairs.

Words of advice from the recent graduates

Nkosingiphile Nyanale, who is blind, recently graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree. He emphasised the importance of mutual understanding between students and educators as a way of helping students with disabilities to overcome the extra hurdles they face. “One of the most challenging parts of my journey was reaching a common understanding with some facilitators on how I could be reasonably accommodated in class,” Nyanale said. “Some lecturers would deny themselves the opportunity to understand the challenges of students with visual impairments and viewed my requests as a way of seeking an easy pass. So, peers and lecturers understanding various impairments helped shape my journey.

Sthembiso Dlamini, a BSc Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics graduate who lives with dysgraphia, a condition that creates challenges related to handwriting, spelling, and organising thoughts on paper, said, “In my third year, I struggled to focus during high-stress exams. I willingly sacrificed much of my leisure time to tackle this obstacle head-on. I committed myself to honing my learning methods and enhancing my time-management abilities.” 

Relebohile Moloi, a nursing graduate, thanked CUADS for its help, and said greater awareness of the centre and its services could help more students. “They should assess students regularly for impairments, because sometimes people don’t know they have an impairment. CUADS should visit each faculty to give information on who they are and what they offer.”

The speaker

Louzanne Coetzee, a blind UFS alumna, shared her story during the last graduation session of the season on 20 April. “After matriculating at the Pioneer School in Worcester [Western Cape], where it was a protected environment, I did not know what to expect from the UFS. However, the UFS gave me a conducive environment by allowing my guide dog, Isabel, into the residences. I was the first person to be allowed such.” [Listen to her full speech here.]

Inclusive environment

Martie Miranda, Deputy Director at CUADS, said she’s proud of the graduates, as they embody the UFS’s dedication to an inclusive environment that caters to all its students, in line with the university’s Vision 130, which aims to foster academic excellence in a diverse and equitable environment. “In celebrating our graduates, we honour not just their achievements but the enduring commitment of CUADS staff and the university to foster an inclusive environment where every student's journey is valued and supported."

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